Pros and Cons of Google Ads Performance Max Campaigns

TImothy Johnson, Small Business Solutions / PPC Team Lead

Digital marketing is a moving target. Platforms and practices have evolved immensely since I started at Portent 10 years ago in many ways. Automation is one of the biggest ways things are changing. And changing for the better, I might add!

Is Google automating us out of our jobs? I don’t believe so.

Today, we are spending less time with mundane tasks like manual bid changes and instead focusing on strategy while we allow algorithms to carry more of the weight. And the fact is, they are better at those tasks anyway. The question now is, how can we use automation to achieve better results?

Google and other platforms continue to find new ways to help us be successful. Performance Max campaigns are a big step forward in that regard. But with an innovation like this, there are pros and cons to consider. And there is definitely a right and wrong way to execute and optimize.

Let’s start from the top.

What are Performance Max campaigns?

Performance Max (or PMax) is a relatively new goal-based campaign type that was first launched in November 2021. These campaigns are eligible to show across Google’s entire array of ad inventory and use automation and data to determine when and where your ads should show up to reach your goals.

This “one size fits all” campaign type is the latest step from Google to use machine learning to take more control over what your ad looks like, when they will be served, and who they are served to.

One particularly interesting aspect about them is how they are replacing Smart Shopping campaigns completely. Smart Shopping was a step toward more automation when it debuted in 2018 and became a best practice from Google over standard Shopping campaigns. So this shift to PMax is notable.

What control do you have?

PMax might feel like you are handing over the keys to Google, but that is not completely true. There are still a number of ways you can influence the campaign targeting and likelihood of success.

  • Goal setting
  • Budgets
  • Creative and copy assets
  • Geo-targeting
  • Google My Business and product feeds
  • Audience signals
  • Bidding

There is a right and wrong way to utilize and optimize PMax campaigns. From your expectations around output to the role they might play in a marketing funnel to following best practices around creative assets, having a clear strategy and executing will be key to success.

Where do PMax campaigns show up?

In short, everywhere.

Graphic of Google's full range of advertising channels and inventory
Graphic of Google’s ad channels and inventory from Google Ads & Commerce Blog

Google believes all of its ad inventory is valuable. So the more they can combine all those targeting options into a simple campaign and allow their machine learning to dictate which placement is the right placement for that particular campaign and advertiser, the better.

In many ways, I agree with them. Google isn’t the first one to push for this type of “full inventory” approach. In the past, mixing network placement in the same campaign was a big mistake. Doing so meant bidding the same for different placements in ways that would hurt performance. But with automated bidding, that all changed. Now the bid strategy governs our bids and allows for a greater crossover of placements in a campaign type like PMax.

Pros of Performance Max Campaigns

There is a lot to consider as we all contemplate how to use PMax to our advantage. Some of the pros are more straightforward, while others are more apparent once you get into the weeds of how these campaigns really work.

Automation

The most obvious pro is the ability to leverage automation more fully. Bid automation has proven that, with the right data input, it can outperform a human’s ability to bid effectively to a goal. I embrace an automation solution like PMax that does the same with ad placement and creative as well. With this, we also gain:

  • More conversions
  • More conversion value
  • Time saved
  • New customers (PMax work well at attracting users at the top of the funnel)

Works well with existing search campaigns

As you dive into the functionality of how they work in your Google Ads account, there are some clear benefits as well. Most notably is how they work with your existing Search campaigns. At this time, PMax is only replacing Smart Shopping. Other campaigns like Search campaigns should play nicely with PMax campaigns. Search keywords will take priority, which still gives the advertiser some control when targeting high-priority search terms.

All that said, this list of pros is shorter than what Google touts. Many of their pros, like PMax providing richer campaign insights, don’t appear to be true. There is certainly some selling going on as Google works to gain adoption.

Cons of Performance Max Campaigns

The list of potential cons to consider is a little bit longer.

Less control

PMax provides advertisers with less control. Handing over the control of targeting to automation can be a pro, as I mentioned, but there are clearly drawbacks as well. Less control makes it easier and easier to spend money with Google. Google’s ad inventory is huge, and if we aren’t narrowing down our targeting, the capacity to spend is high. This clearly benefits Google while not always benefiting the advertiser.

Still new

As PMax campaigns are so new, this also adds some additional cons. They are still not available in Google Ads Editor, which makes them more manual to build as you expand. We have less data on them, so best practices are still evolving. And since they are new, we are very likely going to experience frequent changes and updates from Google as they fine-tune.

Limited reporting

But one of the biggest cons I see is around reporting. The first few PMax campaigns I saw spending in accounts all appeared to be performing well! Their ROAS was strong for a campaign that I assumed was spending across the entire Google Network. But as I reviewed it more closely, I found that the PMax campaign was cannibalizing other efforts. Google does not make that clear in platform with limited reporting on what network your spend is going to. This cannibalization makes it hard to judge incremental value and lift.

Beyond just that, reporting is challenging because Google doesn’t really tell us much about PMax performance at all. Most granular network reporting and things like that are all hidden away, making it hard to gain insights (something Google specifics touts as something they are good at).

How to Optimize PMax Campaigns

If PMax isn’t automating us out of a job, then what is there left for us to do as Google automates more and more? With PMax, there are a few things to focus on.

1. Have clear goals

These campaigns are goal-based. Obviously, everyone’s goal is to drive more sales and revenue, but understanding the role you want these campaigns to play in your overall marketing will allow you to set the algorithm up for success.

2. Use insights from existing campaigns

We do have some control over things like ad scheduling, geo-targeting, bid strategies, and audience signals. Use what you have learned from other campaigns to layer in more guardrails to help the algorithm learn quicker and reach your customers.

3. Use all the assets you can

The more high-quality assets you can provide, the more you are giving the AI to work with.

  • 5 Headlines
  • 5 Long headlines
  • 5 Descriptions
  • 20 Landscape images
  • 20 Square images
  • 5 Logos: at least 1 square logo, others are optional
  • 5 YouTube videos (not required, min. 10 seconds)

4. Feed optimization

For E-commerce advertisers, optimize your feed. Like standard shopping campaigns, PMax will rely on product feed quality to determine targeting.

5. Collect the right data

Automation depends on accurate data collection to make decisions. To drive the best results, feed the best data possible back into Google. There are a few ways to ensure you are doing that.

Takeaway

Automation is coming. You can fight it or embrace it, but it seems clear that this is the direction digital advertising is going and has been going for some time. Performance Max is just one example of that.

These campaign types might not be perfect. And they are especially not perfect for everyone. Assess your goals, understand how they can help or hurt you, and test.

TImothy Johnson, Small Business Solutions / PPC Team Lead
Director of Paid Media

As Portent's Director of Paid Media, Tim oversees all paid efforts for the agency. His background is predominately in paid search, having been a PPC Strategist at Portent since 2012. Today he is dedicated to leading all of Portent's paid services including paid search, paid social, display, programmatic, and video. When he's not helping our clients meet—and exceed—their goals, he is rooting for Seattle sports and trying to spend as much time as possible outside.

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