The Practical Guide to Performance Max Campaigns


Not even a year into the new campaign rollout and performance max has become a mainstay in many Google Ad accounts. In many of our own accounts, performance max campaigns allowed us to decrease CPCs, increase CVR, and most importantly, get better results.

That’s why we compiled our internal testing & 3rd party research to help you unlock the potential of performance max campaigns in your account. This guide will get you up to speed on how performance max campaigns work and what secrets we uncovered about this new campaign type. 

What are Performance Max Campaigns?

The name sounds pretty great right? Maximize your performance with this nifty new campaign. After all, who wouldn’t want more performance???

This new automated behemoth is billed as “a new way to buy Google Ads across all of our [Google’s] ad inventory”. After a year of beta testing, Google rolled out performance max campaigns to everyone in November 2021 and has since phased them in over many campaign types.

Instead of using specific campaigns for ad formats like Search, Shopping, Display, YouTube, Discovery. Performance Max combines targeting for all of its current inventory to help you achieve your marketing goals. 

Google leverages its automated bidding to help you achieve the goal you set for your performance max campaign based upon the information you provide. To get started, you give Google your product feed (for ecommerce), your settings to focus on your desired goal, bid/budget strategy, ad creative assets (ad text, images, videos, ad extensions), and your audience signals. 

We will get into more detail about this shortly along with the other campaign settings you can use to achieve better results. The point is that after you provide that initial information, Google will use its smart bidding to find your ideal customer.

The Basics of Setting Up Performance Max Campaigns

Before we get into the basics for setup, here are the minimum assets you have to use to start testing:

  1. At least 2 to 6 weeks to test your performance max campaign
  1. Text:
    1. 3 x 30 character headlines
    2. 2 x 90 character descriptions (with one 60 character short description)
    3. 1 x 90 character long headline
  1. Image
    1. 1 x 600×316 landscape 
    2. 1 x 300×300 square image
    3. 1 x 314×314 square (for Store Visit oriented campaigns)
    4. 1 x 128×128 logo
    5. Recommended to have a 1200×628 image
    6. Try to keep your file size as small as possible (below 5,120KB minimally)
  1. Videos: not required, but recommended 

Here are the basic steps you need to take to get the most out of your new performance max campaigns:

  1. Make sure your conversion tracking is working – the entire purpose of performance max is to maximize your performance. Google won’t be able to do that without having the right conversion goals setup. Additionally, we would recommend that your account have at least 15 conversion actions in the past 30 days, ideally 50 conversions or more to give your campaign more data to work with.
  1. Provide Your Budget & Bidding – make sure this aligns with your marketing goals and with the data you have in your account. Spending $1 to get $1000 sounds great, but performance max campaigns are not miracle workers. Starting with practical budgets/bids is a great way to begin. If you have ample budget, starting without a ROAS or CPA bid cap can help you see what results your campaign can initially get over 2-6 weeks then optimize for efficiency.
  1. Campaign Settings – this one is pretty easy, just give your ideal location targeting, languages, and final url expansion. If we take a closer look, there are three somewhat secret tips worth noting here:
    1. Focus on your top locations based upon your marketing goals (revenue, leads, CPA, ROAS, etc). 
    2. We recommend using final url expansion initially unless there are specific landing pages that you know will have a much higher conversion rate. Then as you see which landing pages convert most effectively with your performance max campaign you can choose those landing pages.
    3. If you know you get more conversions during a specific time of day/day of week based upon past data. Update your ad schedule.
  1. Asset Group Setup – give your product feed if you’re an ecommerce business and then give the following item listed below and before our setup basics section. This is where you will spend most of your setup time and we have more details on this in our optimization tips section later on.
    1. Your final url
    2. Images (up to 20)
    3. Business logo (up to 5 – you usually just need 1)
    4. Videos (up to 5)
    5. Headlines (up to 5)
    6. Long Headlines (up to 5)
    7. Descriptions (1 short & 4 regular)
    8. Your Business Name
    9. Call to Action (automated – we recommend choosing one based upon your goals)
    10. Option for HTML5 ads & display paths
    11. Audience signal
    12. Add your ad extensions

The Benefits of Using Performance Max

We believe that Google will provide you with the best answer to this in its initial announcement & in its support article. Here’s are the highlights they provide:

  • Unlock new audiences across Google’s channels & networks to increase your reach.
  • Increase conversions & value.
  • Find new customers by using Google’s real-time understanding of user intent, behavior, and context to show your ads in the right moments with more relevant ads.
  • Google claims that you can “get more transparent insights”.
  • Work together with automation
  • Simplify campaign management and easily optimize your ads.

