The New Campaign in Town: Google Performance Max

There has been a new campaign type introduced on the Google advertising platform. It’s called Performance Max and I’m here to give an honest report on our experience with it. The good. The bad. And the ugly. 

This is another step towards marketing automation for digital marketers which is where the industry is trying to go. The overarching goal is that big tech wants machine learning to outperform and replace manual human ads management in the long run. They want to free up digital marketers from the minutia of ads management so we can focus on overall digital strategy and ad creative production. As a marketer, this doesn’t sound like a bad idea because managing Google Ads can be gruelling. 

What is Google Performance Max?

Performance Max is a Google ads campaign type that allows the media buyer to input display images, multiple headlines, multiple descriptions and multiple videos into asset groups. The targeting can vary based on what the media buyer chooses, but it can be affinity audiences, website URLs, keywords, etc. It’s akin to a massive split test that the algorithm runs and manages for you. 

When I first heard about it and dug into what it was offering, it reminded me of advertising on Facebook on all platforms, which is akin to splatter-shot advertising. Throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. And that’s okay when you’re working with a large company with a decent ad spending budget.

However, that’s not the case for everyone, so I’m writing this article for the rest of us who are still in growth mode. 

Performance Max Best Practices

These are the suggestions I’ve been hearing from experts in my community and I’d like to chime in on each one with my feedback.

Suggestion #1: “Start at $50-$100/day and open up your geo-targeting”

We did this with one client and were amazed to see an unprecedented cost per click for website visitors, but we didn’t see the results in the conversions. After a month of testing, we got lots of traffic from unproductive countries and the conversions were disappointing. We ended up changing the location targeting to the US only and that seemed to have helped.

Suggestion #2: “Launch and leave the campaign alone for six weeks”

This is a nail-biter for media buyers because we are so used to being able to tinker with keywords, targeting, ad copy, etc. The concept of putting all of our ad creative and targeting into an algorithmic black box is daunting, to say the least. The campaign does allow us to get some basic ad creative feedback in terms of performance. It will tell you if your ad creative is poor, good or best. This enables us to swap out the poor performing creative and replace it with stronger ad copy, images or video.

Harsh Realities of Performance Max in 2022

Since Performance Max is still technically the new campaign in town for marketers it’s definitely going to have its drawbacks that Google doesn’t tell you about. Here is what we’ve been observing so far.

Not selling products online? Performance Max might not be a good fit for you 

Performance Max replaced Google shopping ads, so one can infer that this campaign type is designed for eCommerce companies. If your company mainly focuses on lead generation, it might not be the right fit in 2022 for you. The campaign algorithm will likely advance and mature in future months and years, but for now, it’s still technically in its infancy in the world of digital marketing and is not great at lead generation campaigns (yet).

Performance Max takes you out of the driver’s seat on exclusions

If you like to be in full control of your campaigns, Performance Max will relinquish you of that. It’s been referred to as a “black box” because marketers are no longer able to add negative keywords which have been a great feature. 

Performance Max might be taking all of the credit for branded search terms

The word on the street is that Performance Max over-delivers in the area of branded search terms so, despite strong results, the campaign might be performing well because it’s attracting traffic searching for your brand name. It’s recommended that you reach out to your Google rep to exclude your branded search terms so you’re getting a realistic picture of how it’s performing without those terms. This can only be done manually at Google at this point. This will hopefully change in the future. 

Running Performance Max and Search campaigns in tandem is problematic

From what we’ve seen and heard from our colleagues is that if you’re running Performance Max campaigns alongside Google Search campaigns that the Performance Max campaigns will steal traffic (and conversions) away from your Google Search campaigns. It will cannibalize your branded search campaign(s) in particular. 

It’s a clever way for Google to sell off its undesirable and unused inventory

As a platform, Google has inventory that isn’t sold at their ad auctions each day. This campaign is a clever way for them to display your ads in places you wouldn’t have chosen. Facebook does the same thing with their automatic placements option which is a win for them, but not necessarily for the advertiser. 

If you don’t have $1,000 to experiment with it’s not for you

Running Performance Max ads makes sense when you have some breathing room and aren’t white-knuckling your introduction to it. If you have a tight budget and high expectations, it might make sense to hold off on testing it until you can afford the ability to experiment with it. 

New funnel? Steer clear

If you’ve never run traffic to your funnel before and don’t have a proven funnel, this campaign type is not for you. The ideal situation is to feed Google with a funnel that has established conversion performance and set up a singular goal for it to focus on that goal. 

Parting Thoughts

Overall, this new campaign type does show promising results for eCommerce companies and every day that it runs, it’s making the data modelling stronger and stronger for future use.

As a digital marketer, this shift into more automation is intriguing for what’s ahead in our industry. We are moving away from the granularity in the results that we have once gotten used to, and are now migrating towards looking for larger trends and patterns to report on our results. This move by Google definitely underscores that we need to embrace marketing automation with caution in its early stages until it can catch up with human-lead ads management. 

If you’re seeking someone to manage your Google Ads for you, visit our service page to learn more about running ads with us. 

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Tammy Martin

Tammy is the company founder and crafty innovator behind this article. Since 2000, she has worked with clients to refine their marketing strategy, perfect ad performance, and generate sales from the bottom up.

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