Is Performance Max Worth It? The Truth

I have a pretty bold claim: if you’re currently running a performance max campaign on Google Ads, you’re almost certainly doing it wrong. In my opinion, the answer to the question “Is performance max good?” is . . . NO.

I know this is a bold statement, but stick with me while I explain. I’m the founder of Snowball Creations, a paid ads agency. This means I eat, breathe, and live paid ads. While I wear many hats, one of my main jobs is to audit accounts and then figure out ways to improve upon them. To summarise: I’ve spent countless hours learning how paid ads work. 

Speaking of learning . . . I also have a YouTube channel where I talk about all things paid ads and business-related! 

I have a video talking all about whether Performance Max campaigns are worth it, so if you can’t stomach the idea of reading through a blog post, give that a watch instead! Click here to access the video. 

Anyway, back to why I think most people are doing Google Ads wrong when they use Performance Max. Over the past year, I’ve audited countless Google Ads accounts, and many of them have been using Performance Max campaigns.

I can’t blame them. When it comes to Google Ads, Performance Max is the new kid on the block. It’s shiny and exciting and it claims to work miracles. Who wouldn’t want to use that? And more importantly, it sounds too good to be true, so what’s the catch? That’s what I’m about to unpack. 

What is Performance Max?

Let’s start by chatting about what exactly a Google Ads Performance Max (or PMax) campaign is. As you may have gathered by now, it’s a type of ad that you run on Google. Unlike other Google Ads options, Performance Max gives Google free rein to do whatever they want with your ads. PMax campaigns allow users to access their entire Google Ads inventory with one campaign. 

With a Performance Max campaign, you could show up on Google search results, or have a display ad on Gmail or YouTube. You don’t even need to do any of the work, as Performance Max will do it all for you. 

It comes up with ads, search terms, placements, and more. It uses Google’s super-intelligent AI machine learning to read audience signals and find new customers. I know – it sounds amazing. But how does it do this? And more importantly, does it work? That’s what I’m about to dig into next. 

Does it work?

Remember how I mentioned that I got to audit a bunch of accounts using Google Ads Performance Max? Well, I was lucky enough to not only audit them, but actually take on these accounts and implement my own strategies, which has given me first-hand experience when it comes to performance max. 

I worked on twenty-two accounts that had Performance Max . . . and not one of them was profitable. I know. It’s disappointing. I also chatted with other ad agency owners or business owners who were running their own ads using Performance Max to get their opinions on things. This gave me a pretty decent perspective on whether or not performance max is successful. 

Through all of these various sources, I was able to evaluate multiple Performance Max campaigns across dozens of companies. And do you know how many of them showed profitability? One. 

No, that’s not a typo. Yes, you read that correctly. Out of roughly forty Performance Max campaigns, only one showed profitability. I had an inkling that Google Ads Performance Max sucked, but even I would never have imagined how dreadful the results really are.

All of this is to say that, from the data I’ve gathered, Performance Max doesn’t work, and it’s not the best use of your ad spend. But why not?

Why is Performance Max trash?

So, from what I’ve told you so far, you’ve probably gathered that Performance Max is not going to be doing a whole lot for your business, but why? You’d think that it would be the best option, since it uses Google’s data itself to come up with ads. 

In my opinion, it all comes down to control, or rather, the lack of it. Google Ads is a game of control. Unlike other ad platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, which are interruption-based display networks, it’s really easy to spend your daily budget on Google Ads. This makes sense, because Google will want you to spend as much money as possible. 

Essentially, Google promises to automatically narrow down a lot of factors using its algorithm, but the algorithm isn’t necessarily as smart as Google would have you think. 

Or at least, it’s very biased. It has Google’s best interests in mind, not your company’s. It wants to make Google more money, not your company. 

So, if you give it free rein to do what it wants, it will get out of control. I’m not saying that Google won’t ever get there with Performance Max, but at the moment, there are far better ways to spend your money, even they are a bit more work.

Why does it exist if it sucks?

You might think that, because Performance Max doesn’t work, Google should scrap it. Why would they keep running it if it’s clearly failing?

Well, one of the reasons Google came up with Performance Max campaigns in the first place is because of paid ads professionals like me. People who know how Google Ads works and can utilise this knowledge to yield great results are ruining Google’s income. 

