Now that we’ve all been living with Performance Max for a while and starting to test the format, we’re learning the intricacies and nuances of the newest Google Ads campaign type.
Some aspects of Performance Max feel completely novel, like auto-generated video assets and URL expansion. Other aspects feel vaguely familiar, like responsive ads and conversion-only bidding.
After working with Performance Max campaigns across dozens of accounts over the last six months, here are my top 10 dos, don’ts, watchouts, and workarounds for success with PMax.
There is a mix of opinions around Google Ads Performance Max, but all in all, I recommend that ecommerce businesses test Performance Max now. I do not recommend that lead gen businesses test it unless you have sophisticated conversion tracking set up (see the first “do” below).
And regardless of business objectives, don’t even think about testing Performance Max unless you’re prepared to spend at least $50-100 per day for at least a month; without it, it’s unlikely you’ll generate enough data and learning for the format to work properly.
Here are my top 10 dos, don’ts, watchouts and workarounds for PMax.
Performance Max relies heavily on both bidding and targeting automation, similar to predecessors like App campaigns, Smart Display, and Local campaigns. Conversion tracking is always important in a Google Ads account, but it’s even more important in Performance Max. While this is pretty easy on the ecommerce side, I’ve seen many lead gen businesses struggle with lead quality.
In my opinion, this is not a failing of the format, but rather a stark reminder of the importance of tools like enhanced conversions, offline conversion tracking, CRM integration, etc.
We know that automation will only continue to grow in importance in PPC, so if you’ve been avoiding your conversion tracking challenges, now’s the time to hunker down and fix them.
There are a variety of Google Ads reporting features that are not (yet?) available in Performance Max, like landing page reports or accurate geographic reports, but I’ve found Google Analytics to be a helpful workaround.
Create a segment of users for whom the acquisition campaign contains Performance Max (or whichever naming convention you use), and then you’ll gain much deeper insight into how these users are interacting with your business. For example, you can use a Google Analytics segment on the Landing Page Report to see where the campaign is driving them, and whether you need to add URL exclusions or turn off URL expansion (see next section).
We know that Performance Max campaigns are an amalgamation of many Google Ads formats into one: Search, Display, Discovery, Video, Shopping, Local —pretty much everything except App (for now…). So it’s fitting that there is a handful of Performance Max features that “borrow” from other campaign idiosyncracies.
One of those idiosyncrasies that’s easy to miss is URL expansion, the PMax version of Dynamic Search Ads. By default, Performance Max campaigns have URL expansion turned on. This means that unless you turn it off, the campaign has permission to send users to landing pages other than your final URL, kind of like a dynamic ad group.
The key difference, however, is that with a dynamic ad group, you get to set your ad targets: the specific landing pages to which you want the campaign to drive traffic. You can do this by listing out specific webpages, or creating a set of rules, such as “URL contains product.”
With Performance Max, you can only set exclusions: the landing pages to which you do not want the campaign to drive traffic. Exclusion rules work the same way, but require a bit of a logical flip to set properly.
One of the trickiest parts of setting up a Performance Max campaign isn’t the bid strategy or the audience signal, it’s providing enough assets for this creative-hungry format. Since the campaign covers so many different types of inventory, you’ll need to feed it lots of text, image and video assets.
If you’ve ever set up a Display campaign, then you know that including video assets there is optional. In PMax, it is not optional. Or rather, if you don’t provide any video assets, then Google Ads will create them for you. While I’m sure the templates will get better over time, right now… well, the auto-generated video assets leave something to be desired.
Advertisers who don’t have any video assets, but want to use Performance Max, can use a free tool like Canva to animate your image assets into a short video.
As with all Google Ads campaigns, your video must be uploaded to YouTube before it can be used in a campaign. If you don’t want your video ad to be visible on your YouTube channel, select “Unlisted” visibility.
When it comes to location targeting, you can choose whether you want to target based on “Presence or interest” (people in the location or interested in it) or “Presence” only. I recommend “Presence” only because otherwise, your ads could be showing to people outside of the locations you set.
But Google defaults to the former. So be sure to change that
If you have been mistakenly running your campaign using Presence or interest, that Google Analytics segment I mentioned earlier will come in handy, as it will show you which locations are driving traffic.
