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Putting Google to the Test



Putting Google to the Test

In the world of digital media – and in paid search in particular – it can feel like we’re always on high alert, waiting to jump on the next product announcement or new beta that will come along and help us to squeeze incremental performance out of our paid marketing budget.

So it’s maybe somewhat counterintuitive that in 2022, the single biggest improvement you can make to your paid search program comes from a product that has been around since the inception of Google AdWords, over 2 decades ago. Broad match is that product.

What Is the Size of the Prize?

From their internal studies, Google suggests that advertisers using smart bidding who adopt broad match see an average conversion increase of 30%, at a similar CPA. The exact figure you hear quoted may vary depending on the exact nature of the test – for instance, if your KPI is conversion value rather than conversions – but broadly speaking, the number you hear won’t deviate too far from this 30% mark.

As an agency, our role is to run our own experiments that either validate or reject these claims from media partners, so that we can present the right solutions to our clients. At Brainlabs we’ve invested heavily in this capability, and our “Hippocampus” database allows us to track the results of all tests that have been run across the agency.

From our extensive recent testing of Broad Match, our experiments uncovered two major findings.

1.  We found convincing evidence corroborating Google’s claims. Whilst falling just short of the 30% figure, the median uplift we recorded was +19%, which is by no means a figure to be scoffed at.

2. Arguably more interestingly, our analysis reminded us just how much can be hidden behind an average. We didn’t just see an impressive median uplift; we also saw broad match deliver successful tests with remarkable consistency. Out of all 54 tests we have on record, broad match emerged as the winning variant on 46 occasions. When you consider the array of external factors that can impact testing in digital media, an 85% success rate is almost unheard of.


But let’s take a step back from the nuances for a moment. Regardless of whether the uplift is 19% or 30%, that’s a number you can’t afford to ignore – especially for a feature that requires almost no effort to implement. And if your budget won’t stretch as far as a 19% increase, the good news is that it doesn’t need to: by enabling broad match and maintaining your current investment, you can instead convert that added value into an improvement towards your CPA or ROAS goals.

If there has ever been a silver bullet in paid advertising, broad match is it.

So How Have We Got Here?

Over the years, broad match has made a bit of a bad name for itself – and it’s easy to see why. It’s not too long ago that the presence of broad match in an account was a surefire indicator of a hands-off approach to management, leading to suboptimal results, and ads being served to users who were really not even close to converting with your product.

As time has passed, the rise of broad match has been the story of gradual & consistent technological progress. Whilst there’s a lot of noise around the topic nowadays, there probably aren’t too many outside of Google’s engineering & leadership teams that could have anticipated just how big a hit it would become more than three years ago.

If there ever was a turning point, it came in February 2021. In one of their flagship announcements of the year, Google told the industry:

Encapsulated in that small print was the fact that there had been a fundamental algorithm shift towards semantic matching, rather than syntactic matching. With this change, broad match ceased being the fire-hose it once was, and became a genuinely viable tool to accurately expand your ad targeting.

The product improvements haven’t stopped there, and today, Google’s vision for broad match continues to reflect a slow burn of updates and performance enhancements:

  1. Utilizing state-of-the-art natural language recognition models
  2. Continual improvements to data quality and infrastructure
  3. Simplified management of broad match
  4. Updates to the keyword prioritization process
  5. Building a joint optimization process across creative, bidding & keyword targeting

Of course, nowadays Google are anything but subtle in the way they talk about broad match with their agencies and advertisers. Recommendations tabs in Google accounts across the World are littered with the call to arms of “upgrade your existing keywords to broad match”, as one of the most consistently highly ranked opportunities.

Despite the bolder approach that Google are now taking in their comms, the steady stream of product changes and refinements will continue, with it being likely that many will go unnoticed for the most part.


When Can Broad Match Go Wrong?

You already know this by now, but auction-time bidding is table stakes in paid search. However, this is never more true than when combined with broad match. If you aren’t using this Google Ads feature to tailor your bids in real-time, then for sure broad match will see you spending a lot of money across a lot of users who each have very little interest in your product right now.

Flipping that logic on its head though, it’s also crucial to appreciate the value that some of those more tenuous-looking queries bring to the table when combined with smart bidding. As humans, we can very easily dip into a search query report, find a handful of questionable examples & overreact: “these queries will almost never convert for us, we need to exclude them!” But as long as there is a non-zero probability of those users converting, then by setting an appropriately low bid you are well justified in serving an ad.

To be clear, we’re not advocating an entirely hands-off approach to search query reports, and you will need to use some element of human judgement. But if performance is your goal, then you really should be trying to give the algorithm as much freedom to optimise as you’re comfortable with.

Another common pitfall is to start focusing on the wrong metrics. The dynamics of your paid search account won’t look the same after adopting broad match – and that’s okay because the numbers you care about will be going in the right direction. All else being equal, a move to broad match should typically see your campaign metrics do something like the below:

it’s true that some of these numbers are in the red, and you can already hear the reaction from the less assured marketers in the room – “Why’re my CTR & conversion rate going down?! Broad match must be driving less qualified traffic!” But the point is, you’ve delivered incremental value and conversions with that additional traffic – and because your bid strategy has paid less for the clicks, there’s not been any adverse impact on your CPA & ROAS.

Finally, there’s an increasing emphasis on being able to steer Google’s automation in the right direction. Remember: an algorithm will optimize single-mindedly towards achieving a conversion goal. So if you haven’t developed a conversion goal that’s sophisticated enough to distinguish your most and least valuable customers, then you should be prepared to see an increase in low-quality customers. Depending on your business, that might mean MQLs that never turn into sales, or it might mean one-off shoppers who never come back for repeat purchases. Sharing first-party conversion data with Google is the solution to offset this trade-off.

