7 things digital marketers need to know about Performance Max

By Elliot Smith

Audible gasps could be heard across the paid media industry in November 2021 when Google announced the launch of Performance Max campaigns. A fully automated, all-in-one campaign that covers Google’s entire inventory: YouTube, Display, Search/Shopping, Discover, Gmail, and Maps.  

The idea is that by housing multiple channels under a single campaign and single bid strategy, you can drive better result. That’s because the same user can be tracked and targeted as they journey across the Google spectrum. Sounds great, right? Well, not everyone’s excited about it. 

Getting controversial 

Apprehension surrounding Performance Max stems from the level of automation and distinct lack of optimisation options available – just upload images, video and copy assets, choose some audiences and away you go. No negative keywords, no placement exclusions, no keyword analysis, none of the usual fundamental optimisation techniques.  

Although this does ring alarm bells initially, in theory it will lighten the load and make paid media professionals more strategic. The same can be said of smart bidding and responsive search ads. When they were first announced, the pitchforks were out – but now we wouldn’t do without them!

What we know about Performance Max (PMax) 

 An early issue with Performance Max is that a lot of people don’t know enough about it, and maybe that’s because the overriding fear of the unknown has prevented them from embracing it.  

But fear not! Here at Launch we’ve been using it for long enough now to scratch the surface and unearth some best practices we hope you’ll find useful.  

Smart Shopping is disappearing 

Smart Shopping campaigns are going to be migrated over to Performance Max. The timeline on this auto-upgrading starts in July and ends in September, by which time your Smart Shopping campaigns willhave transformed into Performance Max campaigns.  

However, there will soon be a one-click tool launching in the interface that will upgrade your Smart Shopping campaigns to PMax in, you guessed it, one click. We’d recommend doing this as soon as possible to get your new Performance Max campaigns up to speed and avoid any potential issues that the auto-switch may bring about. 

Manual Shopping is here to stay 

Although Smart Shopping won’t be available after September, manual Shopping will still be available. So, if you have strict brand guidelines that prevent you from using Smart Shopping, or you’re just a stickler for bid management, then you’ll be able to continue as you were. 

Take note of Final URL Expansion 

During setup, the campaign will give you the option to opt into Final URL Expansion, which will match the most relevant page on your site to the user’s query and also tweak headlines to match intent. Sound familiar?  

That’s right, it’s basically dynamic search ads. The good news is that you do have the ability to either opt out of this (not recommended, DSAs are great!) or you can add URL exclusions to prevent any irrelevant pages on the site triggering your ads. 

Removing your Shopping Feed 

If you want to try out PMax but don’t want it to clash with your Shopping campaigns, you have the option to remove your feed from the PMax campaign during setup. This could be useful if you want to test PMax before Smart Shopping campaigns are migrated, or if you use manual Shopping campaigns. 

Finding search terms 

It’s possible to see search terms within the campaign under the ‘Insights’ section. The downside is you can only view week-on-week or month-on-month data for this at the moment.  

Negative keywords – but not as you know them

It is (or soon will be) possible to add negative keywords at account level for brand safety reasons. If you absolutely cannot (don’t want to) bid on brand then PMax could have been an issue, as there was no way to stop brand terms triggering an ad in the campaign. But with the introduction of account-level negatives, this will no longer be a concern.  

But don’t get too excited. I’d be very surprised if this was an open invite to add any negative keyword you like. My suspicion is that somehow, to ensure this is used for brand safety purposes only, you may have to submit a request to Google, who will cross-check your submitted negative(s) to ensure you’re not trying to ‘cheat’ the PMax campaign.

Start sooner rather than later

And that’s what we’ve learned so far – there’s still much to observe and learn about Performance Max over the coming months. Early signs indicate it’s going to be pretty effective for both lead gen and ecommerce clients, so we do recommend getting to grips with it sooner rather than later.  

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