5 Reasons Google’s PMax Campaigns Ain’t All That And a Bag of Chips

“Look at what they make you give.” – Jason Bourne

I admit it. I’m an Anti-PMaxxer.

The mere mention of Google’s PMax often has me rolling my eyes like my teen when I tell a dad joke.

For those not familiar with it, PMax is a new-ish “smart” campaign type in Google Ads. You give it some info about your biz (i.e., images, ad copy, product feed, landing page) and machine learning takes over from there.

As an advertiser, you have very little control over what happens. The algorithm decides where your ads run, the keywords your ads show up for, the combination of ad creatives it uses, and more.

Performance-wise, we’ve seen some PMax campaigns work really well. We’ve seen others torpedo the performance of entire Google Ads accounts.

As with so much of marketing, you have to test to see if PMax works for you.

That said, there are some major downsides to running PMax campaigns we don’t hear many folks talking about.

So, if you’re gonna use it, understand what you’re getting into. And know what you’re giving up by going to the Dark Side using PMax.

Here are our top 5 reasons to be wary of PMax:

1. It Steals From Your Other Campaigns

If you have other campaigns in your account, PMax will cannibalize them. It’ll pick off the best keywords, placements, etc. and take credit for them.

This often can make the PMax campaign performance look amazing. But you have to keep an eye on the rest of your account. Because PMax can destroy it.

We’ve seen large e-commerce accounts launch PMax campaigns only to see overall sales from their Google Ads account drop by up to 60%.

2. It Takes Credit For Brand Searches

Brand traffic (i.e., bidding on your own company name) converts really well in paid ad campaigns.

Which makes sense. People who already know who you are, are more like to buy from you. So brand keywords usually have a super high Return on Ad Spend (ROAS). 

Knowing this, PMax campaigns LOVE brand traffic. It’s a great way for PMax to inflate its conversion and ROAS numbers.

To avoid this, here’s a tip… contact your Google rep and have them block brand traffic from your PMax campaigns.

If you want to bid on brand traffic, you’re usually better off setting up a separate, non-PMax campaign for it.

Also, blocking brand traffic will force PMax to focus on optimizing for non-brand terms. This’ll give you a better sense of whether using PMax is worth it or not.

After Google blocks brand search terms, keep a close eye on campaign ROAS. Don’t be surprised to see it sink like a mob informant in the East River once brand traffic goes bye-bye.

3. You Lose Most of Your Control

In PMax, you have very little control over your campaigns.

… You can’t pick your keywords. (Heck, you can’t even add negative keywords without going through Google.)

… You can’t decide where to run your ads. Google won’t just show them on Search or Shopping. It can show ads on YouTube, Display Network, Gmail, Apps, etc. (see #5 below for more on this).

… You have little control over your bids for individual products, keywords, etc.

All these things are largely left up to machine learning. Again, sometimes it does really well, sometimes it doesn’t.

But when it doesn’t, your options for improving things are much more limited than in non-PMax campaigns.

4. They Hide Some Really Useful Data From You

This is a biggie for me.

One of the things that first drew me to Google Ads was using it for market research. You could use the data mined from campaigns to:

  • Improve ad copy on landing pages, title tags, non-Google ad campaigns, etc.
  • Find search term ideas to optimize SEO content around
  • Focus on underperforming products, keywords, ads, etc. to try to give them a boost

By using Google Ads for market research, Tim Ferris was able to test out book titles and discover people overwhelmingly responded to “The 4-Hour Workweek.”

I used it to quickly and cheaply uncover a new market for a drug testing business I co-founded. A market that became the most lucrative one for our company.

With PMax, you lose out on many of these valuable insights because Google hides A LOT of data from advertisers in PMax campaigns…

… And a key part of what made Google Ads so powerful dies because of this.

5. Paying For Garbage Traffic

As mentioned in #3, Google shows your ads anywhere it wants when you run PMax campaigns.

This is great for Google because they get to better monetize crappy networks that serve up a lot of questionable traffic.

It’s not so great for advertisers…

… Because your ads will run on apps, the Google Display Network and other shady parts of the Internet where bot traffic and click fraud run rampant.

And with PMax, unlike with other types of campaigns, you can’t stop your ads from running in these places.

So we advertisers end up paying for a bunch of crap traffic and have no good options to fight it.

Should You Avoid PMax?

As much as I’ve ranted about PMax here, it definitely serves a role.

But our advice here is this: be very careful how you use it.

For example, we never use PMax out of the gate with a new account. We run more traditional campaign types first. This gives us more control and lets us collect some initial data…

… Data we can use to better understand what’s working and what isn’t.

If we have some things working well, we tend to leave those alone. We don’t want to risk PMax kneecapping a successful campaign.

However, for things we’re not getting much traction with, we might spin out a PMax campaign and see how things go. We’re just very intentional about the products, landing pages, etc. we allow PMax to work with.

At the end of the day, PMax is here to stay and can get some impressive results.

Just make sure you go in with your eyes wide open and understand what Google makes you give up to use it.

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Chris C
Chris C

Chris has been in the SEO world since 1999. He's created and executed cutting-edge online marketing strategies Fortune 500 companies, major trade organizations and wide range of other businesses. He enjoys spending time with his family, hunting and is also oddly quite fond of orangutans.