Google unveiled Performance Max campaigns back in November 2021, a controversial move to say the least, leaving many people frustrated and angry. But the move wasn’t out of line with the way Google operates it’s advertising business.

Many people were left scratching their heads, why launch a seemingly unfinished product? Completely replacing the already successful product in Smart Shopping?

But rather than wax philosophical, I’d like to walk you through how we as an agency have been able to drive incremental growth for our clients using Performance Max campaigns.

Since after a significant amount of testing I feel like we have something of value to offer.

What this article is

I’m going to highlight key elements and commonalities we have found when launching successful Performance Max campaigns. To provide the most value to a broad range of ecommerce businesses.

This isn’t a granular step by step guide with exactly how to set up individual campaigns.

Working With Quality Data: Audience Signals & First Party Data

One of the first things we do when launching a Performance Max campaign is to select the strongest audience signals. Which helps drive better performance faster.

Performance will be generated eventually without these signals. You will also find new and more accurate signals to work with. But to kick things off it’s worth providing a helping hand.

This is also where you can narrow down targeting by demographics too:

I always take a less is more approach here.

Your Data

A Customer Match list with data from the past 12 months, ideally you want the data in this list updated dynamically, and members set to expire after 365 days to ensure only the most up to date version of your customer is present.

The best way to automate is either through Zapier or the Klavio. Otherwise you can just update manually. I find every quarter is a reasonable period of time to do this.

For a more in depth look at customer match list automation with Zapier feel free to use our walkthrough guide.

Interests & details demographics

I typically gravitate towards in-market audiences, an approach learned from running Discovery ad campaigns. That’s not to say other such as affinity can’t work, but sometimes these audiences appear to be too broad.

Demographics

This one really depends on your data and how much you want to restrict the audience. Take a look at analytics or previous ads performance for each of the demographics and decide whether it makes sense to target everyone, or have a more targeted approach.

Custom Search Terms

Think of these terms like adding keywords to a campaign. Depending on the products within the asset group create a themed set of keywords, around 5-12 will do. Any more than this is overkill, so think about only the most relevant terms you want to add.

Building The Best Possible Product Feed

This point really goes without saying, given the strong priority that Google now gives to product feed related campaigns having the best possible feed is critical to success. But what does the best product feed look like?

  • High quality product images: An often undervalued ranking factor, product images are an excellent way to set yourself apart from the competition. So whenever you can invest in quality and original product photos i.e. not the stock photos everyone else has. More info here.
  • Write the perfect product title: The perfect product title doesn’t exist… or does it? A/B test different ad copy combinations in your title, and make sure you use as much of the 150 characters as you can. Just because it isn’t all visible in the ad unit it doesn’t mean Google isn’t using it as a ranking factor. More info here.
  • Selecting the right product data: Beyond basic product data values set there are more values: short title, lifestyle image, sale price, is_bundle. Some values are more relevant than others, so don’t try and add a value just for the sake of it, be intentional.
  • Ensuring product identifiers are correct: This ties in with product approvals, but ensuring critical product identifier values: GTIN’s and MPN’s are correct and updated has a significant affect on ranking.
  • Approved Products: In an ideal world all your products are approved, however at least 1% is also fine. Let’s maximize our potential for revenue by having all our products consistently visible. The potential for account suspensions is also higher for feeds with high levels of disapproved products.
  • Product type: Often overlooked, and incorrectly formatted, the product type value is an excellent way to organize/segment campaigns based on product categories YOU define. Not to be confused with Google’s product categories. Follow the breadcrumbs of your website to ensure a clean product type structure. More info here.

Assets or No Assets

Speak to any Google rep and they’ll stress the importance of having Assets added to performance Max campaigns e.g. images, logos, headlines, descriptions.

Many people avoided this step after Smart Shopping campaigns were upgraded to Performance Max. Since a feed-only campaign will behave more like a legacy Smart Shopping campaign, serving only Shopping ads and dynamic remarketing.

There’s a great Linkedin Post by Mike Ryan about the performance of feed only campaigns.

However, I have seen great success with or without assets in my Performance Max campaigns. The key here is to test and see what works for you. I think brands with strong creative assets, and good copy should be quicker to test than those without.

Avoid: Automatically created assets, which seems to show seemingly random looking selections of ad copy and imagery. This may improve over time, but it is the most complained about feature by clients.

Campaign Structure

When structuring Performance Max campaigns it is apparent that larger sets of products work better than over segmented campaigns.

There isn’t really a hard and fast rule here, and you should still be thinking about popular themes, or brands, but having larger asset groups of products within the campaign has generated the best performance for us.

In some accounts I’ll have a single asset group for a theme, with several different listing group categories within it. Then for larger ecommerce sites I might split different categories into seperate asset groups within the same campaign.

Here’s a few different ideas for approaches you might want to test:

  • Performance Tiers (ROAS): Prioritizing your top sellers and segmenting them into there own campaign is a popular strategy. This can be done either on a brand or individual SKU level using custom_label.
  • High Margin vs. Low Margin (POAS): For some businesses margins can vary depending on the brand or product, so why spend more on advertising a product that’s going to get you less in return? POAS or Profit on Ad Spend ensures that we prioritize profitability rather than simply ROAS.
  • Seasonal Trends: Some businesses such as Fashion for instance sell different types of products depending on the season. So Creating Spring/Summer vs. Autumn/Winter themed campaigns either based on product_types or manually tagging with custom_label might make sense.
  • Product Type: If a business has very distinct product types it might make sense to split these up into there own campaigns.

Regardless of structure it’s also good to consistently monitor individual SKU performance to mitigate the invisible SKU issue that often crops up in campaigns.

Final Thoughts

No matter what your stance on Performance Max is, it’s here to stay. Personally I’ve been able to generate some excellent results using the ad type, but it has taken a lot of testing, and monitoring to ensure the best results.

Google is constantly updating the product, and if you are looking for additional insights in the meantime there are a number of different scripts available that might be just what you’re looking for.

Like with any campaign you run, testing iteration is the key.

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