A solution that puts your products in front of hundreds of millions of potential customers via a single campaign? Sign us up! The reality of Google’s new Performance Max campaigns, however, is a little more complicated. Let’s jump in…
Performance Max is a new automated Google tool that pushes your ads out across all of Google’s ad inventory, from display, YouTube and search to Maps and Gmail. We’ve been able to tap into its significant power when it comes to expanding reach for our clients. And we’ve found its scale to be truly remarkable when targeting a specific audience goal or CPA target.
Adoption is inevitable
Promoted as a new automated way to buy Google ads in new formats when it was announced in late 2020, PMax has been widely available since 2021 and soon will be the only way to manage your Smart Shopping campaigns. Over the next couple of months, most—if not all—of your Smart Shopping campaigns on Google will “automagically” be transitioned to PMax regardless. Google will conclude this automatic process by the end of September.
Time to pay attention
If Google prompts you to click a single button to transition all your Smart Shopping campaigns directly into PMax, hold back. Approaching Google's best practices and recommendations with an evaluative mindset and then thoughtfully customizing the approach for your brand is not only essential, it’s a winning formula.
That’s because there's no one-size-fits-all approach to PMax. We’ve found the best way to test into it is to take a medium or high-volume Smart Shopping campaign and clone it as a PMax campaign. Transition a few campaigns at a time to better assess impact before making the complete changeover. And cloning the campaigns means you can compare performance—and temporarily re-enable Smart Shopping campaigns in the event that your PMax setup needs to be tweaked (there’s no roll-back feature once you upgrade Smart Shopping campaigns to PMax so cloning the campaign lets you get around this).
For companies that transition all their campaigns at once, we’ve seen a high variance in performance for weeks or even months which can mean a high amount of risk for your business as PMax campaigns settle in. In our experience, the most successful companies have taken a more systematic approach to adoption. They also balance out what they’re testing into by starting with restrictive budgets and realistic targets across campaigns. That lets you work with the Google algorithm to expand your reach and then scale up the volume, all while still maintaining performance.
The one-click tool migration has been especially risky when you have a budget of say $5,000 a day for a Smart Shopping campaign that is optimized and working. When you flip that switch to PMax, the algorithm expands into display and video placements you’ve never tried before. And in that process, there’s lots of fluctuation as it reaches outside traditional product listing ad (PLA) placements and into broad upper- and mid-funnel options as well.
Put another way: If you expand too quickly, the algorithm takes an aggressive approach to see what works and then refines from there. It can take some time for that refinement to occur—and in the meantime, you’re spending money and potentially losing sales.
PMax automation can feel like a black box.
Advertisers don't have access to particularly robust reporting, which impacts their ability to understand performance across placements. Google is continuing to launch new features of the product that should help solve this, enabling advertisers to better triangulate on performance and areas for optimization.
Advertisers want to know where their brand is showing up, especially against video placements (hello, brand safety). PMax placement reports can give brands some level of comfort about where their campaigns are going to be scaling.
And ultimately, they will be scaling. PMax is still in the adoption phase but eventually (soon) Smart Shopping will go away and PMax will be your only option.
Finally, testing into PMax - or any new Google product - before you have to take the plunge will set you up well for automation in general. Google is continuing to introduce new tools and all of them use AI, machine learning and algorithms that are similar to PMax. Whereas once you had unlimited levers for choosing your own bid modifiers, Google now leverages auction-time insights (millions of signals), letting the algorithm decide for you based on what the data shows is in your best interest.
Our fully AI/ML future is almost here, and the results so far for advertising have been promising. But by testing these tools early and often, you can be that much smarter (or at least more comfortable) with future automation innovations that are just around the corner.
Cindy Arthur is VP of Media Services at New Engen.