The pros and cons of Google’s Performance Max campaigns

Sam Pilgrim | 25th October 2022 | Paid Media

Introduction to Performance Max

In November 2021, Google released Performance Max (P-Max) campaigns in a bid to help advertisers increase their conversions across its various advertising channels. This campaign type utilises automation and machine learning to deliver results across Search, Display, Discovery, YouTube and Google Maps.

Source: Google

While this may seem like an all-in-one solution, it’s important to state that P-Max campaigns are not a replacement for existing search and display campaigns. They should complement existing campaigns, helping to extend your reach to potential customers through these additional channels.

Performance-Max setup

P-Max needs very little setup to get started, requiring only a handful of assets in order to optimise performance.

These include:

  • Up to 15 images
  • Up to 5 logos
  • Up to 5 videos
  • Up to 5 headlines (30 characters)
  • Up to 5 long headlines (90 characters)
  • Up to 5 descriptions (90 characters)

You also have the option of adding sitelinks and a specific call to action to your ads, but Google can automate these or use your account level sitelinks. P-Max can also link to your Google Merchant Centre, enabling you to automatically pull product ads into Google Shopping

*Note: Previous smart shopping campaigns will have automatically been updated to P-Max by September 2022.

Early concerns with Performance-Max

There has been some uncertainty around P-Max campaigns and the best way to manage this campaign type. This is because P-Max will often impact other campaign performance at first, tempting advertisers to switch it off.

This is also as linked to the limited reporting data that comes with P-Max campaigns. Currently, you can report on top-level performance like other campaigns, however, you can only deep dive into location and time-of-day performance. 

You are also unable to add negative keywords to P-Max campaigns at this time, although Google has announced this feature will be available in the near future.

Performance Max and search campaigns 

It is recommended that you add exact match keywords to existing search campaigns as these will take priority over P-Max campaigns. If you aren’t using exact match keywords, then P-Max can take over the keywords, which in the worst cases can lead to higher click costs and an increase in acquisition costs.

P-Max campaigns with higher ad rankings will have priority over search terms that don’t match the exact search term.

Advantages of Performance Max

Google is investing heavily into P-Max, highlighted by the compulsory switch from smart shopping. This means the algorithm will be learning quickly and is likely to achieve improved performance across accounts as it reaches further than previous campaigns have allowed.

So what can you expect to see?

Performance uplift
Machine learning will identify campaigns, ad groups, ads and audiences that perform best and opt to show these. If you are using data-driven attribution across Google, the algorithm will learn which touch-points are likely to lead to a conversion and will optimise towards this.

Improved audience accuracy
P-Max allows you to automate actions using audience signal data. You can influence the algorithm by adding keywords and audience target groups to identify key users that are likely to convert. 

Reduced admin
The automation of optimisation, targeting and delivery means very little is required to maintain a P-Max campaign once live. You do still have some control over it, for example you can update assets. We wouldn’t recommend leaving these campaigns to just run however as the algorithm doesn’t always get it right. A mix of human analysis and machine learning looks to be the best way to move forward with these campaigns.

Disadvantages of Performance Max

Little search term data
Similarly to smart shopping, Google gives us very little data when it comes to P-Max campaigns. You can see search categories that provide limited exposure to search terms, but it’s not as comprehensive as search term reports from search campaigns.

Lack of negative keywords
Currently there is no way to add negative keywords to a P-Max campaign. Google has indicated that it will be available at some point. But for now, the only way to add negatives is to create a dedicated P-Max Negative List and ask your Google rep or Google Support to add it to your P-Max campaign.

Keyword cannibalisation
Unless you have a dedicated brand campaign, P-Max will cannibalise brand terms. You can prevent this by adding brand terms to a negative list as mentioned above, or ensure you use exact match brand terms in a brand campaign as these will take priority over P-Max.

In summary

P-Max has huge potential and we’re already seeing it work well for some of our clients. The increased reach has allowed advertisers to reach customers on platforms previously not considered, improving their results, and providing ads to more of the right customers at the right time.

We still think a set-and-forget approach is the wrong one. Whilst those advertisers who take the time to optimise alongside the algorithm will likely see better results. We look forward to the sharing more on the adoption of P-Max with you in future.

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