Performance Max campaigns are the pinnacle of automation in PPC, so it’s no surprise they continue to be a major topic of debate for PPC professionals looking to balance time savings with peak campaign performance.
The primary goal of Performance Max campaigns is to drive conversions, such as sales, leads, or sign-ups, for your business while maintaining a competitive cost-per-action (CPA) or return-on-ad-spend (ROAS).
By utilizing Smart Bidding strategies and dynamically adapting ad creatives, these campaigns help advertisers reach a wider audience and boost the results obtained from traditional, single-channel campaigns.
But their high dependence on AI doesn’t mean these are set-it-and-forget-it campaigns.
Automation can still benefit from the touch of an expert PPC manager. But because they are so different from traditional campaigns, there are unique ways to optimize Performance Max (PMax) campaigns.
PMax optimization broadly falls into three categories:
- Setting them up for success.
- Monitoring that the AI is driving the right results.
- Tweaking the campaigns to further optimize their performance.
Read on to learn how to get the most out of your PMax campaigns by addressing each of these three areas of opportunity.
How To Set Up PMax Campaigns For Success
Let’s start with what can be done to set up Performance Max campaigns to be successful out of the gate.
Remember that one big risk of automated PPC is that machine learning algorithms can eat up a significant amount of budget during the learning phase, where it establishes what works and what doesn’t.
Many advertisers don’t have the patience or the deep pockets to pay for machines to learn what they already know from their own experience.
1. Run It In Addition To Traditional Campaign Types
This advice is straight from Google, which says
“It’s designed to complement your keyword-based Search campaigns to help you find more converting customers across all of Google’s channels like YouTube, Display, Search, Discover, Gmail, and Maps.”
And while running Performance Max as a stand-alone campaign is better than not advertising on Google at all, for professional marketers, it should be seen as a supplement to existing campaign types.
Running PMax campaigns in conjunction with traditional search and display campaigns offers advertisers a more comprehensive and diversified marketing strategy.
This approach allows businesses to capitalize on the strengths of each campaign type while mitigating their limitations, resulting in a more balanced and effective promotional effort.
Traditional search campaigns are particularly effective at capturing user intent through keyword targeting, ensuring ads are shown to users actively searching for relevant products or services.
Traditional display campaigns, on the other hand, are excellent at raising brand awareness and reaching audiences across a vast network of websites and apps.
PMax campaigns complement these traditional approaches by utilizing machine learning to optimize ad targeting and placement across multiple Google platforms.
This broadens the reach of advertising efforts, tapping into new audience segments and driving conversions more efficiently.
Combining these campaign types allows advertisers to cover all stages of the customer journey, from awareness and consideration to conversion and retention, while maximizing their ROAS.
2. Exclude Brand Keywords From Performance Max
One keyword-targeted search campaign you should always have is a brand campaign.
Then, ask your Google rep to exclude your brand keywords from all PMax campaigns so they don’t cannibalize traffic from your brand campaign.
Brand traffic should be inexpensive because it’s leveraging the power of your own brand. When users search for that, your ads will be the best match with the highest Quality Score and hence should be discounted significantly.
But because Performance Max’s mission is to generate more conversions, it may actually end up bidding on really expensive brand-adjacent queries.
For example, if I bid on the keyword “optmyzr,” I’ll pay around $0.10 per click when someone searches for exactly that.
(Disclosure, I am the co-founder of Optmyzr.)
But if I show ads for the keyword “optmyzr ppc management software,” I’m competing against every advertiser who bids for ‘ppc management software,’ my brand discount disappears, and those clicks will cost several dollars each.
In a branded search campaign, I can control exactly which traffic to target using positive and negative keywords. But in Performance Max, there is no easy way to manage keywords, so Google may use the really cheap brand traffic to subsidize the much more expensive brand-adjacent traffic.
Ultimately, you will get results within your stated ROAS or CPA limits. And while that may be acceptable to some, many advertisers prefer to manage their brand campaign separately from everything else.
3. Create Multiple Performance Max Campaigns To Target Different Goals
The same reasons why you would run more than one campaign in an account without Performance Max apply to why you should consider having multiple PMaxcampaigns.
