Google’s Shiny New Object: Performance Max

Despite its lack of transparent reporting, the new, ultra-automated placement is proving its value

Furthering its ever-increasing bid for automation and ease, Google unveiled a new advertising beta this past spring that, in essence, combines all previous automated betas into one. The new campaign type is called Performance Max, and has elements of its predecessors, Smart
Campaigns and Discovery, but is the first of its kind to also include Google’s marquee function—Search.

Seizing the opportunity to test a newly-unveiled Google product, we started rolling out pilot campaigns to several clients—with modest budgets and select markets—to see how Performance Max fared against other acquisition channels. Despite the good (i.e. algorithmic automation) and the bad (opaque reporting), this new beta certainly lives up to its name.

How Performance Max Works

Compared to setting up a regular Search campaign, the main differences with Performance Max are that there are no ad groups—only “asset groups”—and the targeting isn’t based on keywords or select segments—instead, targeting parameters are grouped together based on “intent signals” provided to Google (these, however, are populated from existing audiences in the account).

In terms of creative set-up, it’s very reminiscent of responsive Display and Discovery, with input areas for multiple headlines, descriptions, images, and videos. The user interface also provides ad strength indicators based on the assets (i.e. Good, Average, etc).

Performance Max: The Benefits + Disadvantages

Pro: Delivery automation

The automated delivery of Performance Max means ads can optimize more effectively than other ad formats, since there are more channels to choose from (Search, Display, YouTube, Gmail, or Discovery). And what we’re learning time and time again in the ever-changing world of digital marketing, is that despite a desire to cling to control and segmentation, more often than not, when the reins are loosened and more control is passed to platform algorithms, we see stronger results—the work exists in algorithm management, rather than individual ad management. The challenge for marketers is to understand and feed the machine the best information possible to yield the best results.
Performance Max, when compared to its segmented cohorts, outperforms Display, video, and Discovery, and gives Search a run for its money.

Lack of reporting transparency
Despite its ability to drive results, a major downside to this ad format is that the reporting dashboard is opaque. Advertisers cannot see where Performance Max ads showed (i.e. how many were served to Search versus Gmail, etc.) or where Display ads appeared (sites, placements, etc).

Performance Max also has a very limited view into conversion and reporting data in general—with only one dashboard catch-all view that provides surface-level insights, illustrated in the screenshot below.
However, an in-platform hack to see Performance Maxconversion data is to select the asset group, select “locations”, and customize columns to include conversions to see more granular reporting:
Lastly, since there are no ad groups, if you’re combining ad spend and CRM/revenue data into a report that gives you performance visibility throughout your marketing and sales funnel, it’s challenging to compare apples-to-apples performance against other campaign types.

Pro: Creative automation

Just like responsive Display ads, Performance Max ads render themselves based on the combination of assets (headlines, images, etc) that Google believes will perform best, based on the user it is being served to, the channel it is appearing in, and the targeting that triggered it. More machine learning = stronger performance.

Lack of control

Though the automation of this format is an advantage, it can also be seen as a detriment—there aren’t a lot of guardrails that can be put in place for how the ads appear, where they appear, or which audiences they go to. As well, the option to apply block-lists for display sites or placements does not yet exist. For companies or clients that are particularly sensitive to placement or how their creative assets appear, Performance Max might not be the best choice.

Early takeaways

Despite its opacity and ultra-automated engine, Performance Max has benefits and is worth testing with a modest investment to gauge down-funnel impact.

With one client, we piloted Performance Max for the entire month of July (in one market only, with 5% of the month’s total Demand Gen budget allocated to it), and it yielded strong results. Performance Max campaigns generated three Sales Accepted Leads (SALs), and a 100% SAL-to-opportunity conversion rate—versus Generic Search’s 50% SAL-to-opportunity conversion rate, and Brand Search’s 33% SAL-to-opportunity conversion rate.

In addition to this strong—er, max—performance, the deal value brought in by those three opportunities matched the results from Generic Search, meaning the companies coming through these ads were just as high-value as those coming from Generic Search.

So — Should You Use Performance Max?

That depends. If you need to know where your ads are showing, this is not the channel for you.If automated (but efficient and high-intent) performance (with few levers of control) sits well with you, it’s certainly something worthy of investment. As with any beta or alpha product, Google still has a few bugs to work out with this new format, but early indicators of strong success are definitely there.

Want to know if Performance Max is right for your next campaign? Get in touch.

By Hillary Gillis , Consultant

Don’t wonder how advertising helps you achieve your goals—prove it.

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