How to Get the Benefits of Discontinued Local Ads From Google’s New Performance Max Ads
Author: Heidi Schmidt, Digital Marketing Specialist
Performance Max ads were officially available for use in November of 2021, but were rolled out as forced “upgrades” to Local campaign advertisers [and Smart Shopping advertisers] in Q3 2022. Performance Max campaigns are designed to complement standard responsive Search campaigns and keyword-based bidding with advertising on all other Google channels such as display networks, YouTube, Gmail, and Maps. But what if you were running Local ads because you primarily want to advertise on Google Maps?
Performance Max is now the only Google Ads campaign type for advertisers with an objective to “drive visits to local stores”. Advertisers with this objective are now required to advertise on all Google channels if they want to advertise on Google Maps or on Google Search via Maps Snippet and Google Business Profile.
Local Ads Benefits and Drawbacks
Prior to Performance Max ads, Local ads were the only campaign type designed to drive foot traffic to a brick and mortar business. Many Search ad customers experienced significantly more substantial results after migrating to Local ads. Since these ads were primarily shown to users on Google Maps, they naturally drove more actions than Search ads because the user intention is presumably to interact with the Map and select a destination. In my personal experience, managing more than 100 Local ad campaigns, conversion volume increased exponentially when the goal became direction requests. The cost per action dropped by several dollars in all locations and these business owners experienced increased in-store sales.
There were some missed features in Local ads. Here is a quick list of the features I missed the most:
- Structured snippets
- Callout extensions
- Sitelink extensions
- Keyword bidding
- Negative keyword lists
- Audience targeting
Additionally, Local ads lacked the ability to set an ad schedule and location targeting radius. We were to assume Google would show the ad during the hours of operation listed on the Google Business Profile and show the ad to users in a reasonable proximity to the address on the Map. Without insights around day/hour performance or location radius performance, it was impossible to tell if Google’s algorithms were doing it right.
Performance Max Ads Benefits and Drawbacks
Performance Max ads on the other hand, offer a lot more room for optimization: ad schedules, location radius targeting, sitelink extensions, callout extensions, structured snippets, keyword based audiences, conversion-based bidding strategies, goal indicators, and more.
Performance Max ads also provide some more flexibility in ad assets, including 5 long headlines at 90 characters each to supplement the already available 5 short headlines and 5 descriptions. Image assets can now include a portrait image in addition to the square and landscape options, multiple logos, and multiple videos. You must have at least 3 high quality YouTube videos to run Performance Max ads.
The primary drawback to Performance Max campaigns is the lack of control over the advertising channels. If your objective is reach, this is a great campaign to target everyone, everywhere with streamlined asset inventory. If your objective is to drive foot traffic to your physical location, you must also be willing to spend a portion of your budget on advertising to other Google channels. The main problem with this is that you don’t get to tell Google what portion of your budget you would like to allocate to each channel. Presumably, Google will use your budget in the way their algorithms think will generate the most actions based on your goals. This is where goal priorities come into play.
Performance Max Ads Features
Performance Max ads have some features that Local ads did not, some of which aren’t necessarily beneficial. Here’s how to navigate these new and repurposed settings to benefit Local ad intentions.
If your objective is to drive foot traffic to your physical location, the best actions to help you achieve this objective are Google Hosted Conversions. In campaign settings, select the option to “Use campaign-specific goal settings” instead of account level goals. You’ll notice that local actions (Google Hosted) and online goals do not work simultaneously on Performance Max ads yet. Be sure to select only Google Hosted goals and Calls from Ads (conversions recorded from call extensions). Deselect Website goals.
This is a new campaign setting that is offered for Performance Max ads that allows Google to control the URL destination based on search intent. The default setting is “ON” but I recommend turning this off so you’re only sending traffic to the landing page that is optimized for your ad. This can be found under “additional settings” in the campaign settings.
Placement exclusion lists (now located in the shared library instead of campaign settings) give the advertiser some control over display ad placement. I recommend excluding all app categories from your display targeting since they tend to perform poorly. For example, users are less likely to respond positively to an ad that is interrupting their mobile gaming experience.
Geo-targeting is one of the most critical aspects of advertising and it is relieving to know for sure that your ads are only being shown in your intended locations, rather than relying on Google to be reasonable about proximity. I like to set multiple location radiuses around the business address, creating a bullseye effect. For example, if you’re advertising for a restaurant, set a radius of 7 miles, a radius of 5 miles, and a radius of 3 miles. This will give you a higher concentration of impressions to users that are closer in proximity to your address but will still target a broader audience.
