Performance Max vs Standard Google Campaigns: How to Run for the Best Results?

  • 11 min read

In order to better understand how to run Performance Max campaigns versus other campaign types, first, let's quickly recap what Google PMax Campaigns are, who they are for, and what sets them apart from other campaigns.

What are Google PMax Campaigns?

Google Performance Max Campaigns are a new campaign type in Google Ads that enables advertisers to run their ads across all Google networks and properties via a single streamlined campaign. Advertisers provide an array of assets such as headlines, descriptions, images, and videos, and the algorithm automatically creates the most appropriate ad combinations to show within the most relevant network.

Performance Max covers the following Google properties and networks:

  • Google Search
  • Google Shopping
  • Google Display Network
  • YouTube Video
  • YouTube Feed
  • Discovery Feed
  • Gmail
  • Google Maps

On top of static assets like headlines and images, advertisers can also link their Merchant Center to attach a retail feed to the campaign. This will allow the campaign to run on Google Shopping. We will talk more about this later.

Even non-retail clients can add their data feeds linking it from the Business Data. Non-retail data feeds are used on the display network for Dynamic Ads.

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PMax Campaigns Inputs

Performance Max campaigns are AI-based, requiring less manual work but strong data inputs for optimal results. Ad assets are just some of the inputs available. Let's review some of the others quickly!

Conversion Goal

To optimize PMax campaigns, we must be clear on our goals. What conversion actions do we want to aim for? Do we want to increase conversion value, or simply boost the number of conversions? The algorithm relies on these goals to optimize ad combinations and placements. That's why it's crucial.

Audience Signals & Customer Acquisition

PMax campaigns automatically target audiences without using any advertiser-provided data. However, we can send "audience signals" to help guide the machine learning models.

To optimize the campaign for acquiring new customers, simply inform PMax. 

You can also upload "audience signals" to asset groups to help Google AI optimise for your selected goals and speed up the bid strategy learning phase. Keep in mind that your ads may still be shown to people beyond your selection if it improves performance.

Automatically Created Assets

Optionally, we could leave the system to auto-generate headlines and descriptions for us.

Essentially, we have two options:

  1. Manually enter a landing page, so that all ad combinations direct traffic to that specific landing page. In this case we should turn off the “Final URL” option.
  2. Apply "URL Expansion", which drives traffic to the most relevant URLs on your website. See the “Final URL” option in the screenshot above.

Additionally, if you flag the option for "Text Assets", PMax will also create headlines and descriptions for you, without being limited by the ones you provided.

Recently, page feeds were added to PMax campaigns for further targeting capabilities. We can upload a page feed to target specific URLs using custom labels. This new feature makes PMax campaigns similar to an upgraded version of Dynamic Search Ads campaigns. We will talk more about this later in the article.

If you attach a retail feed through a connection with a Merchant Center account, flag both options (Text Assets and Final URL). The system will use the information and landing pages in your product feed to populate your ads, similar to a Shopping campaign. Read more about this topic in Google PMax Campaigns: Feed-only vs All Assets.


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Who should use Performance Max Campaigns

Performance Max campaigns are an ideal campaign type for advanced advertisers with clear performance objectives, who like to experiment with the newest Google’s AI innovations, confident it will bring better results.

Also, it’s for advertisers who can provide high-quality inputs. From ad headlines to images, conversion tracking, and audience signals, assets must be of the best possible quality, as this is the ultimate success factor of a Performance Max campaign.

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What are the main differences between Performance Max and other Google campaigns?

If you have read up to this point, it should be clear to you what the main differences between PMax campaigns and other Google campaigns are. To recap:

Performance Max

Other Google Campaigns


Single channel (either search, or display or YouTube etc)

Multiple asset types (text, video, images, etc)

Single asset type (either text, or video, or images, etc)

Cross-channel smart bidding.