Take me, for example. I give people advice all the time. I help them figure out how to spend less on Google Ads while making more money. This is great for my customers, but not for Google. I’m ruining their lunch. I’m the big bad wolf. 

Performance Max was essentially forced onto us and promoted as this all-in-one solution. It advertises on shopping ads, search ads, Gmail, YouTube and anything else Google-related. It uses broad-match keywords, and you don’t even need to pick the keywords yourself, because Google does it all for you. It offers a variety of campaign types, from responsive display ads to smart shopping campaigns. It’s a wunderkind!

The big but . . .

Yes, it’s marketed as a wonderchild. . . but it’s not great with keywords. In reality, having all of your keywords be broad match the way that they are for Pmax is a nightmare scenario for search campaigns, because having solely broad match keywords is wildly open-ended and leads to a lot of wastage.

And we haven’t even covered your brand yet! It’s really important to understand the role your brand plays in bringing in searches. Performance Max’s big trick is to make people believe that it’s effective through brand searches. 

Brand searches refer to searches where someone’s already searching for your brand name. You need to protect your brand name, of course, so you should have an ad strategy in place for this, but you should only target these customers with a small, focused brand campaign to help you manage brand searches.

In the end, though, this doesn’t play as big a role in whether or not Google is profitable for your business. Because Performance Max includes branded searches, many people don’t realise that it’s not great. After all, it looks like Performance Max is driving a lot of traffic when in reality, a lot of the traffic might be coming through from your brand. 

How do you know if Performance Max is working for you?

You can actually test all of this yourself by going into a Performance Max campaign and looking at the “insights” section. Here, you can look at which search terms are making new conversions. Chances are that if you look at your Performance Max search terms, your brand name will be one of the key search terms when it comes to conversions. 

Of course, your brand won’t be the only search term pulling in traffic from your performance max campaigns, but it will probably play a significant role in it, unless you block it.

Here’s the good news: you can block it. Simply ask a Google rep. 

Are there any pros to Performance Max?

I know I’ve been shitting on PMax a lot throughout this post and highlighting the cons of Performance Max, but I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy all the time, so I will mention that it’s not all bad. There are some positive sides to this campaign. 

One of the examples that I mentioned earlier did actually do really well, and I think it comes down to a few main factors:

  1. It was an e-commerce store. 
  2. They had a campaign with an ad spend of more than £100,000 per month. 
  3. The account was already mature and had a lot of conversion data. 
  4. The client had a very large and varying product mix to manage.

I mention the last one because the bigger your product base, the harder it is to manage manually, so Performance Max can help here. And of course, the large amount of conversion data already available also helps because Performance Max can keep spending money on Google ads that have been proven to work. 

Essentially, the machine learning algorithm can be smart at times and miss opportunities that we as humans don’t always see, especially when it comes to audience signals. So, having a PMax campaign isn’t the worst thing ever. 

What's the alternative?

I’d be a pretty horrible person if I walked you through all the cons of Performance Max and then left you hanging and didn’t offer any alternatives, so I’m going to run you through how I approach ad campaigns. 

I transform ad accounts not by using some special new campaign type or fancy structure, but rather by focusing on the core fundamentals of Google Ads. 

I aim to reduce waste, and I do this by starting with a very small focus area that can help me find initial profitability before I scale outwards. Once I’ve done that, I use general search and shopping campaigns rather than smart campaigns. 

I generally use display, YouTube, and Gmail ads sparingly and only in niche scenarios. I have tight keywords and I tend to opt for only phrase or exact match keywords as well. 

And then, finally, I utilise thousands of smaller lessons that I learnt from many years of running Google Ads as a professional in the industry. That’s probably a lot to take in, so if you have some free time, do some research to help you better understand these terms. 

Shameless plug here: my YouTube channel has loads of videos that can give you more in-depth info on paid ads. 

 I wish I could share all my knowledge, but we’d be here forever. 

What's my advice?

Performance Max is complicated. Google Ads is complicated. And if you’re not an expert in the field, it can be incredibly difficult to figure out how to make these ads work for you. I know I’m biased, but I truly believe that the best thing you can do is to talk to a professional. Get advice on how you can turn Google Ads into a money-making machine. 

Fill in the form below to learn more about how Google Ads can benefit your business, or to get a free audit of your existing ad campaigns!


Ready to chat?

Book in a call today to have a free audit over your existing paid ads campaigns.

Discover the paid ads platforms that are right to invest in for your business.