What is performance max?
Performance max (PM) is the culmination of the last few years' movement towards a range of more automated Google Ads solutions. These include Universal App Campaigns and Smart Shopping, where the user has much less influence on the set-up and customisation of campaigns. PM must be said to be the first shot at delivering an (almost) fully automated full-funnel solution - something that has long been an ambition of Google.
The format works by giving Google all the creative material we have available, i.e. ad copy, selling points, images and video material. From there, Google takes this mishmash of creative and creates text, image and video ads. We then tell the system which conversion point we are interested in optimising for, and then we unleash the algorithm.
Google's promise is that they can reach purchase-ready users with the right message, on the right channel, as long as we give them free rein.
Advantages and disadvantages
Advantage: Easy. PM is generally easy to set up because we leave a lot to the alogritm. This essentially allows you to achieve a relatively comprehensive setup without having to configure a major setup.
Disadvantage: Overall and broadly. If you have the creative material in place anyway, you can configure a guaranteed more customised setup that's easier to get insights from.
Advantage: Secret signals. Google has access to a range of signals we can't actively target ourselves. These might include users' previous browsing behaviour. This data has enormous potential.
Disadvantage: Not unique. These signals also serve as secondary optimization signals for our actives when we have CPA or RoAS targets on. Thus, they are not unique to Performance Max.
Advantage: Google composes itself. Google has more freedom in terms of creative, as it can mix'n-match text with banners. However, it is based on Machine Learning, so customization depends on data.
Disadvantage: Poor history. We don't always have good experiences with the quality of Google's creatives. Dynamic banners potentially look a bit scratchy and Google may find itself cutting into the video footage we upload.
Advantage: What you don't see, you don't feel sorry for.
Disadvantage: Performance Max is a Black box. We are not told what has worked. Basically, it could target keywords on Google without us knowing. Likewise, we are unable to optimize on what works/doesn't work because we have no way of finding out.
Advantage: Full plate. Google uses their entire network via PM - Search, Gmail, YouTube, Display and Discover. That way, you reach broadly.
Disadvantage: Doubtful tracking. Google's ecosystem doesn't talk well in general. For example, analytics tracking is almost useless when it comes to display. It's hard to rely on power and attribution as long as that's the case.
Is it worth using performance max?
As with Google's other automation solutions, there is again a loss of control. That can be good and bad. If we look at automated bidding strategies and dynamic search ads, they performed miserably at first but have been refined over time and are almost indispensable. So we're probably also going to see this as a product that's going to have a long ramp-up period, to be widely applicable.
However, Google has stated that it is not an A-O solution to replace all of one's activities, but rather as a complementary activity to one's other activities.
My guess would be that a lot of specialists (in agencies especially) will be sceptical about the new format. After all, those who spend all their time combining targeting with the right messages should be able to put together something a machine can't yet. But there will certainly be situations where we will see that Performance Max can do really well, if you just have enough data and creative.