Many single-channel strategies available (CPC, CPM, CPV and Smart Bidding)

Automated targeting (no keywords, no audiences, placements, etc)

Manual targeting

No negative targeting (only at account level)

Campaign and ad-group-level negative targeting (negative keywords, negative placements, topics, audiences, etc)

Limited reporting (limited search terms report, limited placement report, etc)

Full reporting

As explained in the next section, we don’t have to choose between Performance Max vs Search campaigns, Performance Max vs Display campaigns, or Performance Max vs YouTube. According to the Google Help Center, Performance Max campaigns are meant to complement the other campaigns, not to replace them. 

So, let’s see how and when you should run PMax campaigns together with other campaign types, keeping the above differences in mind.

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Performance Max Campaigns and Search

According to the Google Help Center, Performance Max is a new campaign type that “complements your keyword-based Search campaigns to help you find more converting customers across all of Google's channels like YouTube, Display, Search, Discover, Gmail, and Maps.

It appears that Google's objective with Performance Max was to enhance and expand search campaigns rather than anything else.

Over the past few years, we have been instructed to make many changes to our search campaigns, including moving from manual CPC bidding to automated bidding and then to Smart Bidding. We also merged multiple keyword match types within the same ad group only to eventually scrap exact and phrase match and switch all our keywords to broad match.

With the introduction of Performance Max, we should not jump on the new recommendation blindly. Instead, we should first understand where Google is bringing us, why, and what is required from us.

So, it is important to continue running search campaigns alongside PMax campaigns, while trying to understand where PMax can actually “complement” the existing campaigns.

Brand campaigns

Since Performance Max campaigns do not use keywords, it is not possible to bid on specific terms. As a result, it is not feasible to have PMax campaigns that focus solely on brand searches.

For advertisers who wish to run brand search campaigns, PMax may not be the best option. Therefore, traditional search campaigns should still be run alongside PMax, particularly in cases such as this.

Competitors campaigns

The same concept applies to competitors' campaigns. Many advertisers choose to bid on their competitors' terms, and the only way to do so is through traditional search campaigns.

Niche search terms

In general, Performance Max campaigns bid on search terms that appear on the landing pages. However, in some cases, such as for competitors' terms or niche products/services, relevant keywords/queries cannot be included on our website in the context that users would use them.

In these specific cases, traditional search campaigns with match types like exact or phrase are still the best approach.

Keyword / Ad Text / Landing Page match

In general, traditional search is still necessary when we need a perfect match between a keyword, ad text, and the content of a landing page. This is also true when we aim to include additional information in our ad copies that is not mentioned on our landing pages. For example, if we want to target a product category page of an eCommerce website and show the average price of products in that category in our ad copy, this is only possible with a traditional search ad.

Search vs Performance Max? How they interact

Search campaigns still take priority over Performance Max, at least in part. When a user's search query exactly matches a keyword in one of your search campaigns (regardless of match type), the search ad will be shown instead of PMax.

However, when a user's search query does not exactly match a keyword, the campaign with the higher ad rank will be displayed.

Please note that this is not the case for all other campaign types. In fact, PMax takes priority over Shopping, Display, YouTube and Discover campaigns (or the campaign with the highest ad rank shows, see table in the next section)

Use PMax to expand on search campaigns

In conclusion, to quote the Google Help Center, you should really think of PMax as an expansion of your current search strategy, rather than a replacement.
Keep the URL expansion and automatically-created assets on to identify possible blind spots in your current strategy. Once you find them, you can add them to your search campaigns. You can think of Performance Max also as a back-up of search campaigns.

Performance Max vs Dynamic Search Ads

After reading this article, you might be thinking that Performance Max resembles a Dynamic Search Ad (DSA) campaign more and more. And you would be correct!

In fact, Google is set to release a self-service tool for upgrading from DSA to pMax. Although we haven't seen it in our accounts yet, we're sure it's coming soon.

On the one hand, pMax can automatically customise ad descriptions, something that DSAs cannot do. On the other hand, it doesn't offer advanced dynamic target rules like "URL contains," which are essential for good DSAs. However, both offer page-feed targeting.

Our recommendation is to wait and see. We believe that URL target rules will likely come to PMax too, making DSA eventually obsolete.

