When should companies use responsive display ads?

September 1, 2021


One big challenge facing marketing leaders is knowing when to make key investments, like advertising on the Google Display Network. On this episode, Mary Davin joins the show to talk about her experience running responsive display ads (RDAs). In this conversation we talk about:

  • the difference between traditional and responsive display ads
  • when a company should consider RDAs
  • examples of responsive display ads that performed well
  • reporting capabilities of RDAs
  • what elements are needed to fuel RDAs

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John Tyreman:  Hi gang. Welcome to The Digital Marketing Troop, where we go in the trenches to help you learn more about digital marketing. My name is John Tyreman, I’m your host, and I am joined today by Mary Davin, Senior Paid Media Account Manager and Team Lead at Silverback Strategies. And we’re here to talk about responsive display ads. Mary, how are you doing this morning? 

Mary Davin:  I’m doing great, John, how about yourself? 

John Tyreman:  I’m doing really well, and I’m excited about our topic today because there’s a lot of really cool things going on in Google’s display network that I think we can dig into. But before we do, I’ve got a bit of an icebreaker for you. We’re starting to come out of this pandemic time and things are starting to return to some semblance of normal and I’m curious, is there a concert or a band that you’re most looking forward to seeing live?

Mary Davin:  So it’s funny you asked that because I’m actually going to my first concert tonight, like, since all of this kind of happened. So I am going to see Sleater-Kinney, who was opening for Wilco, so kind of a deep cut – I don’t know if anyone out there knows those bands but big fan of both of them. So that’s my first concert outing and very conveniently timed for this evening.

John Tyreman:  That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well I’m excited for you. You’ll have to let me know how that goes. 

Mary Davin:  I will. 

John Tyreman:  Awesome, well let’s dive into our topic at hand today. So let’s start here. For listeners who might not know, what are responsive display advertisements?

Mary Davin:  Yeah, so we call them RDAs for short. So basically it is kind of an image based ad that can serve on the Display Network on Google, and they’re automatically created so there’s no design work needed, you don’t need to have a graphic designer and house necessarily. You really just provide Google with kind of the assets being, you know, images, a couple lines of text, and your logo. And you can also include video if you have that available and Google kind of just automatically creates it and you’re good to go.

John Tyreman:  So it’s kind of like you’re giving Google these inputs, and they’re taking different combinations and they’re using their machine learning to test and see what performs best. Do I have that right?

Mary Davin:  Exactly. So if we think back to how display ads used to be. You used to have to create like several different combinations to get a variety of sizes, and it was kind of a pain point for a lot of designers and we can still do that and it’s still part of, you know, a lot of display strategies but for those who maybe don’t have the capability or the budget to do that, or really just want to kind of test multiple ad types, this allows you to just forego that kind of more of a creative lift and have it automatically created for you. So instead of creating like 10 different ad sizes, you just input the assets itself and Google can produce, you know, tons and tons of different aspect ratios so you don’t have to actually divvy those up separately.

John Tyreman:  Okay, so it makes it a little bit easier for marketers who want to run display ads. 

Mary Davin:  Absolutely, yeah, much easier than the old way. 

John Tyreman:  Very cool. Well, what kind of businesses or in what scenarios, should a business maybe consider using responsive display ads?

Mary Davin:  So I think that there’s really a good use case to use responsive display ads, it kind of any stage of the marketing funnel. So at Silverback, with some of my clients, we tended to use them for reaching people kind of earlier in that awareness phase to kind of aid some prospecting efforts, and then kind of working down the funnel to also remarket to those users. So I think just depending on your goals and kind of who your audience is, you could really make a case to use responsive display at any stage of that customer journey. So it just kind of depends on what you’re looking for. And then as far as like ideas of when it might be good to test them, I mentioned earlier, like the creative kind of constraints that can sometimes be a roadblock or a hurdle for clients to really invest and take the time to test out display. So this again is another really good opportunity or reason to maybe work around that and include some display ads in your campaign strategy. So if you don’t have an in house designer, or you don’t have the budget to pay for those services, responsive display is a really kind of quick and easy way to incorporate those types of ads into your campaigns. And then aside from that, if you still are running some kind of more standard image based ads or HTML5 or GIF ads, it’s great to just include those as like another ad type alongside of that to test and see how the performance goes. And in a lot of cases, we see in our own accounts here at Silverback, that responsive display often outperforms traditional image ads and HTML5’s. And I think a lot of that has to do with how flexible RDAs are and how many more inventory slots they can serve in. So there’s a lot of benefits to it. So I would say if you’re not currently testing it, it might be a good thing to throw into your campaign next.

