Last updated on June 27, 2024

PMax Campaigns Best Practices to Gain Back Control – The Ultimate Guide

Since the introduction of Performance Max (pMax) campaigns in 2022, an increasing number of retailers have benefited from the power of Google’s algorithms. However, pMax campaigns have often been described as a “black box” due to their high level of automation, which can limit control and detailed insights for users. Check this article for more information on everything you need to know about Performance Max

Currently, up to 80% of the over 12,000 merchants using Producthero run pMax campaigns. This has allowed us to collect valuable insights and compile a set of recommendations and proven strategies to help merchants regain control while still leveraging Google’s powerful automation. Today we give a peek into Google’s Black Box to help you increase the results of your Performance Max campaigns.

In this article, we share 6 pMax campaign best practices:

1- Turn automatically created assets off (products-only campaign)

One of our main recommendations is to run pMax campaigns without assets, meaning not including assets when setting up a pMax campaign. Additionally, we also recommend turning ‘final URL expansion’ off.

By doing this, the campaign will only serve within the Shopping network, and Google will exclusively use the information from your Merchant Center feed. As a result, your ads will be created based exclusively on your product data (product titles, descriptions, images, and URLs), giving you more control over your ads.

An important benefit of only displaying the campaign in the Shopping network is that the chances of conversions are higher. This can be explained by the fact that, compared to other ad formats, Shopping ads often attract more purchase-ready users.

This is how a pMax campaign without assets (only products) and Final URL looks like:

Image showing how text assets and final URL are not selected
Image showing how only products are selected during the campaign set-up

If you already have pMax campaigns running and want to apply this products-only approach, check out our article on How to switch your existing Performance Max campaigns containing assets to a “products-only” campaign.

2- If using assets, always create your own.

Even though, as we mentioned above, we do not recommend using assets, if you choose to do so, we strongly recommend you always create your own assets

The reason behind this recommendation is that, when not uploading your own assets, Google will use the content from your website to automatically generate assets for your ads. This leads to running ads with auto-generated images and videos that are often not in line with your brand guidelines.

Additionally, uploading your own created assets can considerably improve the performance of the campaigns and will provide you greater control over the messaging displayed to users encountering your ads.

If you want to access more detailed recommendations for creating creatives that effectively convert, we recommend you join Producthero Academy Intermediate, where Miles McNair joins us as a special guest to provide valuable tips on asset creation for pMax campaigns.  

Image showing Miles McNair video within Producthero Academy

3- Always set up a target ROAS (with exceptions):

If you are an advertiser with enough historical performance data, we strongly recommend you setting a specific target ROAS (tROAS) for your pMax campaign to have more control over the campaign efficiency and profitability. With a defined tROAS, Google’s algorithms can prioritise ad placements and bids that are more likely to achieve your objectives. Check this article to determine the perfect ROAS target for your pMax and Shopping campaigns.

However, there is an exception: if you don’t have enough performance data, it might be a good idea NOT to set a tROAS for your pMax campaign initially. Doing so gives the algorithm more freedom, allowing the campaign to gather as much data as possible in a shorter time.

Note: We do not recommend running a pMax campaign without a tROAS for more than one month.

4- Exclude branded search terms to accurately assess pMax effectiveness

During the last few years, we have observed lots of pMax campaigns with “inflated” data due to branded search conversions. That is campaigns that look like they are performing better than they actually are. 

Excluding branded search terms allows you to accurately assess the effectiveness of your pMax campaigns. By excluding branded keywords, you can better evaluate how effective your pMax campaign is at reaching and converting new customers who are not already familiar with your brand.

When branded terms are included, conversions are very likely to occur due to users who are already familiar with your brand (and therefore are more likely to convert) searching with those branding terms. Therefore, by excluding brand terms, you’ll gain a clearer understanding of how the pMax campaign actually influences conversions.

As we are excluding brand terms from the pMax campaign, we recommend creating a separate branded Standard Shopping campaign. This approach allows you to have greater control over the cost of each specific keyword, as pMax does not provide detailed data on individual keyword costs.

