There once was a time in digital marketing, a time of abundance, where we’d throw everything at the wall, as part of our otherwise carefully designed GTM strategy, to see what sticks. Budgets were generous, competition was moderate, and the name of the game was maximum exposure. All you had to do was cast a wide net and hope for a bountiful catch. Those were the good ol’ days, weren’t they? But as Bob Dylan famously said, “The times, they are a-changin’.”
Today, the playground of digital marketing has become a battlefield. We’ve bid farewell to the era of abundance and ushered in the age of efficiency. Every penny spent on marketing needs to justify its existence by delivering measurable, incremental value. So, we must ask ourselves, are our marketing strategies truly efficient? Are they yielding incremental returns, or are we just running in circles?
These questions lead us to the spotlight of today’s discourse—Google AdWords’ PMax campaigns.
There’s an adage that says, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” Now, I’m not calling anyone a fool here, but I can’t help but think of this saying when I see marketing teams throwing their budget into Google AdWords’ Performance Max campaigns.
I could almost hear the jingle of lottery tickets, each promising a big win but delivering very little.
Unpredictability: The Name of the PMax Game
PMax campaigns are like playing Russian Roulette with your marketing budget. They’re like a ticking time bomb, a monkey with two guns if you will. Their unreliability lies in their randomness—you can never predict what’s going to happen and when. Is this really the kind of gamble you want to take with your campaign budget? I bet not.
But, you might say, it’s the lesser of all evils, isn’t it? If it brings conversions, why should we bother about anything else? Here’s why.
Incrementality: The Hidden Pitfall of PMax Campaigns
If incrementality (ensuring that every marketing initiative actually brings incremental ROI, not just attribution credit) is your concern, and it should be, PMax campaigns can be a real boogeyman, lurking under the bed of your Google AdWords account.
For starters, unless you’ve had a Google rep negate your brand keywords of your PMax campaigns, you can be sure they are cannibalizing them. Yes, most of the great results attributed to PMax comes from getting traffic from brand keywords. This means they are not only cannibalizing your branded PPC campaigns, but also you organic traffic.
The outcome? inflated costs and diluted results.
So, you see, there’s no way to negate brand keywords in a PMax campaign yourself, except by negating them across your entire Google AdWords account. You need to speak to a rep and have him do it. But if it was only that.
It gets worse. Google has a preference for PMax over every other campaigns, except for exact-match campaigns or the display campaigns that have a higher ad rank. PMax campaigns are like the favored child, more likely to be shown, therefore stealing other campaigns’ performance.
The Illusion of Simplicity: PPC Strategy Compromised
The next 2 issues are very interrelated, they are all need to explain each other but, at the same time, they are completely independent reasons to reject Performance Max campaigns.
PMax campaigns lure us in with their simplicity, but at what cost? The limited control constrains our ability to implement complex strategies. Is this simplicity a trade-off worth making? Are we surrendering our ability to adapt and engage audiences across their customer journey?
Think about it: How can you target cohorts and segments at different stages of the customer journey with different messages if all you’re doing is tossing everything into the blender and hoping for the best?
And that is exactly my next point.
Opacity: The Scalability Deficit in PMax Campaigns
The transparency deficit in PMax campaigns can leave us groping in the dark. After setting creative assets and audience signals, we’re left clueless about anything except whether it converts or not. Are we comfortable operating in the dark, devoid of learning and growth opportunities?
How can we do more of what works, if we don’t know what works?
Imagine your PMax campaign is working wonders, delivering a beautiful CPA and asking for more budget. Let’s ignore the fact that it’s probably cannibalizing your other paid campaigns and your organic traffic, and let’s put on our rose-colored glasses. Sure, you can always dump more money into the campaign until the law of diminishing returns kicks in, but without knowing how you’re converting…
how can you do more of that? How can you improve? Is scaling blindfolded a wise business decision? Or are we setting ourselves up for a fall? What happens when “more money” just doesn’t cut it?
Conclusion: Awakening from the PMax Reverie
PMax campaigns can paint a rosy picture. They’re easy to set up, easy to manage, and the KPIs seem alluring. But it’s time to wake up from the reverie. It’s time to ask ourselves #TheRightQuestions and reassess the value we’re deriving from PMax.
Are we merely being seduced by the comfort and simplicity, or is PMax genuinely serving our pursuit of efficiency and incremental growth? Think of this: being satisfied with PMax’s KPIs is like cheating to win a solitaire game: the result is bs, you just love how it looks on your board.
Do yourself and your team a favor, and never touch them again.