Here’s our take on the benefits of performance max campaigns:

  • Consolidated Targeting – allows us to find prospects more efficiently in one campaign and indirectly allows us to get more out of our budget in real time vs manually segmenting budgets by campaign type.
  • Potentially Lower CPCs & Higher Conversion Rates – when we initially tested this campaign type with some of our ecommerce accounts, performance max helped us decrease our CPCs by as much as 30% vs prior Shopping campaigns while also increasing our conversion rate. The conversion rate increases varied a lot due to testing and based upon how much data the account had originally.
  • Automation is the Future – this is a loaded point, but automation is where the SEM industry has been going. Originally we saw this as Google introduced a variety of automated bid strategies and dynamic creative into accounts. Now we’re seeing that Google’s automation is doing even more of the heavy lifting with bidding, selecting ad creative, and now selecting ad inventory. Testing performance max helps us see how to optimize the performance of these campaign types as Google begins to favor them more.
  • Performance Max is Good for Bigger Accounts – if you have more data (ideally hundreds of conversions a month), performance max campaigns perform very well because they have more data to work off to refine targeting. 
  • We can focus more on creative, analysis, and strategy – long term, this campaign could change how we manage Google Ad accounts. Let Google handle the bidding and parts of the targeting while we get more time to develop better creative, analyze results, and think about our marketing strategy.
  • And of course…we could even maximize our performance with performance max campaigns.

The Challenges with Using Performance Max

I personally believe in having a balanced view of new initiatives for any ad account and strongly recommend using new campaigns/tactics based upon what will help you achieve better results with your current strategy. 

For all of the cases out there for using performance max, there are some big challenges that you should consider before implementing this new campaign type.

  • You’re Bidding for The Same Ad Inventory – though there are some benefits to consolidating targeting, we’re not getting anything new by combining our targeting vs having control over where our ads show. Google gets to decide where our budget goes so instead of trying to get more impressions for high intent search traffic, we might be spending more on YouTube, Display, and other channels. This can be good for brand awareness and remarketing, but it’s still interruptive marketing that won’t be as good as the intent search provides us when someone is actively searching for a product/service.
  • Less Control Over Targeting – on top of not having control over ad channel selection, we have less control over location targeting, demographic targeting, and ad scheduling. Originally we were able to adjust bids to tell Google when we should get more exposure based upon results. Now we let Google handle that. Google also took away our ability to specify targeting for specific keywords and placements. There are two places where you can see this data. However…..Google gives you much less data to work with.
  • Under the report section in the tab on the top of your screen, in the predefined reports section under the other, there is a Performance Max campaign placement report. This gives you a very limited amount of data on what placements you showed up for outside of Google’s O&O inventory (Google Search, YouTube, etc). Here’s an example:
  • In your performance max campaigns, there is a section called insights in the left side of your screen. Currently this only gives you week over week or month over month insights on how your performance changed and the category of search terms that you appear for. Though you can change the data you see here, it’s substantially less data then what we currently have in search campaigns.
  • Less Control Over Creative Testing – the product feed & ad text you provide Google with will be crucial to helping Google find your target audience. Similar to smart shopping campaigns, Google uses its automation to read the content you provided then match you with keywords that best fit the intent of the content provided. The issue with this is that we can’t see where our ads showed up and how we performed when they showed up. Clearly this is going to limit how we test and will mean that we need a lot more time to test. At best we can get a broad understanding of how ad combinations perform. There may be some updates to performance max in the future to alleviate this issue. For now there is a lot of trial and error with creative testing on performance max.
  • Limited Visibility – if this wasn’t clear from the first few points, then allow me to be very direct here. We aren’t getting as much information with Performance Max campaigns as we do with our prior campaign types. Search campaigns allow us to see what search queries we show up for, Display/YouTube campaigns show us the placements we should up for, and our prior campaigns give us performance based upon ad variations. In exchange for the benefits automation provides, you get less insight because Google’s automation is now handling it for us.
  • Automation is Only as Good as The Underlying Data – if your account doesn’t have a lot of data. Then Google is going to have a trial period where it’s guessing how to generate results. You might get great results, you might not get any results. A great product/service can help you get better results, though it’s very hard to tell because without data, automations are relying on general projections at best which may or may not be relevant to your product/service.
  • Testing Performance Max can Deter Results for Your Current Campaigns – if you already have campaigns that are hitting or exceeding your goals, I would be hesitant to test this campaign type right away. Minimally you should consider the following campaign overlap we have observed. 

Tips to Optimize Your Performance Max Campaigns

Here are a quick takeaways:

