Performance Max Vs Search Ads

performance max vs search


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George Panayides

Digital Marketing Specialist

Performance Max Vs Search Ads Campaigns

AI's Wild Guesses vs Your Desperate Keyword Clutching...

Performance max campaigns vs search ad campaigns in Google ads, and which ones should you use? 

I’ve written this with a broad approach, so I try to take multiple factors into account e.g. if you are e-com or if you are service based. 

Also, I’d like to stress that you should probably test the performance max campaign yourself, as this information is only based on industries and clients I’ve tested this with. 

This may not be applicable to your industry so to get the most accurate answer I recommend you split testing inside your Google ads experiments to see the performance max against the search ads channels. 

On average, I find search to be better than performance max however it’s quite varied by industry and the type of conversion goal you have set. For example lead generation or sales. 

Anyway, let’s go through everything right now. I’ve also got another blog on my review of the performance max campaign. I ran a 6 week test, so feel free to read that. 

Let’s get started.

Quick summary:

Performance Max campaigns automatically display across various Google networks, offering broad reach and data collection, ideal for larger budgets and less hands-on management. Search ads target users actively searching for your products or services, allowing for more control and optimisation with smaller budgets.


You Can Control Search Ad Campaigns More Than Performance Max

Firstly, search campaigns allow a much more advanced level of customisation to the campaign. You can change or adjust areas like your audience, keywords, negative keywords, bidding strategy and devices. 

Performance max campaign takes this and does it all automatically. Although this might be a time saver, it does mean that it needs to spend your budget on buying data to learn from. 

I find that search campaigns can allow you to work with a smaller budget and optimise on what is working and what’s not. This way you have control over where your budget is being spent and you can turn off any areas that are wasting your budgets.

Actually with performance max you are so limited to reporting. For example, you can barely see any search terms that triggered your ads so you can add any new negative keywords. What’s worse is that you can’t even add negative keywords to performance max as there is no option. 

So, if you’re looking for a campaign on a smaller budget to try and generate quality leads then I’d suggest choosing Search ads. If you have a larger budget and lack time and experience in Google ads, performance max will be your friend. 

Google ads search campaign options to optimise and control spend

Performance Max Is Going To Need a Bigger Budget

As I mentioned above, performance max needs a larger budget because it’s machine learning. This means it’s going to be spending your budget on data to learn from. Not only this, but due to the nature of trends and human psychology, the machine will always be learning. 

We as humans change buying habits quicker than the wind, therefore the performance max will never reach its peak level before the algorithm will reset it into learning mode again, spending more of your budget.

Fortunately, I do think that Google has made this data cheap for the performance max as it’s able to collect so many data points from so many different channels e.g. Display, search, youtube, partners and shopping. 

However, it does show that it’s generally more expensive than a search campaign which can be more targeted and optimised around your budget and keywords to limit wasted spend.

Screenshot of performance max campaign spending over $30,000 and requiring a big daily budget

Search Campaigns Only Show On The Search Network

Search campaigns will only show your ads on the search network. This is essentially on Google search engine results when someone types in your keywords and triggers your ads. 

You can opt for your search ads to display on partner websites but depending on your product and service this could waste your budget. It will require split testing to find out how it performs for you. 

By only being on the search network you can get more targeted leads or traffic because you are only showing your ads to people who are actively searching for your products or services at that point in time. 

You can also tailor what time of day to display these ads on the search network and optimise around which devices you want to show too as well. 

Search ad campaigns only shows on search as shown by google ads settings options

Performance Max Campaigns Show Across Display, Search, Youtube & Partner Networks

Performance max on the other hand will display across pretty much all networks that Google has available. The benefit of this would be mass data collection. You can get so much more information on who is interested in your product vs a search campaign. 

Not only this, but remarketing is a very powerful tool and performance max uses this to its advantage. Although someone might be interested, they may not be ready yet. If your ads are following them around the web on all channels, chances are they’ll be impressed and give you a go. 

Lastly, it captures a very wide range of audiences from hot to cold. Search audiences are people who are ready to buy now. Audiences on display or youtube may be in the awareness stage but since they saw your ads, they are considering it. 

This moves them from a cold to a warm audience through performance max. However, this is also more expensive because there are so many more window shoppers or people who are not active to buy yet. 

performance max asset groups requiring videos, images, text and other media

Search Campaigns May Provide Higher Quality Leads

From what I’ve seen, search campaigns are going to provide higher quality leads for service based businesses. If you have a pretty well established company, the performance max may optimise for people searching your company name which is a false conversion and wasted budget. 

With search campaigns, you can ensure that you are only generating new, hot leads from the keywords that you choose. Having this control filter out any returning customers for help or questions or referrals. 

Generally the leads that come from performance max can be varied. For a period of time the algorithm caught onto some bots, and was optimising my campaigns for fake leads until I reset it. 

The frustrating thing is the number of leads may increase from your performance max, but you have no control over the quality and if the algorithm picks up on spam that are converting, it will optimise for this for ages. 

Performance Max Might Perform Well With E-Commerce Stores

However, with that being said it comes down to the conversion goal. Similar to Facebook, the performance max algorithm is super strong. If you set the conversion goal to be a purchase after someone has input their card details, then pmax will optimise for this. 

I can really see how this would work very well for shopping campaigns because your goal is to get the most sales. The machine will then learn from the users which ones are most ready to buy at that point. 

So, I would recommend using performance max campaigns if you have a goal that is focused on ROAS or sales. Lead generation with this one can be hit and miss. 

The same applies to traffic with this campaign. Performance max needs a very clear goal to work towards otherwise it might not provide the best results possible. 

Google shopping ads examples of how performance max might do well

You Will Need a Variety Of Assets For Performance Max

Also, you are going to need a lot of different assets for the performance max campaigns. This will include multiple videos you want to run, multiple images, multiple text ad options and if you are using shopping, then all of your products.

Compared to the search campaign, you only really need ad copy and a website. Admittedly, you can improve your quality score through ad extensions, auction insights and image extensions but to begin with you don’t need these. 

This is why I always recommend running performance max when you have a large variety of assets. This can include social media reels, branded company videos, culture videos or sales videos, photos shoots or services, products, teams etc. 

Also, the performance max is going to split test these all against each other all the time to find the best performers. The more you add into the performance max, the better results you’re going to get. 

Again, search campaigns are probably better when you first start out because they are more affordable and don’t require you to spend money on videos, photoshoots and things like this. 

Performance max is better when you have all of these assets available and a large chunk of money to test the waters with. Or a clearly defined goal that is going to remove spam through accepting payments of some sort. 


So, to summarise that. Use search campaigns if you are a new business with limited budget. Always test the performance max campaign though, because you may find that it works well within your industry. 

If you are e-com, try out the performance max as you may find this performs better than any other ads. If you are a serviced based business looking for lead quality, then choose search campaigns. 

Remember, the performance max is always going to be learning as well so prepare to be buying data that you cannot actually access. 

Other than that, I’d suggest giving both campaigns a go and finding out which ones perform best in your industry. I’ve seen industries that both campaigns work well with, and other industries where neither perform. 

You never know until you test the waters on a low budget. 

Share your thoughts in the comments below.


About The Author

George Panayides is a digital marketing specialist, focusing on SEO, Google ads, Social media marketing, website development and link building. He’s looking to help other freelancers or business owners become a master in their industry and move towards a better, more successful future.

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Hey, it's George. I'm giving away my marketing secrets (because apparently, I'm just that nice 🙄). You can thank me by linking to my content ha ha.

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