You don’t need to worry about pMax having priority over Standard Shopping. By running a pMax campaign with excluded branded search terms alongside a separate branded Standard Shopping campaign, when users search for a specific brand term, the search term will be excluded from the pMax campaign and picked up by the Standard Shopping campaign (see image below).

Image showing that when users search for a specific brand term, the search term will be excluded from the pMax campaign and picked up by the Standard Shopping campaign

This is how your campaign structure will look like: 

Image showing the campaign structure consisting on one non-branded pMax campaign and one separate Branded Standard Shopping campaign

To see how you can exclude search terms from pMax campaigns, check this article on How to add a negative keyword list to Performance Max campaigns

Additionally, we also asked Dennis Moons, from Store Growers about his opinion on excluding branded search terms from pMax:  

“We’re 3 years into Performance Max and the debate on whether or not to exclude branded search terms still rages on.

Keeping the brand inside of pMax inflates the results, and shows much better returns vs what you could achieve without it. But that’s ok to some point.

Early on, branded terms can help Performance Max build conversion volume which provides a foundation for it to branch out to more generic search terms. Especially for smaller brands this extra boost can be helpful.

But after the campaign has taken off, make sure that you’re not getting fooled by Google. Keep a close eye on the percentage of clicks and conversions coming from branded terms. If it crosses the 20% mark, the amazing returns of branded terms skew the results. Then it makes sense to exclude and capture those searches with other campaigns. This helps keep the campaign on track and avoids spending the surplus of your target on poor-performing placements.

But if your conversions coming from brand stay below that 20%, its impact on your overall campaigns is relatively small. In that case, I’ll keep it in. As that campaign continues to scale, the impact of the brand will decrease.”

If you are a medium or big advertiser, we recommend you use what we call “the Medium setup”. This setup consists of creating two different pMax campaigns: 

  • One with only products 
  • One with the rest of the assets (headlines, descriptions, images, videos, etc.)

By creating a separate pMax assets campaign apart from the pMax only-products campaign we recommended in the first part of this article, we combine automation with a certain level of manual segmentation and optimisation, allowing us to have greater control

We recommend you check this article to discover all the details on the different pMax campaign approaches for retailers

For higher control, you can also choose to make additional segmentations (see image below). That is, applying the Labelizer Strategy by using separate campaigns for different product segments (Heroes, Villains, Zombies, and Sidekicks).

Medium set-up consisting in creating two different campaigns: one pMax with assets and another one with only products

For more information, check this article on How to use the Producthero Labelizer Strategy for Performance Max Campaigns

Asking PPC experts from the field on this topic, this is the advice of Navah Hopkins, Optmyzr Brand Evangelist & PPC speaker:

“Performance Max (PMax) campaigns allow for up to 100 asset groups, but it’s very common for brands to run only one PMax campaign with one asset group. This makes it difficult for the creative and budget to be allocated to the right parts of the business.

Users should consider running one PMax campaign with multiple asset groups if they will struggle to hit the needed 60+ conversions in 30 days. If they will be able to meet those thresholds, then it begins to make sense to have multiple PMax campaigns with one asset group, or multiple PMax campaigns with multiple asset groups.

Aside from conversion/budget considerations, the main deciding factor is whether you need different location targeting, feed prioritisation, or conversion goals. If you do, you likely want to go with multiple campaigns.

When we ran the numbers, there was no meaningful difference between multiple or single PMax campaigns (so long as the advertiser segmented out asset groups). Let your business needs pave the path forward!”

6- Use conversion tracking via Google Ads (instead of Google Analytics)

Our final recommendation for pMax campaigns is to track conversions through Google Ads rather than Google Analytics and opt for a data-driven attribution model. 

By opting for a data-driven attribution model within Google Ads, advertisers gain access to a greater amount of data. This is highly beneficial for pMax campaigns, which heavily rely on continuous data analysis to learn from and optimise their effectiveness.


In summary, by following these recommendations, you, as a merchant have a peek into the pMax black box. As you can see, you can maximise the effectiveness of your pMax campaigns ensuring they not only harness the power of automation but also maintain a higher degree of control over your advertising efforts. Do you want to have an even deeper look into the black box? Then follow the Intermediate course of the Producthero Academy to gain knowledge and earn a certificate to show you’re a shopping ad specialist.

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