John Tyreman:  It sounds like it’s a good way to accelerate your learnings about what works well, what doesn’t. You mentioned some of the campaigns that you’re actively working on with responsive display ads. Can you give our listeners an example of a campaign that performed well? 

Mary Davin:  Yeah, so one of my clients, that’s kind of in the financial services space, we use display campaigns to really help promote awareness and consideration for several of their products with kind of the end goal being we want those users to start and submit an application for consideration. So, earlier this year using some of the reporting that was available to us through Google ads, specific to responsive display, we noticed that some of our images were maybe not as high rated as they could have been. So we made some tweaks to the creative, and over a two month period through monitoring those tweaks we reported a 20% increase in conversion. So those are, you know, really valuable completed applications for our client. And then just kind of looking at how the responsive display ads in that same time period, performed compared to some of the static image ads and HTML5s that were also running at the same time, we saw that, you know, within that same two month period, 96% of the total conversions that came through were from responsive display. So just kind of a testament to show how great they can work and how you can really kind of expand your reach and kind of accelerate those learnings.

John Tyreman:  Wow, that’s pretty impressive that compared to the traditional display ads that 96% of those conversions were from the RDAs. So that’s pretty cool. I’m curious, so did you say that this client… what industry was this client in?

Mary Davin:  Financial Services.

John Tyreman:  Do you think that there’s something about that industry that maybe some other industries might be able to replicate some similar levels of success?

Mary Davin:  Yeah, I’ve seen it work well with a lot of industries. So Home Services is another big one that we’ve seen success with. Definitely B2B. Edtech we’ve used to use the strategy as well for. So it really has to do with where your audience is and if Google is a place that you’re able to really define a good target audience and reach those users, I think responsive display would be a great fit to kind of combine those two together.

John Tyreman:  Sounds like this is a pretty wide range of industries that could benefit from this: home services, financial services, B2B. 

Mary Davin:  Yeah. 

John Tyreman:  So what’s interesting to me about this is the machine learning aspect and how we’re trusting Google to be able to come up with the right combination of these inputs. And it’s funny, I was talking with Emily Bliss a few weeks ago about measuring creative performance, and it’s a great episode. If anyone’s listening to this podcast episode they should definitely go back and check that one out. But I’m curious, Mary, from your perspective, what kind of reporting is possible with these responsive display ads?

Mary Davin:  Yeah so responsive display has a little bit different reporting metrics, compared to some other kind of campaign and ad types on Google ads. You still have your basic, you know, click impression, click through rate type of metrics but with responsive display ads specifically, you can drill down to the asset specific level. And what that means is you can see, let’s just say for example you were to have one responsive display ad with maybe two or three different images in it. You can look and see which of those three images is performing best. Google will give you a rating like good, best, poor, and a couple others, I believe. So they’ll kind of let you know which one is resonating and getting the best response. So, from where we can use that as marketers, it’s really valuable to kind of keep tabs on that asset level reporting from time to time and if we do see ones that are rated below average or lower we can swap those out for something that might resonate better. And that’s kind of exactly what we did in that client example I was sharing where we identified an opportunity and switched it out and saw it really helped – it really helped performance,

John Tyreman:  I could see, that’d be really useful directional feedback in terms of understanding when there needs to be those creative refreshes, right? When there needs to be certain images that we need to swap out, have new creative, then, does it drill down to the copy level too, or is it just image based?

