Google Ads Headlines: To Pin or Not to Pin

We’ve come a long way from the days of writing an SEM ad and having it served by Google exactly as it was written. Google’s approach to dynamically selected headlines based on a user’s search intent makes a lot of sense. But letting an algorithm test and choose from headlines that were never intended to show in position 1 or 2 can lead to some interesting results if you don’t realize that assets can be shown in any order, with Google recommending that you “make sure they make sense individually or in combinations”

One way of controlling the message would be to pin headlines. However, Google recommends that you do not pin headlines, instead allowing their algorithm to select the best combination of headlines based on a given search query. Google also provides an ad strength metric of excellent, good, average, or poor, which is “an indication of the relevance and diversity of your ad combinations”. Also stating that “having more relevant and unique content can help you get the right ad in front of your customers and improve your ad’s performance”. 

While this all sounds well and good, is it in your best interest to pin headlines? Google’s big data, high-paid developers, and multi-million-dollar algorithms certainly should outperform the capabilities of a human, right? 

Let’s take a step back and look at what the ad strength measurement is and how it compares to your campaign goals. Ad strength helps measure the likelihood of your ad getting clicked, so a “poor” rating indicates that there is theoretically room for improvement to increase your ad’s CTR. However, the ad strength rating does not measure how likely your ad is to convert and/ or improve your conversion rate. 

If your goal is simply to get clicks to your website, then you can stop reading here and leave headlines unpinned. But if your main objective is to drive conversions and high-quality traffic, then pinning headlines might be right for you. 

Let’s look at the history of Google ads and prior recommendations, based on the now phased-out Expanded Text Ads (ETA), which contained headline 1, headline 2, headline 3. Google’s recommendation to increase quality scores and the best practice for ad copywriting in years past was to include the keyword in your headline 1 to ensure high ad relevance. 

So for example, if someone searches for “residential painting”, your headline includes “Residential Painting …”. This recommendation is quite logical and serves a relevant headline offering exactly what is being searched. Also, taking into consideration that the painting contractor may do commercial work and have a campaign set up specifically to capture these keywords with relevant ad copy for “Commercial Painting …”.  With ETAs, there was no guarantee that your headline 3 would show, so it was important to get your primary business offering in headline 1 and your company name in headline 2 or vice versa. Headline 3 was primarily used for additional features, benefits, or selling points. 

Moving to the present, Google’s current ad format, the responsive search ad (RSA), allows you the option to write 15 headlines and Google will mix and match up to 3 headlines for a given search query, based on algorithms and learning to find the best combination and likelihood of your ad getting clicked. 

You are also given the option to pin headlines in positions 1, 2, or 3. Google’s algorithm has a learning phase in which it will somewhat randomly combine 3 headlines until it finds combinations that get the most clicks. Even after the learning phase, Google will continue to test different combinations for search queries. 

The problem is that when the average person writes 15 headlines, they begin by creating logical headlines for their product/ services (how many “Residential Painting” variations can you come up with?), headline for their company name, leaving several headlines free for features and benefits or selling points like “best in the business”, “servicing the bay area”, “over 50 years of service”, “Make your home a masterpiece”, etc. 

Here lies the problem. With Google’s “close-variant” matching technology, your “residential painter” keyword could get served up for “house mural painter”. If you pinned all your “residential painter” headlines to position 1, it would ensure that someone running this search would see something to the effect of “residential painting contractor” and hopefully would not click your ad and waste your budget, as these are two uniquely different service offerings. 

If the headline was not pinned, your ad could read something like this: “Make your home a masterpiece” (headline 1), “Best in the business” (headline 2), and “Servicing the Bay Area” (headline 3). Due to the vague headline combination, someone could assume that this business offers mural painting services. Is this a click you want to pay for even if it improves your CTR, potentially raising your ad strength?

Ads can be a great tool to help weed out unwanted clicks by offering clear and concise messages for your business. By pinning multiple headlines to each position 1, 2, 3, you will regain control and ensure that only the most relevant combinations are capable of being served, while taking advantage of the algorithm to optimize your creative. You will also ensure that your brand name is present in each ad, assuming you pin it in position 1 or 2. While your ad strength may suffer, your conversions and cost savings will thank you.