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Google to Remove Text Link Ads from AdWords (Google Ads)

Recently, Google completely eliminated Text-Only Ads from their AdSense platform, signaling their desire to get out of the Text-Only Ads business altogether.

The implications here are huge, as the next step in “improve[ing] user experience” is almost certainly going to be eliminating Text-Only Ads (and “Expanded Text Ads) from AdWords as well.

This would be a huge change considering that Text-Only Ads have been around since the very beginning of the platform. Why is Google making the change?

Per Google:

“We’re moving towards richer ad formats, phasing out text-only and display-only ad units to further improve user experience, and to fully reflect the pool of ads we have in the market.”

Google says this update will increase user interest and interaction with ads, basically boiling down to creating a better user experience that generates more clicks and better engagement.

If you’re using Google Ads and currently relying on Text Link Ads or Expanded Text Ads, then it’s time to start preparing for a strategic change, because all of those Ads could soon become unavailable.

Understanding Google AdWords Ad Formats

Before we talk about what publishers and advertisers should do in response to the coming changes, let’s make sure we all understand what’s being discussed here by covering the definitions of the different types of Google Ad Units allowed for use in AdWords and across the Google Display Network (GND):

  1. Text Ads – These are the words-only ads that Google has already removed from AdSense, and which we are nearly certain to see eliminating from Google Ads in the near future (NOTE: This category includes “Expanded Text Ads”)
  2. Responsive Ads – These are ads that automatically adjust their size, appearance and format to fit available ad spaces, and which can transform into text or image ads
  3. Image Ads – These are static or interactive graphics, and include animated ads in .gif or Flash formats
  4. App Promotion Ads – These are ads specifically created to drive app downloads, or to link into an app experience itself, for the purpose of generating engagement
  5. Video Ads – These ads run videos across Google’s network, and can be run standalone or inserted within other streaming content
  6. Product Shopping Ads – These are ads that let you show users a photo of your product, a title, it’s price, your store’s name, and a short snippet of descriptive text
  7. Showcase Shopping Ads – These are ads that let you show an image and description of a product, which expands when clicked on, to show several related products and information about your store
  8. Call-Only Ads – These are ads that just attempt to generate phone calls, rather than clicks to websites, apps, image or video content, etc.

The update we’re talking about here is ONLY going to impact the use of the first ad format listed above, “Text Ads”, which have been eliminated from AdSense, and which are likely to get removed from AdWords in the near future.

Additional Definitions: Expanded Text Ads vs. Responsive Display Ads and Responsive Search Ads

Expanded Text Ads

Within the category of “Text Ads” is the popular AdWords format called “Expanded Text Ads”, which have been around for ages, and are the backbone of many AdWords Campaigns.

These are the ads you normally see at the top of Google’s results, containing a headline and a couple lines of text, but no images, video, or other compelling interactive pieces of content.

Expanded Text Ads are likely to be eliminated from AdWords, as they fall under the same category of “text-only ads” that have been removed from AdSense.

Keep in mind that Google isn’t eliminating the use of ANY ads that don’t contain images, just the use of Text-Only NON-RESPONSIVE Ads. See the definition of Responsive Search Ads below for additional details.

Responsive Display Ads

Responsive Display Ads (“RDAs”) have replaced “Responsive Ads” as the default ad type for Google’s Display Network (GDN).

These ads can be used in standard Display Campaigns, or in Smart Display Campaigns, and they allow the advertiser to create an ad that auto-optimizes itself, per Google’s machine learning model.

The way this works is that the advertiser is able to upload a variety of assets into Google Ads, then tell Google to auto-optimize those assets as data is captured about which assets generate the best engagement and results.

When deploying RDAs, you’ll have the option of using different headlines, logos, videos and images, giving a ton of flexibility to the ad units Google ends up displaying, including adjustments for size, appearance and format.

Basically, these ads can show up as a native banner on Site A, and a Dynamic Text Ad on Site B, meaning that you don’t have to create single ad units for each size space, container, etc., but can simply give Google all the assets you want them to consider, then allow the system to auto-optimize on your behalf.

