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  • Writer's pictureAlfred Simon

Guide to optimize Performance Max Campaigns - Updated 2023

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

In 2021, Google introduced a new campaign type: The Performance Max campaign.


Unfortunately, the PPC community was really divided by this step, and for some scale, it still is.


Many feared that the control would be removed entirely from the advertiser and given to Google. That is true on some scale, but there is still much that a good PPC specialist can optimize.


Let's dive into the steps that will supercharge your Performance Max campaign to its “max” potential. (hehe)


How to optimize Performance Max campaigns?

We all know that Performance Max campaigns are a black-box, but there's actually quite a lot we can do within each campaign. It's crucial to remember that this product is continuously evolving, and Google is actively refining it.


It will improve, and we can see that new features are constantly added—the last being in August 2023.


In this article, I've gathered all the key optimization steps you can take right now to significantly improve your campaign's performance.


I'll continue to update this piece as new features and techniques become available.
Last updated: 04/Sep/2023

At the moment, these are the best steps.


So, without further ado, let's dive right in.

 

Table of Contents


 

1. Add negative keywords to your PMax campaigns


One of the most significant changes you can make is adding negative keywords to your Performance Max campaigns.


Adding negatives takes a slightly different approach compared to other campaigns, but there are 3 ways you can do this.

1.1 Account level negatives


The most obvious way to do this is to use Account level negative keywords.


Pro: You exclude these keywords on an account level
Contra: You exclude these keywords on an account level

Sadly, this option is not flexible since you exclude the keyword from the whole account.

Try to make a list you are sure can be excluded and add it here.


Note: You can add up to 1000 keywords. I recommend using the "Broad" and "Phrase" match types to cover as many variations as possible.


Google Ads Account level negative keywords

Add account level negative keywords

1.2 Exclude brand from Performance Max with Brand Exclusion lists


This has been a hot topic since the very beginning, and it remains so. Sadly, excluding your branded keywords from Performance Max campaigns requires extensive analysis.


I don't recommend excluding brand keywords as a default!


Do your own research and make sure this is something you want. Both sides have pro and contra arguments, so make sure you take the right step.


Google rolled out Campaign-level brand exclusions in April 2023.


Go to Tools & Settings > Brand lists


Brand Lists exclusions Google Ads

Google has a lot of Brands already added to this you just have to search for your brand. If you brand is not added you can request it.


Add Brand to brand Exclusion List Google Ads

1.3 Use shared negative lists


In the previous step, I showed how to add a Negative Keyword list to the campaign.


If that's done after that, you can add whatever keyword you want to that list. In this way, you can add campaign-level negatives to your Pmax campaign.


Take that, Google. (insert evil laugh)


2. Location Targeting and Settings

Even if you ignore all the other steps, this single one can save you a lot of money.


Be sure to review this option in all your PMax campaigns.


Choose a campaign, then navigate to Settings > Locations > Location Options > and select "Presence: People in or regularly in your targeted locations."

This step is absolutely vital.


I don't recommend going with the "Recommended" option, as it can show your ads to people who are merely "Searching for" or "Interested in" the targeted location.


In most scenarios, this option simply drains your ad budget without delivering meaningful results.


3. Final URL expansion settings


You can find the settings to this option if you navigate to a PMax campaign and click on Settings > Automatically created assets


There are 2 different options, and they work as follows:


  1. Use Text Assets and Final URL expansion


This option can go beyond the provided URLs and will scan your website's landing pages to find extra relevant search queries and landing pages to increase performance.


Super important: When you activate this option, Google doesn't just utilize different Final URLs - it can also rewrite headlines, descriptions, and other assets to reflect the customer's search intent.

If you're using option one, you have the power to exclude any URLs that aren't serving your campaigns goals.


Note: You can't use only the Final URL expansion, you also need to use the Text assets expansion.

PMax Final URL expansion settings


2. Only send traffic to the URLs you've provided


This option will use the URLs provided in the asset group, any URLs from Merchant Center, or business data feeds in addition to the final URL in your asset group.


You can deactivate the Final URL expansion and the campaign won't go beyond the provided URLs.

Note: You can still use the Text assets expansion without the Final URL expansion.

