Google Performance Max 101: The Basics

What is Google Performance Max?

Google Performance Max is a goal-based campaign type in Google Ads that combines Google's machine learning capabilities with the reach of their most popular ad placements like YouTube, Display, Search, Shopping, Gmail, Discovery, and Maps. Performance Max was announced in November 2021.

placements available in performance max

Essentially, advertisers can show across all of Google’s properties from a single campaign type. Instead of applying manual bids, Performance Max attempts to maximize the number of conversions for a given budget. Advertisers have the ability to input a Target ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) or Target CPA (Cost per Acquisition) that provides guardrails for the Performance Max campaign while impacting campaign spend.

target roas setting in performance max

What Type of Business Is Eligible for Performance Max?

Most businesses can run a Performance Max campaign. It doesn't matter if you're an e-commerce business selling products online, or a business whose advertising goals include generating leads, phone calls, or contact form submissions. For e-commerce businesses, Performance max is similar to Smart Shopping but does include a couple more placements (Discovery and Maps) that were not included in Smart Shopping.

How is Performance Max Different?

In Performance Max, advertisers do not create an actual ad. Advertisers upload a bunch of assets into what they call an asset group. An asset group is simply a collection of headlines, descriptions, images, videos, logos, and more. Google picks and chooses the type of ad they create based on the assets you served and the placement network the ad will show on.

performance max assets

Once you create an asset group in Performance Max, you have the ability to create an audience signal. Audience signals are data that help inform Google’s algorithm about who your ideal target audience is (for example, people with particular interests or who have previously searched a term on Google). Contrary to popular belief, audience signals aren’t used for actual targeting - they’re merely used as suggestions.

Does Performance Max Provide Data & Insights?

Google is very selective about what insights and data they share from a Performance Max campaign, but they do exist. To see them there are a couple of secret reports that you can find in the ‘reports’ tab in Google Ads, but inside the Performance Max campaign, select Insights, and you’ll see a bunch of information.

What are the Criticisms About Performance Max?

Some advertisers believe that Google is going a step too far in controlling our success with their automation. One example of this is if you don’t upload a video asset in Performance Max, Google will actually create one for you and it is bad….really bad.

Another complaint comes from advertisers whose goal is to generate leads, where Performance Max gives way to a lot more junk conversions because the system is using any and every placement possible in Google’s inventory. I bet there have been a lot of accidental clicks from kids on their parent's phones who are playing games!

Dynamic Search Ads in Performance Max?

One other differentiator of Performance Max is how it is able to create dynamic search advertisements for advertisers. If you’ve ever launched a dynamic search campaign, where you don’t input keywords, rather Google crawls your website and automatically creates ads for you on your behalf, it is kind of like that. You can turn this off if you want by disabling what they call final URL expansion.

final url expansion in performance max


Overall, Performance Max definitely has its flaws but it can be successful for you if you do your homework and set it up the right. In my opinion, the pros (i.e., not as much time required to manage) outweigh the cons (i.e., limited data, less control, etc.).

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