For example, online retailers often set different goals for different product categories because they have different profit margins. By splitting these products into different campaigns with different ROAS targets, advertisers can maximize their profitability.
Maintaining multiple campaigns also supports seasonal advertising plans that may require different budgets at different times of the year.
Google supports up to 100 Performance Max campaigns per account, so that indicates that it, too, agrees there are many different good reasons why an advertiser would want to maintain more than one campaign.
4. Manage Final URL Expansion
When you create a PMax campaign, you tell Google what landing page to send traffic to. But you also get to decide if Google can expand to other landing pages on your domain.
Think of it a bit as dynamic search ads (DSAs), which automatically match your site’s pages to potentially relevant searches and automatically generate the ads to show.
Final URL expansion should be used cautiously.
At the campaign’s onset, consider focusing all your budget on the landing pages you care most about. If the results are good, then expand to more final URLs automatically.
And always be sure to use rules and exclusions to ensure Google doesn’t show your ads for parts of your site you don’t want advertised. For example, exclude your login page (assuming that one is ranked high in SEO).
You can also exclude sections of your site that are the focus of other campaigns. A retailer could exclude all pages that include the path ‘electronics’ in their apparel campaign to ensure consumers interested in electronics are served ads from the most relevant campaign.
5. Add Audience Signals From The Start
Adding audiences to a Performance Max campaign helps enhance the targeting and performance of your marketing efforts.
While PMax campaigns already utilize machine learning to optimize ad targeting, incorporating audience information provides additional context that can further improve the campaign’s efficiency.
Adding audience information enables the machine learning algorithms in PMax campaigns to make more informed decisions when optimizing ad targeting and placements. This can lead to better campaign performance and a higher ROAS.
By specifying particular audience segments, such as in-market, affinity, or remarketing audiences, advertisers can tailor their campaign messaging and creative to resonate better with their target users. This enables more personalized and relevant ad experiences, resulting in higher engagement and conversion rates.
Advertisers should also attach their own audiences to Performance Max campaigns. For example, by attaching a list of all their existing customers, they can choose to have the PMax campaign prioritize new user acquisition.
Because it is generally harder and more expensive to find new users than to convince existing users to make another purchase, adding this setting can better focus the ad budget on what is most valuable to the business.
How To Monitor Performance Max Campaigns For Success
Even when campaigns are well set up, monitoring AI is always a smart idea because it can sometimes make questionable decisions.
When I accidentally turned on automatically applied recommendations from Google, I found that my brand keyword ‘optmyzr’ was removed by Google because the AI felt it was redundant to some other keywords in my campaign, particularly some misspellings of our brand name.
I investigated and found the keywords Google preferred delivered fewer conversions and had a higher CPA than the keywords it removed. So not only was AI semantically wrong, but it also made a bad decision for my bottom line.
So let’s look at some ways to monitor Performance Max campaigns.
6. Report Where Your Performance Max Traffic Is Coming From
Just like you may have monitored clicks and impressions by device types or from different geographic areas, in PMax you should care about the performance of the various channels where your ads are shown.
If you only look at the overall performance of a PMax campaign, you may be falling into the trap of averages.
Relying solely on averages can be misleading and might not accurately represent the true nature of the underlying data.
Averages can oversimplify complex data, reducing it to a single value that may not capture important nuances or patterns within the dataset, and this can mask the variability or range of values in the dataset, leading to false assumptions about the consistency or homogeneity of the data.
For example, is low performance on the display network made up for by the great performance of ads on YouTube?
On average, the campaign drives the results you want. But by eliminating some wasteful portions, results could be even better than what you asked for.
Even if the campaign is delivering the desired results, knowing about possible inefficiencies puts you in a better position to address those and tilt the playing field back in your favor.
Tools like Optmyzr make it easy to see where your budget is spent in PMax, and there are also Google Ads scripts that will add this type of clarity to your data.
7. Monitor For Cannibalization
Because PMax campaigns don’t include the traditional search terms reports and only include part of that data in insights, it can be difficult to know when it is cannibalizing the other campaigns you’re running in parallel.
When it comes to standard shopping campaigns and PMax for retail (which replaced Smart Shopping campaigns), the PMax campaign always takes precedence over the traditional shopping campaign. For this reason, it’s important to segment products to avoid overlap.
