I've been increasingly pondering PMax (Performance Max) campaigns on Google Ads, and specifically the advice I see online with PMax. I guess you can call this blogpost my first tentative written venture into the quagmire that is PMax advice.
If I could put my finger on the number one concern I have with the majority of PMax advice I see online, it is that it is presented in confidence when I don't think the campaign behavior actually warrants much confidence, at all, at this stage of the game. One of the basic errors humans have always made with automation, is in making decisions too early and based on biased interpretation of getting the results we desired. Maybe the best example of this is an excellent mini-series (based on a HeroConf presentation) from Martin Roettgerding on ad testing way back in 2018: Debunking Ad Testing Part 1: Statistical Significance
I mean, think about it. Performance Max campaigns are exceptionally new... but completely revolutionary in how encompassing they are in an account. So more of us should be asking: what will this do long-term to/in an account? I see a lot of discussion regarding PMax and whether it's successful, but the solemeasurement of success (100% of the time I have viewed it personally) is: directly tracked campaign performance. I.e., "Did the campaign drive the Revenue and ROAS results I was hoping for?"
Obsessing over directly tracked campaign performance is dangerous for company building.
It can even be company killing.
What if PMax is so focused on bottom-funnel traffic that setting it up in a newer brand who is not also investing significant energy into Top of Funnel channels somewhere else, means PMax will look successful right now... while being part of the strategy that kills this business in 3 years?
Certainly brand owners are responsible for developing holistic marketing strategies for their own health... but what if they don't have a clear picture of where PMax fits into this because everything is so obfuscated with poor-reporting back to them, preventing them from making informed decisions here?
One of the things that helps guard against this problem is "time"... time spent managing a new marketing channel, time for businesses to learn about how that marketing channel actually DOES impact their customers and sales long-term (this is exceptionally helpful with agencies who have the insight into many accounts for broader industry trends). PMax really is its own marketing channel. It's just... a different entity.
And I would argue we just haven't had enough time yet with it.
A lot of people are trumpeting a lot of best practices without the benefit of time on their side.
I'm going to say it, I just think this is dangerous for the PPC industry. I think we need to all take a step back, share learnings, and stop saying "this is what you should do in PMax every time."
This is especially true, since I'm convinced a lot of PMax optimizations don't necessarily prove whether they actually helped the account or not!
Let's say someone says: "I will not touch this PMax campaign, and then I will touch it in two weeks and only raise the ROAS target by 5% and then change assets out in 4 weeks and see what happens". They do this in 10 campaigns, and see the results in the majority of the campaigns do what they were hoping: hit their targets, perhaps even exceed them! Wow, not only is PMax great, but their specific approach to setup and optimization must be even better! So they post it online and carve into gospel truth this exact setup and change cadence.
But what if they hadn't made those changes in those specific campaigns? Or what if they had changed things by 10% instead of 5% on Week 3 instead of Week 2? Especially in those specific campaigns?
At ZATO, we have experimented with many, many different optimization approaches, setup ideas, and schedules. Do I think there are some overall best practices that should be followed? Absolutely. In many ways, PMax is a visually oriented campaign type so having excellent creative (think more Social than Paid search marketing here) is crucial to success. We have also learned a lot about what sort of adjustments may or may not be more likely to enter a campaign into a more aggressive learning mode. We've learned that the correct conversion data, and ENOUGH data is absolutely crucial. Smaller accounts just seem to struggle with PMax (some kill it! It depends), while on the whole, larger accounts with a lot of data do well.
There are definite best practices to follow, but also, there is a lot about this campaign type we don't know, and we have found it pretty difficult to identify best practices at an industry level.
So, I'll reiterate the need for a PPCer at the helm (whether in-house or agency) who actually understands the nature of PPC, creative, AIDA funnels, how PPC fits into a brand's overall marketing strategy, and the way automation tends to work in PPC. In this way, you'll be able to manage PMax at the account and even campaign level, rather than set it up in a generic way that industry influencers suggest is the only way to set things up... and have never seen this inside of your account.
Remember, average account success and best practices are compiled by utilizing a lot of accounts that don't fit into the average. If your account doesn't fit into that "normal" or "average" account, you need someone who knows what to do rather than someone who reads a blogpost online and blindly pushes a couple of buttons hoping they work.
In the world of automation, expert knowledge is even more crucial than ever.
UPDATE: Here is one of those best practices I think we should rethink, go check out my thoughts here: Should You Always Exclude Brand from Performance Max Campaigns? It's Complicated.