Performance Max: What marketers need to know

September 20, 2023

Andrew Weil
Since launching in late 2021, Performance Max has become a main component of the Google Ads marketing suite of tools. But what exactly is Performance Max?

Performance Max: What marketers need to know

In 2020, Google launched Performance Max in beta — and after strong results, the campaign type was rolled out to all advertisers in late 2021. Since its release, Google’s Performance Max has been the talk of the marketing landscape. Striving to keep advertising on top of the constantly changing consumer shopping landscape through automation, this tool has the potential to elevate a brand’s ecommerce strategy. Let’s dive into the details of this powerhouse tool and outline the benefits it brings to a brand. 

 

What is Performance Max?

Performance Max, which replaced Google’s smart shopping last year, employs a combination of product feed, image assets, text assets, and video to reach consumers across the customer journey, and is a successful way to nurture consumers through to purchase. This campaign type gives advertisers the opportunity to buy and manage ads across all Google Ads inventory (including shopping,

display, search, discovery, Gmail, and maps) from a single campaign. Using real-time signals from consumer intent and behavior, Performance Max bridges together the cross-channel user journey to help uncover conversion opportunities that may have previously been missed.

What’s the difference?

The main point of difference between Performance Max campaigns and other campaign types is the focus on automation. Compared to traditional smart shopping campaigns, Performance Max leans heavily into information provided by advertisers, including objectives, budget, audiences, and creatives. With this, the initial setup process for Performance Max also differs from traditional campaign types — since every ad format is utilized, a variety of creative assets and ad copy are needed. Google then uses automation to mix these elements together, creating relevant ad variations based on user intent and channel-specific requirements.

Who is this tool best suited for?

While Performance Max campaigns can be utilized for brands with goals across ecommerce, lead generation, and store traffic, this campaign type proves to be most effective at driving ecommerce and local store traffic performance. However, Google is working to expand Performance Max’s lead generation effectiveness. To increase adoption of the campaign type by lead-focused marketers, Google is now offering the ability to convert existing dynamic search ad (DSA) campaigns to Performance Max, which can further aid marketers in management ease by furthering the automated capabilities of the account.

Why Performance Max?

In a highly competitive and attention-fracturing ecommerce landscape, nurturing users throughout the funnel is important to motivate customers at each stage of their purchase journey and ultimately fuel advertising success. One of the biggest benefits of Performance Max is that it streamlines this complicated process. How? Using machine learning, this tool tailors the right creative to the right user at the right time. Utilizing swaths of data, the campaign type allows marketers to reach customers in the moments that matter. If new customer acquisition is the focus, Performance Max allows advertisers to hone in on new customers by uploading existing customer data, utilizing it as a seed list, and leaning into Performance Max’s automotive abilities to deliver media to similar segments. All of these benefits culminate into a truly powerful tool for ecommerce marketers.

Important considerations with Performance Max

As with all Google products, there are best practices and limitations; Performance Max is no different. To ensure a campaign is set up for success, keep these considerations in mind: 

Do

  • Add in as many creative versions and types as possible. The campaign will operate best when given a large set of creative to test through and deliver across all applicable consumer touch points.
  • Ensure creatives (imagery, photos, video) are relevant to the products or audiences being targeted. 
  • Rotate out creative that isn’t serving. Low impression volume from assets is a signal that they don’t perform well. Rotate in different versions to keep the campaign learning and performing optimally. 
  • Add in many, and relevant, audience signals to steer the campaign in the right direction. While Performance Max doesn’t target audiences directly, adding in many audience signals will expand the campaign’s reach abilities, and in turn, help it learn more quickly; keep audience signals relevant to the creative focus of the products to ensure a higher degree of user engagement. 
  • Be mindful of the automated properties of creative delivery of Performance Max. All creative assets included can combine into many different creative versions delivered by the campaign type. For brands operating in highly regulated industries (such as healthcare or finance), ensure each creative asset added to the campaign can show next to all other creative assets without causing regulative messaging issues. 

Don’t

  • Set it and forget it. Continually monitor asset groups and ensure performance is meeting expectations. If an asset group is not yielding results, explore modifying its signals and creative assets or segmenting it into its own campaign for greater bidding control and supervision (segmentation should only be explored if search volume is high). 
  • Over restrict the automated faculties of the campaign type. Since Performance Max requires a lot of data to operate effectively, it is important to create campaigns that have the opportunity to deliver a lot of volume. Ensure audiences used are sufficiently populated before using them as signals within the campaign.
    In addition, brand term exclusions have been added recently as an additional restrictive parameter but should be utilized cautiously as they can over-constrain the campaign and affect Performance Max’s assistive abilities.
  • Forget to analyze Performance Max’s assistive abilities. Check Google’s assisted conversions report to see how Performance Max contributes to account success more broadly since the campaign type delivers across Google placements and supports full-funnel activation. 
  • Rely on Performance Max to replace other campaign types, like YouTube video, discovery, or standard search. Instead, use Performance Max to supplement those campaign types and maximize performance. 

What do marketers need to know?

For many marketers and brands, the thought of giving targeting and creative control to machines can be a tough pill to swallow. We like to steer the ship, but an obsession with control may in fact limit performance as marketers are unknowingly biased in targeting and creative choices. Performance Max removes this human bias and allows Google to leverage data to find new customers and leads. Although this campaign type automates much of the targeting, it still needs human input to ensure maximum performance.

While Performance Max delivers results at scale for brands across industries, there are a few industry-specific elements to keep in mind before leveraging this format:

  • Ecommerce advertisers: Performance Max will likely outperform standard shopping campaigns. It is important to consider running an experiment to compare existing shopping campaigns against Performance Max to ensure performance improves and that product delivery is still high among the product categories. Depending on performance and product type delivery, marketers may either go all in with Performance Max, or employ a modified structure with standard shopping covering key categories. 
  • Lead-focused advertisers: If you are looking to scale your advertising efforts, test Performance Max against your existing DSA campaigns, or add it in to help supplement your keyword-targeted efforts. 
  • Foot-traffic-focused advertisers: Local-centered campaigns optimize toward Google triangulated store visits to help increase store trips.