If you were one of the many who found their Smart Shopping campaigns replaced, or if you are looking to learn more about pMax, then you’re in the right place. In this piece, we’ll answer the following: 

  • What is performance max
  • How does pMax compare to Smart Shopping 
  • The pros and cons of pMax 
  • When you should / shouldn’t use pMax campaigns 
  • Recommendations to help you along the way 

 What is Performance Max?

First off, for those of you who have not yet trialled or looked into using pMax, here’s a quick overview: Google’s goal-based pMax campaign type is a multi-channel tool; geared to help businesses boost conversions across Search, Shopping, Display, Discover, Maps, Gmail, and YouTube. 

pMax incorporates Google’s AI-driven Smart-Bidding elements, meaning Google will automatically adapt targeting parameters based on 1,000s of different machine learning algorithms. 

Sounds great, right? Advertisers can use pMax even if they do not have a product feed.
Meaning that you can use pMax for lead generation and direct-to-customer sales. However, we’ll be sticking to the shopping side for this blog. 

Pros of Using Performance Max for Paid Media Campaigns

  • #1 Improvements in targeting and creative capabilities across the GDN. Smart Shopping campaigns allow you to upload creatives for remarketing purposes. However, Google would often show alternate ad types in display placements. These were usually 6-8 product listing images glued together with no context.  

Unappealing, right? With no context, it’s challenging to determine what you’re being shown. PMax scraps this feature and focuses only on uploaded image ads for such placements.   

In terms of targeting capabilities, pMax allows advertisers to provide audience indications for better performance and establish conversion value criteria for greater transparency and control. Allowed audience definitions include in-market, affinity, custom, combined, customer lists, demographics, and lookalikes. Smart shopping, unfortunately, could not make use of any such information.  

  1. #2 Unlike Smart Shopping, pMax focuses on optimisation towards set goals and objectives as opposed to being predominantly revenue-focused, although it can be revenue focused too! 
  2. #3 PMax takes away a portion of day-to-day work - allowing more room for strategy and optimisation focus for your accounts.
  3. #4 PMax is much easier than standard shopping for beginners - most optimisations are done for you (they can sometimes be a better choice too)!
  4. #5 PMax allows us to predefine targeting with custom-made audiences, allowing for a huge amount of creativity when adapting targeting towards your user personas. 
  5. #6 Speed up day-to-date management of campaigns. 
  6. #7 Capture user interests across multiple channels and placements with minimal effort.  

Cons of using Performance Max for Paid Media Campaigns  

Although Performance Max brings positive changes, there are always negatives. We must remember “a computer can never be held accountable; therefore, they should never make management decisions”.   

Here are some things to be aware of when running pMax:  

  1. Like smart shopping, there still needs to be a section for you to add negative keywords. If you have one, you can bypass this by contacting your Google rep (if you have one), but this can be lengthy. The bigger issue here is the risk of spending high on brand terms, especially if you’re a well-known brand. 
  2. You cannot control budgets between channels - although this can be seen as positive (shown above), Google may assume a different channel focus than what is intended from this campaign. If you’re looking to ONLY advertise on shopping, this campaign is not for you.
  3. You can only add up to 1,000 shopping products to pMax - smart shopping could use up to 20,000 product groups. 
  4. It takes more time to set everything up than other shopping campaign variants - for pMax. You must include imagery, headlines, descriptions, and audience signals, among other assets. For standard and Smart Shopping campaigns, this either did not exist or could be skipped. 
  5. Although it is great we can add audiences, we get very little visibility on performance data other than what is shown within the insights tab. This also includes any keyword data from pMax’s search ads functionality - most data is grouped within the category name “other”.
  6. You must have conversion tracking for this campaign to work effectively (we do, however, recommend ensuring you have conversion tracking for all online marketing activities if possible).  

There are a lot of negatives, right? But this shouldn’t put you off of pMax campaigns. Instead, you should feel empowered to make the best decision based on your needs.   

When should / shouldn’t you use pMax?  

Now here is what we’re all looking for - some answers!   

We’ve run numerous tests across pMax campaigns and have formed several conclusions from each.

Note: this advice is based on our own agency findings. You may notice differences depending on your industry, etc.   

First up, when shouldn't you use pMax?:  

  • When you ONLY want to spend your budget on shopping placements.
  • If you want to avoid appearing for certain search terms.
  • If you want full control over all elements of your campaign (e.g. bids per product).
  • We would not advise using pMax if you have less than 50 conversions/sales occurring each month (or you are tracking something else other than conversions) - the data collection would be far too small for adequate optimisation.
  • If you are spending less than £50-£100 per day per month, the data collection would be far too small for adequate optimisation.  

Now for when you should use pMax campaigns:  

  • If you focus on conversions as opposed to other metric goals, such as traffic -  PMax can be fantastic at reaching customers quickly through multiple touchpoints at a lower cost.
  • If you have more than 50 conversions running through your account each month.
  • If you can spend more than £50 daily on the pMax campaign.  

Recommendations to Help You Get Started  

Before we close this off, let’s quickly run through some suggestions. Again, this is all based on our findings:  

  1. Performance increases with time - you may notice weaker performance in the campaign's early days whilst Google refines and adapts targeting parameters. Therefore, we recommend providing as much data as possible before kicking off (do not run this campaign without adding audience signals!)
  2. You are better off creating your own campaign from scratch; almost all auto-swapped campaigns have performed worse than pMax campaigns we have created ourselves.
  3. We suggest splitting asset groups by product type or margin. However, keeping listing groups condensed.
  4. Include as much tracking as possible. Including all conversion points within your sales funnel will likely provide the highest probability of success. 
  5. Watch out for URL expansion! When you set up your first pMax campaign, within settings, you will notice a section which allows Google to send traffic to ‘the most relevant’ URLs on your site. This can cause traffic to spike for blogs which may not be relevant to the campaign goal. We recommend either turning this off or adding URL exclusions to the campaign before you start.

  1. Make sure to use the insights tab to assess search categories and audience segments. This can give you insight into what type of searches your ads are showing against and how much of your traffic is brand. 
  2. If you really want to avoid showing for brand terms, contact Google support or your rep to ensure these are added. You can also change the campaign settings to “only bid for new customers” - this will ensure that the pMax campaign is not bidding for any users who have previously been to the site.   


PMax is a great new tool for those looking to drive conversions with a decent budget. But it does come with its own drawbacks and requires careful consideration. We recommend discussing your goals and challenges with your paid media rep to determine if PMax is the right channel for your business.   

Still trying to figure out where to begin? We’d love to hear from you.




Gary lives and breathes paid search. He spends his days at Reflect Digital supercharging clients’ PPC accounts and digital strategies, crushing cost per click while driving higher revenue and improved conversions.

Gary works across pay per click channels, but is particularly passionate about Google Shopping.

More about Gary

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