Google Ads PMax Text and URL assets

3.1 Analyze the Performance Max landing pages


If you are using option one, you can exclude URLs that you don't want Google to use.


You can review all the landing pages that PMax drives traffic to.


Go to Reports > Predefined Reports > Basic > Landing Pages


Google Ads Performance Max Landing Page Report

3.2 Exclude low performing Final URLs


After analyzing the performance of your Final URLs, you can easily exclude those that aren't delivering results.


My usual strategy involves excluding blog pages, client service pages, and other landing pages that aren't geared towards conversion. This approach helps keep wasteful spending low.


This is only available if you have the Text assets and Final URL expansion activated!


Google Ads PMax Exclude URLs

Final URL exclusions PMax

4.Segment your campaigns based on strategy


In the early days of Performance Max campaigns, the common practice was to run a single campaign.


However, as time went on, PPC experts began experimenting and adopting more sophisticated structures.


I strongly urge you to structure your campaigns in line with your business strategy. While there are numerous approaches out there, ultimately, it's all about finding the structure that aligns with your goals. Using a single campaign makes it hard to align it to your business goals.


For both e-commerce and lead generation, I've written a guide on structuring your Performance Max campaigns.


Be sure to check it out!



5. Exclude Youtube and Display placements


In addition to using negative keywords and Final URL exclusions, you can also exclude YouTube and Display placements from your Performance Max (PMax) campaigns.


Unfortunately, the only way to accomplish this is by excluding the placements at the account level.


To assess the performance of these placements, you can navigate to Reports > Predefined Reports > Other > Performance Max Campaigns Placements.

Sadly, this report only shows you the number of impressions, but hey it’s something 😅.


5.1 Exclude placements


To exclude YouTube and Display placements at the account level, navigate to Tools & Settings > Setup > Content Suitability.


Here, you'll find the 'Exclude placements' option.


Exclude Display and Youtube Ad placements

This allows you to exclude all the YouTube channels, websites, and apps you don’t want to show your ads on.


Pro tip: Exclude all apps; they often deliver clicks of lower quality.

5.2 Use a more limited inventory


I also recommend reviewing the inventory type you are using. The default option is the "Standard inventory", which might suit most advertisers.


But I strongly recommend reviewing these options. More about the inventory types you can find here.


Most of the times I go with the “Limited inventory”


Add placement inventory types

6. Review the Asset performance & optimize


One of the most straightforward optimization moves is tuning your assets (headlines, descriptions, images, and videos.)


Sadly, we get practically no feedback on how these assets perform. The only data we receive is a label from Google, which can be one of the following:


  • Poor

  • Good

  • Best

  • N/A - Not enough data

  • Learning - Performance evaluation underway

Vent: Often, you'll only see N/A or Learning, which is not much. Thanks for the non-info, Big G!

View Performance Max Asset Details

View Performance Max Asset performance


6.1 Asset group level data


Google recently began displaying asset group-level performance data.


To access this, navigate to a PMax campaign, then go to Asset Groups > Table.


This approach allows you to create a kind of makeshift A/B test for your assets. I know, it's a bit of a stretch since we can't predict how the impressions will be divided. However, if you're applying the same audience signals, it could help in testing various types of assets.


Performance Max Asset Group Level data


7. Look at the Performance Max Insights


I already mentioned the lack of insights we get from the PMax campaign, but there are still some nuggets of data that we can use.


If you select one of the Performance Max campaigns and you navigate to "Insights," you will see various data sets about:

  • Search Terms

  • Audience

  • Trends

  • Change History

  • Assets (not always visible)

Performance Max Insights Tab

7.1 Review the Search term insights


Check out the Insights tab for a comprehensive breakdown of the Search Terms that triggered your Performance Max campaign.


If you click on the View detailed report you will have a lot more data.


Google Ads Performance Max Search term reports

You can also download the report or you can use scripts to automatically download these reports. Mike Rhodes created a great script for this.


7.2 Review audience insights


You'll also discover a breakdown of the audiences used within the respective PMax campaign.


While you can't do much more with this information, spotting audiences with strong performance could prompt you to include them in your other native campaigns.


Though you can refine the current audience signal based on these insights, I doubt Google will consider those adjustments.


But hey, at least it gives you the satisfaction of taking action, right?