“People in or regularly in”
This setting complements your geo-targeting. Most industries should set the target to “Presence” only instead of “Presence or interest”. To drive foot traffic, you want to make sure you’re delivering your ads to people who are actually present in your area. Even with the location radius setting, Google will show your ad to people anywhere if they are doing a location-based search. In some circumstances, like hospitality, it makes sense to run ads on Google Maps with the setting “Presence or interest: People in, regularly in, or who’ve shown interest in your targeted locations”.
Conversion based bidding strategies
Performance Max ads give you two bidding strategy options – “maximize conversions” and “maximize conversion value”. Maximize clicks is not an option for Performance Max ads since the objective is to drive actual business, rather than visibility or website traffic. Both of these strategies are great options! If all conversions deliver the same value to your business, “maximize conversions” is the best setting. If some conversions are more valuable to you than others, set values for them (in Conversions under Measurement tools in Google Ads for Google Hosted Conversions and Google Analytics for Website goals) and set your bidding strategy to “maximize conversion value”. This will help Google prioritize your most important conversion actions.
Insights & Value Derived From Performance Max Ads
As all Local ad customers are aware, the insights provided by Google around ad performance were almost non-existent. Performance Max ads deliver the same performance metrics, recommendations, and insights you’re used to seeing on Search campaigns, with some additional value added.
- Day & hour performance – Ad schedule performance shows your most productive days and times of day to run your ads, giving you the ability to exclude hours and days that are spending too much budget on clicks and not yielding any results.
- Location radius (bullseye performance) – This reporting gives you better visibility into performance for various neighborhoods around your business and performance in proximity to your address.
- Audience insights & search term insights – This is a new report that Google is offering for Performance Max customers that provides details about which custom audiences and which keyword groups are performing the best.
- Auction insights – Impression share gives you an idea of how much you’re spending and the quality of your ads compared to your competitors. General impression share is likely budget related while Top of page rate & Position above rate are more likely quality related.
- Recommendations – Google’s optimization score is based on a wide range of opportunities that can be implemented to improve the performance of your campaign. In my experience, most of them are “increase your budget” for some reason or another, but there are occasional helpful suggestions to implement, too.
Primary Obstacle to Performance Max Ads
Performance Max campaign setup should include a step to connect your Google Business Profile. But what if it doesn’t, and why does this matter?
If you have a brand new Google Ads account and want to deliver ads on Google Maps, you’ll want to follow a workaround to get these ads setup, usually meaning running a different campaign type for a while. Here’s why:
You can only connect a Google Business Profile to your Google Ads account during campaign setup or after campaign setup – not before. Since Google hasn’t ironed out all the wrinkles in their new Performance Max ads, the campaign setup doesn’t include the connection step like it should, according to their support docs and training.
That’s okay, right? Just connect the profile to the account after campaign setup, right? No. After thorough testing, the Google Business Profile does not properly connect to the campaign if connected to the account after campaign setup, meaning the Google Hosted Conversions (local actions from the Google Business Profile) do not track. That doesn’t mean the actions aren’t being taken. You just can’t quantify them. Since Google Hosted Conversions are the most important goals for driving foot traffic to a physical location, tracking their performance is critical.
After much back and forth with the Google Support team (proving this glitch with videos and screenshots), it became clear that I needed to find a workaround. If you’re setting up a brand new Performance Max campaign and haven’t run Local ads in the past (or a Search campaign with a location extension), be sure to run Search ads with all the proper extensions first and wait until all Google Hosted Conversion types have tracked under the Search campaign before turning on the Performance Max ads.
If your Local ad campaign was “upgraded” to Performance Max, then this shouldn’t be a problem. Local actions will continue to track with the new campaign. Just be sure to set the goal to campaign specific goals in settings and focus on Google Hosted Conversions instead of Website conversions since you can’t do both.
Are Performance Max Ads Worth The Trouble?
Absolutely. Google will eventually work out the kinks, and campaign setup will work as it should. Spending some budget on channels that you don’t really care about is rather annoying, but as long as you have the proper settings, you can steer Google in the right direction to ensure you get the most direction requests and store visits from your budget.