Efficiency vs. Insights: Performance Max Campaigns – A Look at Google’s New Ad Campaign Type

Death, taxes, and Google removing visibility in their Ads campaigns — these things in life are guaranteed.

One of the most recent updates from Google Ads is the introduction of Performance Max campaigns. Performance Max campaigns are specifically designed for Lead Gen, eCommerce or In-Store Visits. They work by uploading an Asset Group consisting of a Landing Page, Images (up to 15), Logos, Headlines, Long Headlines (up to 90 characters), Descriptions, a Short Description (up to 60 characters), a Call To Action, and your Business Name. To give Google a “jumpstart to machine learning,” you provide Google a variety of Audience Signals. These consist of:

  • Custom Audience — People based on their search activity, downloaded apps, or visited sites
  • Your Data — think: Remarketing, or a specific Audience you collect like a Customer List
  • Interests & Detailed Demographics — People based on their interests, life events, or detailed demographics
  • Standard Demographic (Age/Gender/Parent, etc)

And as Google’s Ads Products Liaison Ginny Marvin notes, “Without them (or effective ones), ramp up will take longer”.

Performance Max then combines all potential placements into one campaign (Search, Display, Youtube, etc.), and gives Google the keys to hit your goals,  whether you want to optimize for Maximize Conversions (with a Target Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)) or a Target Return on Ad Spend (RoAS). 

While I can get behind streamlining campaigns, the biggest issue most advertisers have with Performance Max is the lack of visibility into which placement is actually driving results. Not understanding if Youtube vs. Search vs. Display is driving a conversion is extremely frustrating, even if CPAs are falling. Because of this lack of clarity, many brands and agencies are understandably steering clear of Performance Max campaigns. At RyTech however, we had a few brands that we presented the opportunity to, and they agreed to test out Performance Max and, while it pains me to say this, we’ve seen strong results. That being said, there are very obvious times that a Performance Max campaign is a terrible idea to test.

When to Steer Clear of Performance Max Campaigns

After testing Performance Max campaigns across a variety of accounts, there are multiple times I would strongly recommend against them.

When Conversion Tracking isn’t 100% accurate

This actually applies to any level of tracking/attribution. Because Performance Max relies so heavily on your website, audience signals, and conversions, having proper tracking and attribution is more important than ever.

When a client doesn’t have a CRM to follow up on conversions

Most conversions in Performance Max are aimed at low- to mid-funnel conversions, so having a CRM and a lead funnel put together are important investments to have made prior to investing in Performance Max.

If a client is hyper-concerned regarding brand placements

Messaging around future exclusions notes they’ll be able to be placed at the account-level and not campaign-level. Brands will have to balance if it’s worth excluding search terms or placements across their entire account, or if they want to let Performance Max run without those restrictions.

When assets aren’t readily available or able to be created

Ginny Martin has confirmed that if Videos aren’t uploaded to the account, Google will create them using the text and images provided. In my opinion, this is a slippery slope that brands and advertisers at least need to be aware of — if not something to avoid.

A Few Additional Details Before Diving In

After we run through and conclude a client doesn’t disqualify from potentially benefiting from a Performance Max campaign, we can continue the conversation. Here at RyTech, we recommend Performance Max campaigns when a client checks a few boxes, including:

  1. There is exploratory budget
    If we can efficiently run search/display campaigns at a consistent tCPA hitting our clients budget, while testing can occur, it may make more sense to continue to run campaigns we can more closely control.
    The second reason this is important is that running a Performance Max campaign takes significant setup time. If it doesn’t make sense to potentially write new ad copy, create new graphics and imagery, create and upload new video, find audiences to run against, and be able to allocate the appropriate time to measure, then a Performance Max campaign may not make sense.
  2. There is a sales team that we can communicate with to determine lead type (NQ, MQL,  SQL)
    Considering not all conversions are created equal, it’s beneficial to have a sales team to communicate with to get an understanding of conversion quality and potential ROI.
  3. The client has a sales funnel set up
    Again — while Performance Max does drive some bottom of funnel conversions, it aims at driving low- to mid-funnel conversions.
  4. Conversions aren’t hyper-targeted
    If you have a hyper-specific conversion target (say you need to target CMOs at Healthcare Organizations between 100-200 employees, e.g), Performance Max will not be for you.

A Few Workarounds We’ve Found to Maximize Performance of Performance Max Campaigns

While there is minimal insight into how Performance Max campaigns are performing inside of the Google Ads interface, there are a few workarounds we’ve found at RyTech to determine information regarding your Performance Max campaigns. 

Final URL Expansion

In most campaigns, I would recommend starting more precise and providing one single landing page, but with Performance Max I actually prefer to go the opposite route. We’ve seen strong success with keeping Final URL Expansion on, but doing a site crawl and excluding any potential pages that may drive irrelevant traffic. This can include:

  • Old Blog Posts
  • Orphaned Service Pages
  • Old Case Studies/White Papers

Once the Final URL is honed in, we’ll explain later how to better understand which pages are being prioritized by Performance Max campaigns.

Secondary Dimensions
Another tactic has been to use Secondary Dimensions inside of specific reports. Every Google Ad Campaign has a specific eleven-digit Google Ads Campaign ID associated with it. Going to the Google Ads report in Google Analytics will allow you to locate these. Once you have that Campaign ID, you can add that value as a Secondary Dimension in Google Ads, and filter so that the only traffic coming in is based on that Campaign ID. This allows you to view:

Geo Report + Secondary Dimension Filter: Want to know how strong the location targeting in a Performance Max campaign is? Go to your City/Country report to see where users are coming from.

Pro Tip: Don’t waste your money — add the ~195 countries as Exclusions from your Performance Max campaign on setup. Every campaign I’ve run without these exclusions has seen double-digit percentages of traffic coming from countries we weren’t targeting.
Landing Page + Secondary Dimension Filter: If you opt into Final URL Expansion, this report will give you a great idea of what search terms or potential intent your Performance Max campaign is targeting.

Pro Tip #2: Spend 50% of your setup time excluding pages, if not more depending on the amount of content on the website. Performance Max takes all the content on your website into consideration. We’ve seen 5+ year old blogs and orphan pages getting the majority of Performance Max traffic, as well as privacy policies, /tags/ pages, etc.

These are just two of many reports to view to get a better understanding of Performance Max. Use demographic information, audience information, and custom reports to get a more in depth picture of how these campaigns perform.

One Advertising Professional’s Opinion

I was extremely hesitant when Performance Max was introduced, but after testing across a number of brands, I have to say I’m pretty impressed. These campaigns aren’t for everyone, but for a few clients we’re seeing up to a 50% reduction in Cost per Lead. Performance Max allows advertisers to spend more time focusing on the creative and analytical aspects of advertising, while allowing Google Ads’ Machine Learning algorithms to focus on when and where to place ads. 

There are definitely aspects this post hasn’t covered — my goal was to give you my take on this new campaign type. Additional topics you may want to watch out for include:

  • Defining Conversion Actions & Conversion Values
  • Performance Max cannibalizing or overtaking current Search & Display
  • Which audience signals are best to use
  • Auditing Landing Pages
  • What to Include/Exclude at the Account Level
  • Day-To-Day Insights for Performance Max Campaigns
  • How to set up a Performance Max Lead Funnel

If you’d like to discuss any of these or have any other questions, hit me up! My email is sam@rytechllc.com and I’d love to chat.  

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