Responsive display ads (RDA) have been Google’s default on their Display Network (GDN) since 2019.

GDN is the most popular online advertising display network and when used in the right way, it outperforms both Facebook and Instagram as an awareness-building tool according to Wordstream.

Display Ads appear on more than three million websites, more than 650,000 apps, and across Google properties such as Gmail and YouTube. They generally appear above or to the side of whatever article or web page you’re reading. 

Our guide will help you understand and use responsive display ads.

How do responsive display ads work?

A responsive display ad is a form of asset-based ad. Assets in this case are simply part of an ad, such as the headline, image or logo.

As Google says: “We built responsive ads for display to help your ads adapt to the increasingly diverse mix of content types and screen sizes.”

If you haven’t seen responsive display ads before, here’s an example of what they look like.

Image shows different types of dynamic advertising for apparel brand Oiselle
IMAGE: Dynamic display ad options for apparel brand Oiselle

When creating asset-based ads, you provide all the individual components and Google then uses machine learning algorithms to combine them into multiple permutations across the web, constantly optimising them for best performance.

In addition, responsive display ads automatically adjust their size, appearance and format to fit available ad spaces. Your responsive display ad might show as a native ad on one site and a text ad on another, automatically transforming itself to fit based on your targeting and campaign goals. 

photo shows a number of different sized adverts for New York City breaks with images of the Brooklyn Bridge and text headlines
IMAGE: Examples of how Google creates different RDAs for a holiday in New York

However, one thing to remember is that because it combines assets without human intervention, special attention must be paid up front. Making sure your assets work together in a potentially very large number of configurations is vital.

They can be used in standard display campaigns as well as smart display campaigns.

How does Google generate responsive ads?

When you create a responsive display ad by uploading different assets into Google Ads, Google uses a machine learning model to determine the optimal combination of assets for each ad slot based on predictions built from your performance history.

How do I create responsive ads in Google?

Responsive display video ads are extremely simple. You just upload your images, video, logo, final URL, and headlines and let Google take care of the rest.

The best thing about responsive ads is they negate the need to create multiple versions of an ad. With around 20 banner ad sizes on the display network, creating these often causes a headache for marketing teams and their designers.  

Responsive display ads specs

Images

Images make up the most important element. You can upload from 2 to 15 images in two aspect ratios:

Rectangle – 1200×628

Square – 1200×1200

The golden rule with images you’re selecting for your responsive display ads is to not include text on them. In creating your responsive ads, you’ll upload images and text separately.

Logo

Upload your logo as a rectangle and a square:

Rectangle – 1200×300 (4:1 ratio)

Square – 1200×1200

Animated GIFS

Animated GIFS are not supported by RDN.

Text 

You upload up to 5 headlines and 5 descriptions. The platform then combines these pieces into varied ad unit combinations for every available size. 

GDN allows for a short 25-character headline and a longer 90-character headline which will display when the screen size allows. The 90-character description gives brands the ability to control their ad messaging.

Added together, this means the new responsive display ads can include up to 205 characters of text and images in the following combination:

  • 15 images
  • 5 headlines
  • 5 descriptions
  • 5 logos

Video 

As well as images, you can upload up to five 30-second videos (from your linked YouTube account).  If you don’t already have uploaded video content, Google can auto-generate videos for you using combinations of your images, logos and text assets.

To create an auto-generated video, you need to add at least one logo and either three landscape images or four square images to your responsive display ad. It’s important that images meet the image quality guidelines. The automatic creation of videos can be affected by image quality issues.

Responsive display ads examples

Here are the Beacon images we used for our Google display ads.

image shows a number of different dynamic advertising images including both text and people with the Beacon logo

Google’s Rich Media Gallery includes examples of high performing responsive display ads from top brands and products which can be used for inspiration.

Do Google responsive ads perform better?

In our client PPC campaigns, we do see examples of where responsive display ads perform better than uploaded ads. Search Engine Journal published two examples of where responsive ads generated a higher conversion, shown below.

image shows two sets of statistics with the final percentage columns outlined in red circles

Uploaded ads vs responsive ads

Google’s responsive display ads are a powerful tool for online advertisers who are looking to create compelling ads across each stage of the marketing funnel, without needing a designer to create image ads.

When you’re trying to promote something specific which requires a manual review by multiple divisions within your company, or if you have specific design details which must always be included in the final result, then an uploaded display ad is usually the better choice.

However, if your organisation can be promoted using existing images and copy, without having to involve other stakeholders in an ad approval process, then the responsive dynamic ads are a no brainer solution. 

Additionally, if one of the campaign goals is reaching more mobile users, they often perform better overall given their ability to adjust to account for the larger variety of screens and devices.