  • Catch all has generally been favored over product specific campaigns. The product either needs to be excluded from catch all to get more exposure in a new campaign or the bid for the product specific campaign needs to be higher than catch all. Though overtime, performance max seems to favor the campaign with the better performance data relative to the goals you set.
  • We get mixed results on performance max from specifying ad copy for particular products vs brand terms. What we have generally seen is that when the ad text has more non-brand terms, we show up more for non-brand terms on performance max. This can be good for segmenting your targeting for asset groups & potentially campaigns. The results do vary though because brand terms generally get better results vs non-brand so we sometimes sacrifice conversion rate for better research.
  • Results improved by focusing on particular SKUs. Especially if we saw those SKUs had a higher conversion rate or better performance in prior campaigns.
  • Google has favored search campaigns for now, though this is depending upon how effective the ad rank and ad performance has been vs performance max.
  • These campaigns take time to perform (1-2 weeks for catch all and 3-6 weeks for specific campaigns or to scale current campaigns depending upon data volume). The same considerations we had for automated bidding apply here where we need a minimum of 15 conversions for a 30 day period. Accounts with less data still saw performance, but there was a lot more variance on a daily basis.
  • Using performance max to test different ad text & audiences takes time. We have found through different test iterations that performance max does favor better ad text for similar audiences in different asset groups & different campaigns. While we have also found that performance max can increase your presence for the same product/service by using different audiences.
  • Re-segmenting performance max campaigns with different audiences or ad text can be a good way to get more exposure for each audience or ad text. Similar to search campaigns, performance max sometimes favors certain asset groups which is why it can be good to create new campaigns. If you’re seeing that a given campaign favors a particular product type or ad text more, then that can be a good sign that you could benefit from segmenting out lower performers to get more out of performance max.

Here are details on particular settings you can take advantage of with Performance Max campaigns:

Audience Signals:

  • A somewhat new feature based upon prior targeting options. Instead of picking keywords, Google lets you pick your custom segments (ex prior searchers), your own audiences, and interests/demographics. 
  • This is similar to Display/Youtube, though what’s interesting is you can pick specific subsections of multiple audiences similar to the audience targeting we get from combined audiences. In tandem with prior data this is a useful feature.
  • Our ad hack here is to look at the top performing audiences in Google Ads campaigns for similar product/service campaigns while cross analyzing audience performance in Google Analytics. By layering audiences with above average conversion rates in performance max campaigns, we have seen better results.

Asset Groups:

  • You can have up to 100 asset groups in a campaign.
  • This allows you to segment different product groups, services, and themes similar to prior campaigns.
  • Overlap can happen when you break out different asset groups.
  • Recent testing on our end has revealed that breaking out an asset group in a campaign with more data can increase reach more than a new performance max campaign with the same asset group. That said this can vary from account to account.
  • You should try to get at least 2000-5000 impressions per asset group to see its performance. You can see this information indirectly in the Insights tab under asset groups for a given search category.
  • Within the asset group, you should aim to get rid of lower performance scores to get Good/Excellent scores. The variety of text and match between what you’re offering vs the audience signal you use is important. 
  • If you don’t add videos, Google will automatically generate them?!?!??!?! This can be good if you have good images and ad text, but we recommend adding your own custom videos. 

URL Expansion Testing: there are three options to consider here:

  • Keep URL expansion on to allow Google to choose its own final urls based upon the site url you provide.
  • Keep URL expansion on but exclude irrelevant pages or pages that don’t convert very well.
  • Turn off URL expansion to only send traffic to urls you choose. This is a good option if you have a specific url for your product/service. 

Testing Recommendations: here are a few different things you can test with these campaigns. As we have run these campaigns we have found that there are a lot of different opportunities:

  • Remarketing vs Prospecting Audience Signals
  • Combining Remarketing/Prospecting Audience Signals vs Breaking Them Out
  • Test Top SKUs in One Asset Group
  • Breakout Asset Groups into One Campaign vs Separate Campaigns
  • Promotion vs Evergreen Creative Campaigns/Asset Groups
  • Seasonal vs Evergreen Creative Campaigns/Asset Groups
  • Test Different Demographic Segments vs Broader Segments for Age/Income/etc.
  • Test Different Locations Settings
  • Test Different Dayparting Settings
  • Segment Audience Signals & Ad Creative Based Upon Prior Search Campaign Data & performance max Insights
  • Test Different Conversion Actions (Purchase, Add to Cart, Checkout, Leads, Pageviews, etc)
  • Optimize Your Product Feed For Specific Terms You Want To Show Up For.

Recent Updates to Performance Max Campaigns

Here are a few updates for your consideration as of April 2023:

  • You can now add negative keywords to your Performance Max campaigns at the account level or ask your rep to add negative keywords. This can either be done directly through a negative keyword list or by reaching out to Google support via email or chat.
  • New feature updates are listed here. Here are some key highlights we think you’ll be excited about as well:
    • Page feeds – this is great if you want to keep final URL expansion on while refining results. Page feeds allow you to specify which URLs are most important for Google.
    • Experiments – you can now test standard shopping campaigns vs PMax campaigns head to head to see which one gets better results.
    • Video creation tool – if you don’t have resources to create videos this is great. Google now has a tool under the assets section of the Performance Max campaign workflow to create high-quality video assets.

Need Help Improving Your Performance with Performance Max?

Improving your performance max campaigns can be very time consuming and there is a lot of trial/error involved. Working with experts that have already created & gotten great results on performance max can be a huge win for your account. If you want to learn more about working with the right Google Ads consultant, then I would be more than happy to help. Schedule time with me today to find out more.

Centaur Consulting Group

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