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Performance Max vs. Smart Campaigns: What’s the Difference?

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Ever wondered why some companies manage to build entire marketing engines through Google Ads, while you’ve struggled to get them to be profitable?

The secret sometimes lies in choosing the right campaign type.

If you’re starting Google Ads for your business, you’ll be presented with options to run 3 different types of ads: Performance Max, Smart Campaigns, and Responsive Search Ads.

In this article, we unveil the strengths and weaknesses of Performance Max vs. Smart Campaigns.

Knowing which one suits your business could be the game-changer you’ve been looking for to catapult your business through Google Ads.

Let’s explore these Performance Max vs. Smart Campaigns together and discover the best fit for your advertising needs.

If you’d like to schedule a time with us to discuss which of these campaign formats is likely to work best for your industry, click here.

Google Ads’ Performance Max Campaigns: A Deep Dive

What is Performance Max?

Performance Max isn’t just another campaign type; it’s Google’s latest attempt to leverage AI in optimizing your ad delivery (and let’s be honest—their latest attempt to sell more of their Google Display Network and YouTube Ad inventory).

PMax is designed for businesses to begin running ads across the entire Google ecosystem. But what sets it apart from Smart Campaigns and Responsive Search Ads?

Harnessing Customer Data and Artificial Intelligence

The true power of Performance Max lies in its ability to intelligently leverage customer data you provide it across all Google’s platforms.

By analyzing user behavior and preferences, Performance Max crafts highly targeted ads that resonate with your audience. It claims to not just about reaching more people; but to focus on reaching the right people at the right time.

Unique Features of Performance Max

To start, your ads will show across all Google properties, from Gmail, to YouTube, to Google Search, and everywhere in between.

Performance Max doesn’t just blindly deliver your ads to people that have performed certain searches. It goes a step further by integrating artificial intelligence into its core.

This AI-driven approach means your campaigns are continuously learning and evolving. 

From YouTube to Gmail, your ads are dynamically optimized for each platform, ensuring maximum visibility and engagement.

It also allows you to upload customer data, which it can use to find new customers similar to your existing customers.

By marrying customer data with AI, Performance Max offers an unparalleled advertising experience. It’s an intelligent, adaptive, and highly efficient way to connect with your audience and drive results.

Smart Campaigns Explained

Understanding Smart Campaigns

Smart Campaigns represent a blend of machine learning and automated bidding. They aim to maximize conversion value across Google’s platforms.

They are simple to set up, require little maintenance, and often deliver costs per click (CPCs) that are well below Responsive Search Ads.

It’s also worth noting that Smart Campaigns offer little control over your keyword targeting. They instruct you to create “keyword themes” that are basically “broad match” keywords, and while you can add negative keywords, we’ve found that doing so even moderately resulted in degraded performance of the campaign overall.

Core Aspects of Smart Campaigns

The core strength of Smart Campaigns lies in their simplicity and efficiency. They automatically optimize ad placement and bidding, based on the likelihood of conversion.

Direct Comparison: Performance Max vs. Smart Campaigns

When running Google Ads, understanding the nuances between Performance Max, Smart Campaigns, and Responsive Search Ads can be crucial for success. Let’s delve into the direct comparison between Performance Max and Smart Campaigns.

Similarities Between PMax and Smart Campaigns

At their core, both Performance Max and Smart Campaigns leverage Google’s machine learning algorithms. They aim to automate ad placements and bidding strategies, simplifying the ad management process and boosting performance. Both campaign types are integrated across Google’s vast networks, ensuring a wide reach.

Key Differences: Automation, Targeting, and Outcomes

While there are similarities, the differences between these two campaign types are significant:


Performance Max offers a higher level of automation. It uses AI to optimize ads across all Google platforms, making decisions based on a wide range of signals. Smart campaigns, while automated, has a narrower focus, primarily on Google’s search results and the Google Display Network..

Targeting and Flexibility

Performance Max provides a broader targeting scope, utilizing data from across Google’s services to find the best audience for your ads. This results in more flexibility and potential reach. Smart Campaigns, on the other hand, are more focused on Google Search and display networks, targeting users based on their search behavior.

Outcomes and Reporting

Performance Max campaigns are designed to deliver outcomes across the funnel, from brand awareness to conversions, but tells you very little about what is contributing to your outcomes.

Smart Campaigns share a bit more detail about the keywords that triggered your ads, but the reporting is rudimentary in comparison to Responsive Search Ads.

Ad Creatives and Customization

Performance Max allows for more creative control, enabling advertisers to use a variety of ad formats and customization options.

Smart Campaigns are more automated in terms of ad creation, using product feeds and machine learning to create and optimize ads.

While both Performance Max and Smart use Google’s advanced machine learning algorithms and automation for ad placement and bidding, they differ in their level of automation, targeting capabilities, outcomes, and flexibility in ad creatives. Advertisers should weigh these factors based on their specific goals and needs to determine which campaign type is the best fit for their strategy.

Best Practices for Smart Campaigns and Performance Max Campaigns

When it comes to optimizing your Google Ads account, understanding and implementing best practices for each campaign type is key.

Let’s dive deeper into the best practices for Performance Max campaigns and Google Ads Smart Campaigns.

Best Practices for Performance Max Campaigns

  1. Comprehensive Asset Variety: Utilize a diverse range of assets – images, videos, and texts. This variety allows the AI to test and determine which combinations work best for different audiences and platforms.
  2. Leverage Audience Signals: Provide as much audience data as possible. Audience signals such as customer match lists and website visitors help the AI in targeting and finding new prospects similar to your best customers.
  3. Optimize for Your Main Objective: Clearly define your campaign objective, whether it’s sales, leads, or website traffic. Performance Max will optimize your ads based on this chosen goal.
  4. Use High-Quality Creatives: The quality of your creative assets is crucial. High-resolution images, engaging videos, and compelling copy can significantly improve your ad performance.
  5. Continuous Monitoring and Adjustment: Regularly review your campaign performance. Adjust your assets and audience signals based on the insights you gather.
  6. Experimentation: Don’t hesitate to experiment with different combinations of creatives and targeting options. Performance Max thrives on data, and the more it has, the better it can optimize.

Best Practices for Google Ads Smart Campaigns

  1. Focus on Product Feed Quality: For e-commerce businesses, ensure your product feed is detailed, up-to-date, and high-quality. This includes accurate product descriptions, clear images, and competitive pricing.
  2. Targeting and Location Settings: Be precise with your targeting. Choose locations where your customers are most likely to be found. This helps in showing your ads to the most relevant audience.
  3. Budget Allocation: Smart Shopping campaigns can automatically adjust bids for the best results, but it’s important to set a realistic budget that aligns with your business goals.
  4. Ad Scheduling: While Smart Campaigns automate most of the process, you can set preferences for when your ads should run. This can be based on the times you know your audience is most active.
  5. Monitor and Refine: Regularly check your campaign’s performance. Look for insights into what’s working and what isn’t, and make adjustments accordingly.
  6. Integrate with Google Analytics: Connect your campaign with Google Analytics for deeper insights. This can provide valuable information about customer behavior and campaign effectiveness.

Should You Run Performance Max Campaigns for Smart Campaigns?

There is no single answer to this question.

Some businesses will find success with Performance Max.

Others will find success with Smart Campaigns.

Others, in particular businesses that operate in narrow niches that Google’s AI doesn’t quite understand, will find that Responsive Search Ads are the only ones that deliver a satisfactory return on ad spend.

The only way to tell is to run all three in tandem. You will find one outperforms the other two; once you identify which, you can stop running the others and focus all of your ad spend on that campaign.

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