Performance Max: The Dangers of Over-Automation

Jack Hall | April 11th, 2022

Google wants to simplify advertising across its inventory by replacing Smart Shopping and Local campaigns. The new kid on the block? Performance Max – scheduled to roll out by the end of Q3, 2022. 

Let’s take a look at what Performance Max is, its perks and pitfalls, and what it all means for you.

What is Performance Max?

Those familiar with Google’s current setup will know how increasingly complex Google advertising has become, with any number of campaign types, bidding strategies, and targeting options to choose from. 

Performance Max is an effort by Google to simplify that process and make it easier to advertise across their six main ad channels: Search, Maps, Display, Gmail, Discover, and YouTube.

It’s driven by automation and machine learning and works by taking the assets uploaded by the user, like headlines, images, and videos, then testing which combinations work best across each channel. 

The intent is for users to be able to optimize each channel individually with the hope of increasing reach and conversions. 

What are the benefits of using Performance Max campaigns?

Being able to run campaigns across all of Google’s inventory is a major plus. Before Performance Max, advertisers would have to create a separate campaign for each channel. This had its drawbacks, like the time it would take to set up, or whether the advertiser had the required skill and expertise for optimizing ads on individual channels.

Now, there’s just one campaign to create. You simply provide Performance Max with the assets, let it do its thing, then focus on optimizing the elements of your campaign that Performance Max finds to have the most potential.

This is fantastic for smaller businesses that want to set up a simple campaign without worrying about going into granular detail on strategy.

Performance Max’s real-time capabilities are a big benefit too. It shows shopper intent and preferences, meaning you’ll come across new audience segments you previously didn’t know about. Knowing this means you’ll be able to increase the reach of your ads to those that are interested.

Google’s promise of real-time optimization of budgets and bids should mean an upturn in leads and conversions as well.

What are the risks of using Performance Max campaigns?

Regular readers of our blog will know that the number one bugbear with Google for any marketer is its ‘black box’ policy. Its insistence on hiding the vast majority of insightful data. And it’s much the same with the rollout of Performance Max – why change the habit of a lifetime, eh?

You still only get insights around top-performing audiences or campaigns. And, whilst the ability to individually optimize each channel is a good thing, any data you’d hope to harvest on how each channel is performing, as well as around asset performance, is not disclosed.

This presents the same old problems with Google advertising – the inability to drill down into your campaigns and make any sort of meaningful change to optimize them beyond a certain level. The same goes with the assets you worked so hard to create. How do you know which ones worked best so you can use them again? 

You don’t, therefore you can’t. Maddening, isn’t it?

Another drawback to this lack of transparency across each channel is you don’t know if one campaign is cannibalizing another. If you could see more keyword data per channel then, you know, something could be done about it. But you can’t. So that’s that. 

Finally, Google has decided not to provide any device-specific data either, meaning you can’t see how effective your campaigns are across desktop or mobile.

Wunderbar!

What else do you need to know about Performance Max

There are other pitfalls to be wary of too – although these are more ‘human not telling machine what to do properly’ type things. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. Providing poor assets

As we’ve already mentioned, Google hides most of the good insights from campaigns. So make sure that what you can see has the best chance of being insightful because it’s based on a quality ad. Poor quality ads mean fewer or more expensive conversions. Pro tip: Consider hiring a copywriter to write the words for you. What? Just saying…

  1. Not including first-party data

We wrote all about the importance of first-party data in our Global Click Fraud Report, namely, how crucial it is to harness and use it within your campaigns. This is massive for getting the most out of Performance Max because although it’s capable, over time, of learning about your audience, you can get ahead of the curve by providing insights before you begin (the irony of you having to provide Google with insights is assuredly not lost here).

In Conclusion, Don’t Rely on Performance Max

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that whilst you are in control of some things, like assets and initial first-party data, some things are outside of your control. 

Because Google continues to hide insightful data, it’s impossible to know where your ads are displayed or who is seeing them. This is a dangerous by-product of over-automation because these are the conditions invalid traffic thrives in.

This highlights the importance of ensuring a) that the data you input is valid at the outset and b) the data that’s kept hidden by Google is validated to ensure it’s reaching only high-converting users with an intent to purchase. 

This is where PPC Protect can help.

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