For example, you could advertise shower doors in one campaign and bathroom vanities in another. But if there is any possible overlap, even segmenting campaigns may not lead to the desired result.
For example, shower wands advertised in a traditional shopping campaign may be closely enough related to shower doors and get mixed into the PMax campaign for shower enclosures.
Regarding keyword cannibalization, Google says if the user’s query is identical to an eligible Search keyword of any match type in your account, the Search campaign will be prioritized over Performance Max.
But if the query is not identical to an eligible Search keyword, the campaign or ad with the highest Ad Rank, which considers creative relevance and performance, will be selected.
And even a keyword that is an identical match may be ineligible due to a variety of factors and still get cannibalized.
The best way to monitor for cannibalization is to monitor campaign volumes and look for shifts. Does an unexpected drop in a search campaign correspond to an increase in traffic to the PMax campaign? If so, dig deeper and use our optimization tip for managing negative keywords that we’ll cover in the next section.
Optimizations For Performance Max
While PMax promises to optimize itself on an ongoing basis thanks to AI, there are some proactive ways you can still help the machines deliver better results.
8. Use Account-Level Negative Keywords
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to add negative keywords to a PMax campaign without the help of a Google rep. And even then, they will generally only add negative brand keywords to help prevent cannibalizing a brand campaign.
But PMax campaigns can work with shared negative keyword lists if you email Support and ask them to attach one of your shared negative lists to your PMax campaigns.
From that point forward, you can simply add negative keywords to the shared list, and they will instantly take effect on the PMax campaign that is associated with the shared negative list.
While Google doesn’t share full search term details for PMax the way it does for search campaigns, it will show keyword themes under insights. This is one good source for negative keyword ideas.
You should also leverage data from traditional search campaigns you’re running in parallel to PMax.
So mine your traditional search campaigns for negative keyword ideas, for example, when users search for things like ‘free’ ‘login’, etc., that never convert well. Add these as negative keywords to the shared negative list that is attached to your PMax campaign.
9. Use Account-Level Placement Exclusions
When it comes to placements, Google has a predefined report that shows placements where your Performance Max ads were shown.
This is a great starting point to find ideas for placements to exclude.
To exclude placements from PMax, you’ll need to exclude them at the account level, since it’s not possible to add negative placements to individual PMax campaigns. You’ll find this ability under the “Content” section of the Google Ads account.
Just like with negative keyword discovery, consider using your account-wide placement data from all campaigns to find placements to exclude in PMax.
And if you run multiple Google Ads accounts, you can get even better results by finding money-wasting sites and apps in the display network to exclude across all the accounts you manage.
Or when working with a tool provider, they may even be able to help you find negative placement ideas from their own vast network of data.
10. Exclude Non-Performing Geo Locations
Even though PMax uses automated bidding, which doesn’t support geo bid adjustments, you can still leverage geo data in two ways.
You can either exclude locations that don’t drive conversions or use conversion value rules to manipulate the value you report for conversions from different regions so that the bids will get adjusted accordingly.
For example, if you report conversions as soon as someone fills out your lead form, but you know that people in Munich become paying customers at a higher rate than people who fill out the same form from Berlin, you can set a conversion value rule to value conversions from Munich more highly.
This helps automated bidding make the right decisions about what CPC bid will likely have the desired ROAS.
And that leads to our final optimization tip, which is a big one.
11. Feed Correct Conversion Data
AI can only do a good job for your account if you tell it what the goal is.
And the goal should be precise.
It shouldn’t be to get the most conversions possible if your real goal is to drive profits.
Or to get as many leads as possible if you want leads that turn into customers.
Setting up goals correctly can make a huge difference in how well PPC automation will perform.
Updating goals with margin data or with data from your sales team can be a significant effort, and that’s why I’ve listed this as an ongoing optimization strategy rather than an up-front setup task.
Get PMax up and running with the conversions you’ve already been operating with, and then work to constantly enhance that conversion data.
With these 11 tips to optimize your Performance Max campaigns, you can expect better results while also benefiting from the time savings promised by automated campaign types.
There are many more tips I didn’t cover here that you can discover by joining the dialogue online.
And there will be many more tips to come as PPC automation continues to evolve.
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