Responsive Search Ads

Responsive Search Ads (“RSAs”) are one of the latest AdWords formats to be introduced, still currently operating in Beta, but something that you should absolutely be testing now that you know that static Text-Only Ads and Expanded Text Ads will be getting removed from the platform.

RSA allow advertisers to create ads that adapt to show more text, more relevant messages, etc., to customers, depending on the results of Google’s machine learning-driven tests and optimizations.

Like RDAs, you’re able to enter several different headlines and descriptions when creating a Responsive Search Ad; the only difference here is that you don’t get to test images, videos and other visual elements along with the ads, since they’ll be appearing at the top of Google’s Search Results, and thus, couldn’t incorporate imagery, video, etc.

RSAs also help you create more flexible ad experiences, because the ads can adapt to different widths, making them easier to optimize for different sized devices and screen-widths, like smartphones, which can vary significantly in size.

Google also says that the ability to create multiple headlines and description options lets your ads compete in more auctions and match more queries, which should improve performance by generating more clicks and conversions compared to basic text ads, which don’t get to compete in as many auctions.

For details on RSA best practices for creating high-quality RSAs, see Google’s advice here.

Reading Between the Lines

What is Google really trying to accomplish here?

Will these more customizable, fully responsive, machine learning-driven ad experiences actually generate better engagement, and lead to more conversions for advertisers? They might.

But they are also certainly going to remove some flexibility, and reduce advertiser control of EXACTLY how and when their ads appear across Google’s Display Network.

By forcing advertisers to use dynamic ads, Google will be taking over some of the decisions related to when an ad should appear and what it should like it, and Google has specifically pointed out that this will allow ads to compete in MORE auctions (at least for Responsive Search Ads).

With more Ads competing in additional auctions, the cost of auctions could be driven up, meaning that even though you’re able to get more impressions with a dynamic ad, the cost of those impressions could increase.

What Should You Do To Prepare for this Change?

Text-Only Ads have proven to be very effective for certain types of campaigns, even where Display Ads simply don’t work all that well. For instance, Text-Only Ads have been proven to be much more effective than Display Ads at driving traffic to a website, and this switch will force marketers to utilize new tactics.

To be crystal clear, there has been no formal update or public announcement that Google will be eliminating Text-Only Ads, but Google Reps are privately admitting that this change is likely to occur at some point in the near future, which is why it’s so important that you start testing new strategies now.

To prepare for the update, we highly suggest swapping out your use of Expanded Text Ads (“ETAs”) for Responsive Display Ads (“RDAs”) and Responsive Search Ads (“RSA”), because the sooner you begin testing RDAs and RSAs, the more data you’ll be able to collect for optimization efforts before Google flips the switch.

When the time then does come to make the full transition from the old static, text-only ad formats to the new dynamic, responsive formats, your marketing results are likely to be much better if you’ve spent some time testing the new ad units and optimizing your campaigns.


  • Types of Google Ad Units
  • Expanded Text Ads
  • Responsive Search Ads
  • Responsive Display Ads
  • Expanded Text Ads
    • You can also create the expanded text ads in a Display campaign by selecting to create a responsive ad, and selecting the Expanded text ads link.
    • ETAs can be copied over as a GDN text ad, just like Search text ads today. ETAs will also work within the SNDS campaign type that runs across Search and Display. 
  • Responsive Display Ads
    • Google has launched a version of text ads on the GDN called Responsive display ads. These ads include a longer headline than GDN text ads and an image that advertisers upload. These new "native" ads on GDN perform significantly better than either ETAs that were copied to the GDN or standard GDN text ads, so we recommend that advertisers create responsive display ads instead of copying their Search ETAs to Display campaigns. 

 About The Author

Darden Faulkner is a freelance writer and product reviewer living and working in Irvine, CA. He enjoys long walks on the beach, learning everything he can about Google products, and has just discovered Twitter! Follow him over on Twitter for the latest life updates.