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Performance Max Campaigns and Google Shopping

We covered the topic of Performance Max vs Standard Shopping vs Smart Shopping in the past.

Performance Max has completely replaced Smart Shopping, so we won’t focus on this. On the other hand, many of the best practices for Standard Shopping are also valid on Performance Max. In fact, they're even more important.

For example, you should assign transaction-specific values to your conversions, which will inform the PMax AI and improve performance. Even better, you should consider passing the profit instead of revenue as the conversion value. Read more about leveraging margin % in shopping campaigns. Having a strong value-based conversion tracking is ever critical in the age of AI.

You should also consider using custom labels in your feed to break down your campaigns into multiple asset groups or even multiple PMax campaigns. This will allow you to send different signals (audience, budget, headlines, images, etc.) for each product segment. You can use DataFeedWatch to effortlessly segment your feed based on elements like seasonality, discount level, brand, category, profit margin and more. Read more about 12 powerful custom labels to use with Google Shopping.

Listing groups in Performance Max are the equivalent of product groups in Standard Shopping, see below.

Even though you use a product feed, Google recommends you upload all asset types and turn on automatically-created assets and final URL expansion. According to a Google's statement, "retailers that included at least one video in their Performance Max campaigns saw an average increase of 12% in total conversions," and "advertisers who use final URL expansion with Performance Max campaigns see an average increase of over 9% in conversions or conversion value at a similar CPA or ROAS."

If you run a Standard Shopping campaign alongside a Performance Max, the latter will get priority. This means that there's technically no reason to have them running simultaneously.

Google states that “advertisers that have shifted from Standard Shopping campaigns to Performance Max drove a 25% increase in conversion value, on average, at a similar ROAS”.

But don’t just take their word for it, test it yourself!

In this insightful webinar by Solution 8, John Moran demonstrates techniques for running PMax and Standard Shopping together. 

He "works around" the Performance Max priority by raising the manual CPC bids for Standard Shopping to unusual levels. This enables him to fully understand the value of Standard Shopping compared to Performance Max, without the latter cannibalizing the former.

 Also, we recommend you run an experiment! We will talk more about experiments later.

In general, Standard Shopping Campaigns are for those advertisers that still require a great level of manual optimization or targeting. In fact, Performance Max doesn’t allow Manual CPC, audience targeting or campaigns priority.


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Performance Max Campaigns and YouTube

YouTube-only campaigns still offer very important features that cannot be accessed via a Performance Max campaign. In fact, while PMax campaigns are strictly designed to perform against a conversion goal, YouTube ads might have other non-transactional goals, such as branding or impressions.

Bumper ads or non-skippable ads purchased on a CPM-basis, which are popular among branding advertisers, are not available on Performance Max. Frequency cap, ad sequence and audio ads are also not available.

Also, many video-based metrics like percentage-view, thruplay, ect. are not available in the Performance Max reporting. Plus, you can not steer the campaign budget in or out of YouTube. So, if you have video-specific goals with its own budget, PMax is not for you.

Essentially, PMax only competes against Video Action campaigns. If you run both video action and PMax campaigns simultaneously, the ad with the higher ad rank will be shown. Ad rank might be determined by the campaign budget, Target CPA / Target ROAS, cost per view (CPV) bid, and other factors. We invite you to test the two campaigns via experiments or before/after analysis.

YouTube is still an extremely well-performing branding machine. Do not overlook it and use Performance Max only for conversion-based goals.

If the following screenshot describes your goal, then you should definitely go with a traditional YouTube campaign.

On the other hand, if this screenshot better describes your situation, then Performance Max can be a better option.

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Performance Max Campaigns and Display

When it comes to Display campaigns, it's important to make a distinction.

If we consider Display as traditional CPM-based branding advertising, PMax still doesn't have a chance. This is due to PMax's original design, which aims to generate conversions rather than impressions.

However, for modern Display campaigns like Smart Display, Performance Max is an excellent candidate to replace them. If your display ads have the sole objective of driving conversions or revenue, we could safely recommend you upgrade to PMax. There’s not much Smart Display can do that PMax can not.