Like Discovery campaigns, Performance Max campaigns will only let you bid for Conversion or Conversion Value. Perhaps one day we’ll see an “Awareness Max” coming out, but in the meantime, this format should only be used for conversion-based objectives.
If you do want to use Performance Max for a mid-funnel or upper-funnel objective, you can set conversion actions at the campaign level to do so. For example, if for some reason you want to test PMax on an awareness objective, create a “Page View” conversion action, and set the campaign to only optimize for Page Views.
With the launch of Performance Max campaigns, Google Ads introduced us to the seemingly new concept of an audience signal.
Usually, when you add audiences to your campaign, you tell Google Ads exactly which type of users you’d like to show ads to. You are in control of your targeting.
When you create an audience signal in Performance Max, you let Google Ads know what type of users you’re interested in showing ads to. However, PMax will only use these audience segments as a starting point to serve ads. Then, once it starts gathering data, it will branch out beyond your signal and show ads to people who exhibit behavior that suggests they are likely to convert.
Incidentally, this is how optimized targeting works in Display, Discovery, and conversion-focused Video campaigns: you choose your audience segments, but Google will ultimately show ads to whoever it thinks is most likely to convert. In my opinion, the rebranding of “optimized targeting” as an “audience signal” is a wise move, as it implies more user control rather than letting the machines run wild.
In order to set your audience signal off in the right direction, you should add two kinds of audience segments to it: Remarketing and a Custom audience. For Remarketing, a customer list is best, but failing that, pixel-based website remarketing will do. For the Custom audience, I like to build it using my top converting Search & Shopping search terms.
All of the audience signals in a Google Ads account sit on a separate tab in Audience Manager from your data segments. Even if you create them from within a Performance Max campaign, they’ll be accessible at the account level. This suggests that Google has grand plans for the audience signal beyond PMax, so watch this space.
Much fuss has been made about the lack of reporting transparency in Performance Max, and while some of that is true, there’s actually quite a bit of useful information on the Insights tab.
Once your campaign has been running for a few days/weeks (depending on your budget), you will start to see the top performing “Search categories” and “Audience segments.”
A search category is a group of similar search terms. While not as crystal clear as a search terms report, it will answer two important questions for you:
In this example, the top search category included high-performing existing search terms and the second search category included brand terms, but the third search category was one we had not been targeting—and as you can see, that opened up a large incremental opportunity.
The audience segments reporting will show you which Google audiences your converting users belong to. This is really helpful to gauge if the Video/Display portion of your Performance Max campaign is reaching the right audience. In this example, the two in-market audience segments driving 60% of conversions were both very relevant to this advertiser.
If you connect your Google Merchant Center feed to Performance Max, then just like a Shopping campaign, PMax will use the information in your feed (titles, pricing, images, availability, etc.) to create ads.
Because of this, I do not recommend adding your “ecommerce images” as separate image assets in your Performance Max asset group. The campaign already has these images from your feed! It’s duplicative.
Instead, add lifestyle images that show your products or services in use by real humans. Google’s own guidance for Discovery assets provides some great tips for what kinds of images perform well, including:
Smart Shopping may have been replaced by Performance Max, but it left the legacy of customer acquisition rules. In your PMax campaign setting, you have the option to only bid for new customers.
Bidding for new customers is a great option if your Performance Max campaign is heaving up on branded search and remarketing, and you want to leverage the format to focus on acquisition instead. However, remember to adjust your performance expectations accordingly; a PMax campaign focused on acquisition will not perform as “well” as a PMax campaign focused on bottom-of-funnel conversion, since it will take longer (and potentially more ads) to turn those new users into customers.
Like I said above, I think ecommerce businesses should definitely start testing PMax now. Lead gen businesses can too, but only if their conversion tracking setup is in top shape. And be prepared to put enough budget in so you can generate the data Google needs to learn and optimize. And to recap the 10 tips I shared in this post, here is how to run Performance Max campaigns right:
Jyll Saskin Gales is a digital marketing consultant, coach and teacher. She worked at Google for 6 years, and is now a Marketing Mentor at The DMZ and Elevate, a Digital Marketing Instructor at Jelly Academy and her own Google Ads course, and a corporate trainer for businesses across industries and sizes. You can find her on TikTok @the_google_pro and Twitter @jyllsaskingales.
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