Google’s Performance Max campaigns have been available to advertisers for less than a year, and advertisers still have a lot of questions as it relates to the effectiveness, benefits and drawbacks of this new media-buying tool. That’s understandable: Google’s arsenal of advertising tools is continually evolving, and it can be challenging to keep track of the current options, much less roll up your sleeves and explore the ins and outs of each new platform.

Here at Anagram, we consider such exploration to be just part of the job. When clients entrust us with their media budgets, we need to be sure the tools we’re employing on their behalf are delivering the optimal results. We’re always testing and learning when it comes to new platforms and buying modalities, and we deliver those learnings back to our clients in the form of sophisticated, tailored recommendations. 

So, that begs the question: What do marketers need to know about Google’s Performance Max? After months of testing and learning, we’ve pulled together some insights that brands should be aware of when considering whether this tool might be right for their campaigns. 


So, What Is Performance Max?

Performance Max was rolled out fully to advertisers back in November 2021 with Google’s promise that it would “help you drive better results across all Google Ads channels and inventory.” And indeed, Performance Max is the company’s solution to cross-channel automation across a wide range of Google ad products—YouTube, Display, Search, Discover, Gmail and Maps—all within a single campaign. According to Google, advertisers using Performance Max campaigns see an average increase of 13% total incremental conversions at a similar cost per action.

That said, the automation behind Performance Max is just that—very automated. Performance Max does not permit manual bidding. You set the type of bid strategy you want to use and your target CPA, and then the system’s AI and machine learning takes the wheel in an effort to maximize conversions. 


The Benefits and Drawbacks of Performance Max

For marketers who are used to pulling various levers on their own campaigns, the idea of handing over that level of control to an automated tool can be uncomfortable. So rather than take it on faith that Performance Max would deliver the promised results, we’ve done a lot of tinkering and assessing on the platform in recent months. Here’s what we’ve found.

Performance Max Does Perform. Let’s start with the most obvious question: Does Performance Max deliver improved results over standard campaigns? In our experience to date—yes. Yes, it does. For example, we recently ran a campaign for a client in the higher education space in which we tested a Performance Max campaign alongside a standard search campaign 6X.

New Audiences Revealed. Beyond higher conversion rates, we’ve also seen a number of other benefits emerge from Performance Max campaigns. One of the most notable is the way in which Performance Max campaigns can help brands identify new high-intent audiences for their brands that they might not have uncovered otherwise. For example, in our higher education client test, we were able to see which audiences drove the greatest conversions (i.e., class registrations) for the university. Some were obvious: people in the market for post-secondary education and current college students. But some were far less obvious, such as business travelers and people in the market for new apartments. These newly uncovered audiences represent insights that brands can take away and apply elsewhere in their marketing efforts.

New Keyword Insights Emerge. Similarly, we’ve found Performance Max to be a useful tool when it comes to expanding a brand’s understanding of strong keywords for its search marketing. In a typical search campaign, brands would bid on specific predetermined keywords. But with Performance Max, you define your audience, not your keywords, and Google’s AI sets about determining the best terms to reach that desired audience. In the case of our higher education client, we saw unintuitive keywords like “organizational psychology” and “master’s in museum studies” driving impressive results within the campaign. As with the new audience insights, those are learnings that brands can take away and apply within their broader marketing programs. 

Time Saved. And finally, when it comes to Performance Max benefits, I’d be remiss not to note the dramatic time-savings that the system is able to deliver. By automating a lot of the cross-channel lever-pulling, a lot of time spent on day-to-day campaign maintenance is freed up. For an agency like ours, that means we get to spend less time and client resources on executional details and more time on the higher-level strategy and optimizations that build brand health and revenue for the long term.

But Marketers Must Accept the Black Box. Every system has its drawbacks, and Performance Max’s main shortcoming has to do with transparency. While we are able to take away some interesting insights when it comes to audiences and keywords, much of the rest of a campaign’s performance details reside deep within a black box. And that’s a problem. Performance Max is typically running campaigns across six or more channels, all within a single campaign and budget. And while marketers are given a high-level look at campaign performance, they’re not being shown exactly which channel, tactic or creative execution drove the best performance. Unfortunately, that means they can’t glean any real lessons that can guide their broader marketing strategies and campaigns outside of Performance Max. In our view, that’s a real loss. 


Driving Informed Decision-Making

At Anagram, we love testing new platforms and seeing how far we can leverage their capabilities when it comes to driving improved conversions and ROI for our clients. When it comes to Performance Max, we see a lot of promise—but also room for improvement. 

We know that each and every one of our clients come to the table with different needs, and we’re committed to aligning their goals with the proper media-buying strategies and tools. For some, the automation and optimization of Performance Max will be a great fit. For others, it might not. And we’re here to help each client make an informed decision in that regard.