Google is planning to launch a self-upgrade tool so advertisers can migrate their existing display campaigns to PMax. In fact, they state that “advertisers who upgrade Google Display campaigns to Performance Max see an average increase of over 20% in conversions at a similar or lower CPA.

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How does Performance Max interact with current campaigns?

As shown in the table above, Performance Max takes priority over almost all other campaign types. As a result, many conversions that previously would have been attributed to single-channel campaigns are now attributed to Performance Max. This may lead you to believe that PMax performs much better than the other campaigns. However, in reality, it is simply "stealing" conversions from other campaigns. Therefore, before drawing any conclusions from testing Performance Max against other campaigns, it is important to examine the overall account results or, even better, the overall business bottom line.

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What is cross network in Google Ads?

We have compared Performance Max to individual single-channel campaigns and analyzed when, how, and if you should run them simultaneously. Now it's time to understand the single biggest advantage of PMax campaigns: cross-channel bid optimization.

So, what does cross-network mean in Google Ads?

With Performance Max campaigns, advertisers can bid across multiple networks and channels to find the best ad to show to the best user at the best time in the best channel. PMax bids in unison, unlike traditional campaigns which bid in silos. With traditional campaigns, we set budgets and bids per channel, missing the cross-network opportunity. The next best customer might be in a channel we didn't think of, where our budget or bids might not be competitive enough to reach them. This is a problem that pMax solves.

Performance Max vs other google ads

Performance Max Experiments

As mentioned earlier, it is not advisable to jump on Performance Max without first understanding its interplay with other campaigns. To gain this understanding, we recommend running an experiment.

To do so, navigate to “Experiments > Performance Max Experiments”. Click on the + button to choose between testing PMax against other campaigns or specifically testing it against Shopping.

You can select one PMax campaign for testing, and the system will automatically choose comparable campaigns to test it against.

The help centre mentions: “Comparable campaigns are those that share a domain, at least one conversion action and some locations and languages with your Performance Max campaign.

This means that comparable campaigns can even sit in different accounts, as long as they share the aforementioned assets.

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Running multiple Performance Max Campaigns

There are several instances where it makes sense to run more than one Performance Max campaign at the same time. Google allows up to 100 PMax campaigns per account.

You should run multiple Performance Max campaigns when:

  • You need to target different geographic regions.

  • You need to target different languages. The asset groups will be in the given language.

  • You need a strict match between the campaign targeting and the assets content. This is the case when you cannot activate automatically created assets, for example.

  • You need to keep different conversion goals separated. For example, you might have one PMax for a specific conversion goal and another one for a different goal. Different goals might require different creatives and assets.

  • If you're a retailer, you might want to break down your feed into multiple product segments and assign different budgets to each segment. To do so, you need multiple PMax campaigns with different budgets.

  • In general, if you advertise multiple products/services, you might want to run a different PMax per each product. Don’t run two Performance Max campaigns for the same product/service. They will just overlap.

In all other cases, a single PMax will do the job!

What could go wrong when setting up multiple Performance Max campaigns

When setting up multiple Performance Max campaigns, several issues may arise:

  • Campaigns may overlap, stealing budget and conversions from each other. This occurs when the conversion goal, assets, and/or feed are the same. This situation is highly undesirable as it hinders a clear understanding of campaign performance.

  • All campaigns may underperform, providing a misleading representation of overall performance. If you have limited time or resources, focus on a single campaign. Ensure that it has Excellent ad strength and high-quality inputs to fully appreciate the value of Performance Max.

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Performance Max represents the future of Google Ads. As digital marketers, we must prepare for cross-channel placements and bidding to become part of our daily work. This requires a shift from a single-channel vision to a more holistic, performance-focused approach.

However, this shift is not without its challenges. Strong conversion tracking, value-based bidding and tracking, reliable audience signals, and high-quality assets are not easy to produce. Advertisers who understand the importance of producing high-quality "inputs" will have a significant competitive advantage in the new era of AI-driven online advertising.


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