October 3rd, 2018

The Clinical Trial’s Guide to Responsive Search Ads

google responsive ads

The next chapter in the Google Ads saga is responsive search, which allows clinical trials to test the most effective headlines and descriptions for patient recruitment.

Even in 2018, patient recruitment remains a challenge for clinical trials – 86% of all trials fail to recruit the required number of patients on time. Fortunately, digital marketing tools like Google Ads offer inexpensive and effective ways to reach patients looking for treatment options.

Google Ads have long been the gold standard of search PPC, and the company has upped the stakes again with the introduction of responsive search ads. The technology brings machine learning into the PPC marketplace, allowing users to automatically test ads to see which options have the maximum impact. For sponsors and CROs, this means more opportunities to connect with potential patients – and higher recruitment rates.

What Are Responsive Search Ads?

Normally, when using Google Ads, marketers submit a headline and a description that then show up together in users’ search results. Responsive ads allow marketers to try out several different headlines and descriptions to determine which combination is most likely to achieve a campaign’s goals. By experimenting with different combinations, Google’s algorithms learn which content performs best for any search query and apply those findings to future campaigns.

When compared to previous ad formats, responsive ads offer more opportunities for customization. They allow advertisers to show longer text ads with up to three headlines instead of two, and two 90-character descriptions instead of one 80-character description. For each ad, marketers can create as many as 15 different headlines and three descriptions to choose from.

This update has two major benefits: first, it all but eliminates the need for manual A/B testing; and second, it allows ads to compete in more auctions for a variety of keywords, increasing the chances that the ad will be seen. These are boons for clinical trials, which must quickly identify and target the keywords that potential patients are searching for, which may not necessarily align with the language the trial is using to market itself. Responsive search can bridge that gap by testing a number of headlines and descriptions, learning which options work best, and prioritizing the language used in future recruiting efforts.

The best news? Google’s internal data shows that advertisers who use responsive ads to test copy combinations see an average of 15% more clicks. With that knowledge, there’s no reason for sponsors and CROs not to invest in responsive search.

How to Create an Effective Ad

The best way for trials to take advantage of responsive search is experimentation. With up to 15 headline options available, it’s important to test as many ad components as possible. Clinical trials should try to have at least five unique headlines of varying length in order to evaluate which strategies are most effective. If a particular headline is not performing well, Google will stop showing it.

To take full advantage of responsive ads, trials should create some headlines that feature relevant keywords and some that don’t. Each headline should spotlight a unique feature or benefit of the study to appeal to various patient demographics. Google even allows marketers to test their ad strength for features like relevance and diversity of copy.

When creating responsive ads, CROs and sponsors will likely come across the option to “pin” headlines and descriptions in certain positions. This can be useful for disclaimers and important medical information, especially if the algorithm has a few “pinned” lines to choose from. This allows for variation even in less catchy text that may be required by compliance.  

Another benefit of responsive ads is that they can help clinical trials evaluate the effectiveness of certain campaigns. CROs and sponsors can access reporting metrics to see how many impressions each ad combination has received. Google’s machine learning also makes suggestions on how to improve ad copy. Clinical trials can use this capability to revamp underperforming ads, while still maintaining the ability to edit and approve content.

Looking Ahead for Clinical Trials

Responsive ads have the potential to redefine the paid search landscape. They can help CROs and sponsors build catered content for different demographics and gain exposure to new patient populations. With added resources to increase CTRs and boost patient enrollment, clinical trials will likely be able to reduce advertising spend without sacrificing results.

Though responsive ads are currently in beta and not available to all marketers, Google is expected to complete a full-scale launch fairly soon. In the meantime, clinical trials can take advantage of mobile-optimized longer text ads, which have also been shown to significantly boost ad CTRs as well.