Mary Davin:  Yep, it does it for image and copy so you can see how, you know, your headlines are performing, your images are performing and then even beyond that, it’ll show you which combinations are served most often together. So you know, if there’s a headline and an image that are often paired together, and if that one is receiving a lot of impressions and getting a good response you can kind of deduce what you will from that and make some educated marketing decisions there.

John Tyreman:  We kind of touched on this a little bit but… so what are some of the different elements that you need? Like what are these inputs that Google is requiring or asking for to fuel these campaigns?

Mary Davin:  Yeah so, I would say the most important thing – I mean they’re all required, but the most important things are images. So plain images work best. So we’re thinking about things with little to no text overlay, so really just looking for either a stock photo or an image that your company, you know, has the rights to. So, you would want, you know, two to three images that we could use, your logo is also an asset that you can include that’s required so want to make sure that you’re representing your brand and that that is tied to all of the ads. And then as far as the text elements, you can have up to five different headlines, so it’s a really good way to test different messaging, have a few different options in there and then similarly you can have up to five descriptions and one longer description, so lots of different options. You don’t have to use all of those in every case but just kind of goes to show how many varieties you can potentially have.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, I mean if my math is right that’s like about 75 different combinations.

Mary Davin:  Yeah, it’s a lot, it’s a lot. With very little input, so I think that’s the value of it. It makes it really easy to have that much variety without having to comb through and design everything by hand.

John Tyreman:  Well that’s exactly where my mind went, is like how much time is this saving for marketers kind of who may have had to do this the manual way. 

Mary Davin:  Yeah. 

John Tyreman:  I’d imagine it would be quite a lot so this is making marketers lives a hell of a lot easier. 

Mary Davin:  Yeah, for sure. 

John Tyreman:  You know another podcast episode that we had a few weeks ago, I was talking with Haley Nininger about Google’s plan to delay their blocking of the third party tracking pixels we know as cookies. Their plan is to delay that to 2023. I’m curious Mary, from your perspective, how does this impact how companies might approach using Google’s Display Network?

Mary Davin:  This will definitely have an impact in display campaigns. I think really the conversation revolves around targeting more so than ad creation. So rather than relying on those cookie based audiences or remarketing since we do expect those audience sizes to decrease with that change rolling out, we should really look to collaborate with clients and businesses to lean into their first party data, so we can use that to target users that might be already engaged and interested in other products, or we could use those to create similar audiences. So, I think first party data is going to be kind of critical for successful display campaigns after this cookie change goes into effect.

John Tyreman:  In talking with clients, what’s the reaction been like from them? Has it been more like, “Okay, we’ve got a little bit more time. Let’s squeeze what we can out of the existing model”? Or is it a “Wow, this gives us a little bit more breathing room, a little bit more runway to get set up the right way”? What’s been that reaction?

Mary Davin:  Yeah, I think it varies client to client. Some clients really don’t have a great first party data strategy in place so they are using this as almost a relief that they do have some more time to get that figured out, and then those that do have strong first party data strategies in place, we’re trying to encourage them to test that alongside of these traditional kind of cookie based targeting methods that we’ve been using. That way we can get some early learnings and figure out what’s working before we lose access to things we’ve already had success with.

John Tyreman:  That sounds like a very measured approach. Well, Mary, thank you so much for taking the time to be on our podcast. If listeners want to connect with you and learn more, where can they find you? 

Mary Davin:  Yeah. They can find me on LinkedIn, that would probably be the best way.

John Tyreman:  LinkedIn, that’s where the action is. Right on. Well, Mary, have fun at your concert tonight, I’m really excited for you, really excited to hear how that goes. 

Mary Davin:  Thanks John. Thanks for having me. 

John Tyreman:  If you found this podcast episode insightful, please subscribe, tell a friend and leave a rating and review. And to learn more, head on over to silverbackstrategies.com where we have a wealth of digital marketing insights on our blog and Resource Center. We’ll see you next time on The Digital Marketing Troop.