Search No More? How PMax Has Effectively Nullified Your Search Advertising Efforts

Dustin McManus
June 12, 2024

Can you locate your search ad campaigns in the crowded, chaotic sea of Google’s display, YouTube, and other bundled channel campaigns? 

That’s the question every advertiser must pause and consider as Google forces most brands to transition over fully to Performance Max (PMax) campaigns. 

Many advertisers are finding it nearly impossible to prove value from their PMax campaigns to their finance teams. As a result, search and performance budgets are being slashed across the board. Investment in proper search campaigns that can actually produce conversions, new customers, and incremental revenue for brands is nose diving as a result.

Here’s what advertisers need to know about Performance Max vs. search campaigns.

What Is Performance Max (PMax)?

Performance Max is Google’s latest automated campaign type. It uses machine learning to optimize bids and placements in real-time, and to serve ads across all of Google’s owned inventory:

  • Search
  • Display
  • YouTube
  • Gmail
  • Maps
  • Discover

PMax campaigns are composed of ads that are automatically created from an advertiser’s individual inputs, like audience targeting, keywords, and branded assets. These campaigns rely on Smart Bidding to achieve conversion goals outlined by Google.

Performance Max vs. Search Campaigns

The bundling of Google’s various ad formats in PMax campaigns has left many advertisers questioning whether they’re still actually running search-focused campaigns on the platform.

And the simple answer to that question is no. PMax does not represent or produce the same results or value of a legitimate traditional search campaign. 

The “search” traffic that PMax distributes to advertisers is spread across all of Google’s ad formats based on its algorithmic Smart Bidding feature. Brands have no control over their placements and ad types, or if they’re even appearing on a search engine results page (SERP) at all. This dilutes both search-specific audience and intent.

Google Search via PMax continues to receive a portion of every advertiser’s budget. However, many brands who’ve relied on Google for robust search advertising campaigns are now seeing fewer conversions and a diminished return on ad spend (ROAS) with PMax. That’s because the packaging up of an infinite amount of low value and low cost clicks negatively impacts both search CPCs and marketing mix modeling (MMM).

The PMax Measurement Conundrum

One of the more blatant downsides of PMax campaigns comes on the measurement front. Bundled placements are making it incredibly difficult for advertisers to accurately measure the true performance of their search campaigns.

By aggregating the data from all of Google’s properties, PMax campaigns don’t allow advertisers to easily determine which parts of their budget are driving results on specific placements. This limited visibility into search performance data — including search queries, placements, and asset performance — hinders advertisers. They no longer have access to the insights or transparency they need to make informed decisions and campaign optimizations.

Without numbers or data pointing to the true value or ROI of search, finance teams are doing what finance teams are wont to do with the budgets on underperforming channels: trim, trim, trim! The inefficiencies of PMax are creating an ecosystem of reduced budget and investment in search as a whole — a channel that has historically performed exceptionally well with the right campaign setup, goals, and measurement attached.

4 Additional Search Trade-offs of PMax Campaigns

To say PMax is a completely ineffective campaign type would be disingenuous. The streamlining and automation capabilities it offers for digital advertising campaigns present notable efficiency and productivity benefits for many marketing teams. Additionally, its multi-channel reach greatly expands the potential audience size of these campaigns.

However, in the context of search campaigns, there are many additional trade-offs beyond measurement issues for PMax campaigns. We call it the BOAT trade-off, which encompasses benchmarking, optimization, attribution, and targeting.

  1. Benchmarking: Given the blended nature of PMax campaigns, comparing them to traditional search campaigns is like comparing apples and oranges. This makes it harder to glean the true effectiveness of your PMax campaigns in relation to search, industry, and historical performance benchmarks. 
  1. Attribution: The multi-channel feature of PMax campaigns has its pros and cons. The cons most noticeably come into play during the attribution process. Advertisers are having a difficult time accurately attributing conversions to specific channels and ads within a PMax campaign. This results in less visibility into the entire customer journey, making conversion tracking across different touchpoints incredibly challenging.
  1. Optimization: PMax campaigns typically require longer learning periods due to the number of channels involved. This coupled with the lack of channel-specific insights creates a roadblock for advertisers looking to optimize and boost campaign performance over time. Any underperforming segments of a PMax campaign won’t be readily identifiable at first, creating blindspots for any optimization efforts.
  1. Targeting: While the automation PMax campaigns offer can help streamline campaign setup and management, it also reduces an advertiser’s control over specific keyword targeting crucial for search-focused campaigns. With less control over how your budget is being spent across channels, advertisers can also encounter allocation issues if they have search-specific campaign objectives.

The adMarketplace Difference

Advertisers worried that their search-focused efforts are being diminished by PMax have a right to be concerned. At adMarketplace, our primary commitment is to deliver true search advertising across the open web. We work with some of the world’s largest advertisers to ensure their ads are shown on the most relevant search queries from consumers expressing a variety of intent signals.

Additionally, our measurement approach and methodology is crafted to provide clear and transparent metrics that clearly distinguish the performance of your search ads from other media formats. This empowers our advertiser partners to understand where their traffic and conversions are coming from, and showcases the true media value and ROAS from their search campaigns.

If you’re looking for an alternative to the diminishing returns of PMax, we’ve got you covered. Visit our solutions page or contact us today to learn how you can improve the results of your media investment efficiently and at scale. We’ll work to help you prove the true value and ROI of search to your finance teams so you can secure the budgets you need to run effective search campaigns that reap measurable conversions and revenue.