8. Audience Signals


Currently, Google is only using Audience signals as, well, signals.


These signals serve as a starting point, but Google's bidding algorithm can steer the campaign broader or tighter based on other relevant signals.


I usually kick off with narrower audience lists and later add in additional audience groups.


I've also experimented with a Micro & Macro structure at different clients, where one campaign uses extremely broad signals and the other solely relies on remarketing audience lists.


Performance Max Macro and Micro campaign

Even though Google only uses these as signals, I've found that we can send the campaign in various directions based on the audience signals.


It's definitely worth playing around with!


9. Use First Party Data solutions


In line with the above point, first-party data is crucial when running your Performance Max campaigns.


There are several strategies to consider, but I'd prioritize the following:


  • Customer Match Lists:


These are a must in every account. By uploading these lists, you can show Google who your clients are, assisting the algorithm in finding similar individuals.


  • Offline Conversion Import:


Particularly essential in the lead generation business, this can get a bit technical to implement, but it's definitely worth it.


It can significantly help reduce those spam leads in your Performance Max campaign.


  • Enhanced Conversions for Leads:


Think of this as the Offline Conversion Import's younger sibling.

If you can't get OCI to work, you can always rely on Enhanced Conversions for Leads.


While it's not as accurate, it's still very beneficial.



  • Consent Mode:


This is a handy way to reclaim lost data points due to cookie issues or privacy restrictions.


  • Enhanced Conversions:


Not to be confused with Enhanced Conversions for Leads.


EC can help recover lost conversion data due to cookie loss or other privacy/tracking issues.


10. Use Seasonality bid adjustments


Something I've noticed is that Performance Max campaigns can sometimes be slow to respond to tROAS/tCPA changes.


When a big sale (like Black Friday) is on the horizon, I've found that using Seasonality bid adjustments can kick-start the campaign's responsiveness.


I definitely recommend using these bid adjustments before and after sales periods to give the algorithm a nudge in your preferred direction.


You can find it under Tools & Settings > Bid Strategies > Advanced controls.

Seasonality Bid Adjustments Google Ads

11. Use third-party Scripts to monitor performance


We all know that the best community out there is the PPC community.


Right?


Nothing proves that better than the great scripts the community created to get more data out of the Performance Max campaigns.


See a few outstanding ones bellow:


11.1 Mike Rhodes’s script: Monitoring Script


This script provides an overview of which network your Performance Max campaign is predominantly spending on.


It's crucial for identifying if it's leaning too heavily on Display or Video.


Currently, it's only compatible with e-commerce focused PMax campaigns.



Mike Rhodes Performance Max Script

11.2 Mike Rhodes’s script: Search Term Script


The legend Mike Rhodes came up again big time! After Google updated the Search term report under the PMax campaigns he created a new script that automatically allows us to download these. You can grab the script here.


PMax Search Term Script

11.3 Floris de Schrijver’s "Flowbelizer" Script


The script requires your ROAS/CPA targets, average conversion rate, impressions thresholds, and a date range.


It then categorizes your products into four performance-based groups: Index, Over-index, Near-index, and Under-index.


Key insights from this script can help you allocate more budget to top-performing products, thereby optimizing your campaigns.


You can grab the script on this page.


Flowbelizer Dashboard

11.4 Use my Zombie SKU script:


Google's algorithm optimizes for performance, often pushing top-selling products while neglecting others.


This script introduces an automated system to rotate these 'zombie products' back into your feed.


The script exports all underperforming products from your Google Ads account based on your set criteria (e.g., impressions <10).


These product IDs are exported to a Google Spreadsheet and used as a supplemental feed in your Google Merchant Center account.


Take a look at my guide for the implementation process and download the script.


Conclusion


In conclusion, navigating Google's Performance Max campaigns and the wide array of features they offer can seem daunting.


However, with the right understanding and implementation of features like asset optimization, and strategic audience targeting, we can significantly enhance our PMax campaigns' effectiveness.


Utilizing first-party data, making timely bid adjustments, and even using scripts can help steer campaigns in the right direction.


As always, consistent testing and optimization is key to success in the ever-evolving landscape of Google Ads.


Stay tuned for more insights and guides to make the most of your advertising efforts.


Have a good one, Alfred


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