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What is Performance Max?

Google removed Smart Shopping at the end of 2022. Let's discover its replacement, Performance Max

Performance Max is a term you might hear a lot about when first getting into advertising online. It is a replacement for Google’s popular Smart Shopping ad platform. In effect, it makes advertising across all of Google’s network a whole lot easier. But what exactly is it and how does it work?

What is Performance Max?

The first thing to know is its full name - Google Performance Max. Sometimes it’ll be merely be called Google Pmax because marketers love to abbreviate. The important thing is that you are all talking about the same thing. So if someone asks you about Google Pmax campaigns in future, you’ll at least know what they are talking about!

Performance Max is a goal-based campaign type from Google and can be found in Google Merchant Center (or Google Merchant Center Next). It allows you to access all of your Google Ads inventory from a single campaign. The reason for this is that a lot of advertisers still focus on Google Search text-based ads that focus on keywords. By using Performance Max, it’s possible to (hopefully!) increase conversions on your Product Listing Ads across all Google channels by advertising on Search but also on Maps, Display, Discover, Gmail and YouTube.

With all of these channels included, it allows retailers to increase their presence across the web. This builds awareness as more people will see your ads and there are more chances of converting these audiences.

The most important thing about Performance Max is that it optimises and automates the bidding process.

How does Performance Max work?

Performance Max operates using Smart Bidding, AI-driven bidding technology that automates bids on behalf of clients. Previously this was used in Smart Shopping campaigns. By automating bids and optimising ad performance in real-time, across all possible channels, Pmax campaigns deliver more conversions.

To create a campaign, it’s as easy as uploading your assets that are appropriate to each channel (images, video, etc.). Google then uses machine learning, which tests various combinations of assets to determine the best approach for your campaigns. Through this methodology, the campaign is automatically optimised for all possible areas of the Google network.

Incidentally, targeting is also dependent on your bid strategy; Audience Signals provides the required target data.

What are the benefits of Performance Max?

Since late 2022, Performance Max has replaced Smart Shopping campaigns, its predecessor in the 'automated bidding' arena. As such, it doesn’t matter what the benefits are as marketers now have to use Performance Max if they wish to automate the Google Ads process. Even so, there are still ways to retain control over individual campaigns on each channel if you prefer.

There are several benefits of using Pmax. These are:

  • Automation of budget and bids across all Google platforms. Using this approach, it’s possible to increase leads and conversions. Think about it – by having your ads available everywhere a person could possibly be, a Performance Max campaign is likely to be far more effective and efficient than the same old Search ads companies have been using for years. Alongside this, the automation means less manual work, improving employee productivity.
  • Discovering new audiences. Thanks to the real-time data that Google provides on shopper intent, Pmax allows for the discovery of new audience segments. More potential shoppers is always a good thing!
  • Use of advertisers’ assets. Because the assets are uploaded by the advertiser, it allows for control over your assets. Design them to fit your shoppers, giving you more control over what the consumer sees.

As well as this, new features are being added all the time. Here are some recent additions to Performance Max from earlier this year:

  • Use negative keywords and brand exclusions. This helps to maintain brand suitability across Search and Shopping campaigns. By adding negative keywords at account level or brand exclusions at campaign level, you can exclude traffic from these searches.
  • AI-powered search is now included. By combining AI-powered search with Performance Max, it’s possible to find new converting queries to maximise conversions.
  • Video creation is possible. Create high-quality videos using the tool in the Assets section of the Performance Max campaign workflow. Perfect for YouTube!
  • See how a new campaign might affect conversions. With Experiments, it’s possible to test how a Pmax campaign might affect conversions and conversion value.

With Google constantly working to make Performance Max campaigns a compelling proposition, the benefits are sure to increase over time. It’s fair to assume that various AI-powered tools will be added as well, especially when considering Google Project Magi.

What are the negatives?

No product can be perfect and the same is true with Google Performance Max. As such, when using it, you may have some frustrations. These include:

  • Difficulties analysing source data. The source data can be very useful when analysing a campaign. After all, you’ll probably want to see how the keyword or audience you are bidding on are performing. Unfortunately, this can be difficult for targets with low traffic. Google tends to group all of these into ‘Other’, which isn’t much use for future campaigns.
  • No visibility on your best channels. Advertising everywhere is great but is it the YouTube ads that are working or the ones on Maps? Google keeps that data to themselves. Likewise, you won’t know how your assets are being used so can’t edit accordingly, enacting meaningful changes as the campaign continues. Cannibalisation may be occurring but unfortunately you won’t know!
  • Campaigns can feel restrictive. Despite its customisation and efficiency, Pmax can feel restrictive. Because Google is trying to make the most of the budget, your campaigns will often focus around brand terms. Why? Because they will tend to offer the best performance (more people search for brands than anything else). This might not be the right approach for your campaigns, so it is often a good idea to keep the likes of Search or Shopping on a regular campaign. That way, you can maintain control over your approach.
  • A lack of device-specific data. Without this key piece of data, advertisers can’t compare or test their ads on desktop and mobile. Does one look better than the other? Again, it’s impossible to know.

When to use Performance Max

Despite the negatives to Performance Max campaigns, it is still a highly useful part of Google Ads. Even so, when should you be using it if it isn’t perfect?

The answer is that it’s best to put together a Pmax campaign when you want to advertise across all of Google’s platforms from one campaign. Perhaps you might not be particularly knowledgeable at advertising online or devising a strategy and want a simple setup without worrying? Performance Max might be the perfect option for you.

As well as this, it’s useful for smaller advertisers or in-house advertising teams where time is at a premium. The loss of manual edits can be more than made up for if you are bringing value to your business elsewhere.

So is Performance Max useful for larger retailers? By using automated bidding, larger establishments may miss out on valuable campaign data. This can make it harder to compete against rival brands. As well as this, Pmax doesn’t offer the same growth opportunities as other management options.

Even so, there are ways to make Pmax campaigns work for you. Using the IR platform, we can help with your use of Performance Max and take your campaigns further than ever before. We'll be highlighting this in a few articles coming soon!

Improve your Google Shopping Feed Management

Mastering Google Shopping isn’t easy. That’s why we’ve written a comprehensive article on Google Shopping Optimisation, as well as a free in-depth download to Selling on Google Shopping.

Of course, selling online is bound to be difficult if your product feed management isn’t as good as it could be. That’s why hundreds of world-renowned companies use Intelligent Reach. Not only do we make sure that all product fields are filled in, but we optimise for selling on Google Shopping, marketplaces (Amazon, eBay, etc.), social commerce channels (selling on TikTok, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) and any other digital channel you require.

Interested? Book a free product feed audit with one of our specialists, book a demo of our platform or get a quote. On average, Intelligent Reach users achieve +79% impressions, +109% clicks and +16.7% conversion rates.

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About the writer
Henry Fosdike
Henry is Senior Content Manager at Intelligent Reach. When he's not involved in pushing content experimentation and marketplace management, he can most often be found reading a book, out on a walk or playing games and watching films in VR.

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