In Conclusion

As a matured, world-weary PPC marketer, you’ve every right to have a healthy level of skepticism about broad match. Try to overcome that, and bear in mind the steady progress that has been made in the field of machine learning.

Whilst you’re going through that mindset shift, make sure you stay focused on the objectives of your marketing – and ideally, think about how you can advance these objectives to better target your most valuable customers.


But most of all, make sure you take action – don’t let that 19% uplift pass you by. It’s no exaggeration to say that broad match is at a stage where we’d consider it a fundamental component of your search activity. If it isn’t on your roadmap, assess how you can bring it to the forefront – and get testing today.

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Your Guide to Winning with Performance Max Campaigns



Your Guide to Winning with Performance Max Campaigns

The first mention of Performance Max dates back to 2020, but it is still considered the new kid on the block for businesses and marketers alike. 

For many business owners, and especially eCommerce store owners, there has always been that search for the Holy Grail to simplify online advertising. With many options available, it was difficult for many to choose where to start. For those unfamiliar with the Google Ads ecosystem, it became a very expensive lesson, with many chalking it up as an expensive lesson in futility.

Then came a shift in the landscape, with the release of their automated behemoth, Smart Shopping. This new campaign option offered the likes of many amateur shop owners a simplistic way to take their first steps into the online advertising universe. This made for a simplified process for users to easily showcase all their products, putting most of the decision-making in the hands of Google

Whilst this provided some relief for many, there were still boundaries. For one, the ability to extract pertinent data to review and assess was one of them, as was providing the opportunity to the inexperienced to expand into the other Google advertising ecosystem (YouTube, Display, etc.) where their products may flourish. This provided a void for advertisers to expand their reach and required something to fill the gap.

That was until now!

With the announcement that Google is sunsetting the Smart Shopping campaign, the talk moved quickly to how this will be handled. There was the mention of a “one-click” solution to transition across to this new kid on the block, which was music to the ears of those still not familiar with the Google advertising network. Whilst this may sound like the perfect solution for most, not having that understanding of what you’re working with, could be the difference between the success and failure of your efforts.

This is why I want to equip you with a full understanding of what Performance Max is, and how you can go about implementing the moving parts to set it up for success.


Introducing Performance Max

Performance Max is the latest installment from Google’s war chest of advertising tools. Unlike other automated options of its predecessors, Performance Max harnesses the power of its advertising ecosystem and enables advertisers to serve their ads across YouTube, Gmail, Discover, Search, Shopping & Display networks from a single campaign.

In their own marketing efforts, Google has made it sound simple to get these new campaign types in place, and in some ways, they have. Simply provide your ad copy, upload inspirational product images, add links from your YouTube account, and connect to your Google Merchant Center and you’re only a button click away from unleashing its power. From there, Google’s all-powerful machine learning systems will seek out and find the perfect customer and serve your ads to whichever platform they may be using at the time.

So now, instead of having to create multiple ads and assets for specific channels, you get to “throw it all together” and let Google work its magic, managing its potential to full effect across their advertising landscape.

Performance Max campaigns leverage their automated bidding and targeting technology, creating tailored ads and putting them in front of customers, no matter where they are on the Google Ads network. From the average person, this sounds too good to be true, especially those that are happy to let Google have complete control over their funds.

To help you get the most out of Performance Max, let’s break it down into the many parts that go into making it work.

Anatomy of a Performance Max campaign

Unlike other previous campaign types, such as Search which focus on text-based queries, from this single campaign, you can now show ads to other platforms that include Shopping, Search, YouTube, Display, Local, Gmail and Discovery.

As an automated campaign type, all you need to do is add your assets, select your goal and let Google proceed to do the job by showing your ad to the right person, on the right network, to give you the best possible chance of success. It sounds like the holy grail of advertising and whilst you will see results, having a better understanding of how to put it all together will go a long way to its success.

So where to begin.?


Whilst you’ve read this far, let’s presume that you have a good understanding of the basic campaign settings for creating a Google Ads campaign, including your budget, location, language, etc. As these are generally pre-determined when you plan your campaign and the goals you want to achieve, there are some areas to take into consideration when doing so.

With Performance Max campaigns, you have 2 options with the bidding strategy. Maximize Conversion or Maximize Conversion Value. While there are only these options to choose from, your success is based on choosing the right one. Whichever goal aligns with the outcome you are wanting to achieve, we suggest not putting in any limitations such as a target ROAS or CPA when starting out, and allowing Google to “spread its wings” to jump-start the campaign.

There is one caveat within the settings and that is the Final URL Expansion section. If there is a page on your site that Google believes is more relevant than the landing page you want to direct them to, it will send them there. This does take some control out of your hands, but it is based on your historical conversion data combined with the characteristic profile data it has on users. If there are pages that you specifically do not want to be included, you have that option through the Add the URLs you want to exclude option.

Asset Groups

Asset groups can be similarly described as the “new ad groups” of these Google Ad campaigns. Within these asset groups, you have the infrastructure to create themed assets, including imagery, video, shopping products, and text ad copy, that will provide an inventory for Google to showcase across its advertising platform. Keep in mind that if you are not utilizing your own video or YouTube channel, Google will create one as part of the asset group. If this is not an option, you can contact your Google rep to remove the Performance Max campaign from the video network.

Listing Groups

Within each asset group, you can manually select which products you want to be served up across the Google Shopping network. These listing groups can be segmented by Category, Brand, Item ID, Condition, Product Type, Channel, and Custom Labels. While there is no right or wrong way to set these up, I suggest breaking them down so they align with your themed Asset Group. For example, you may have an Asset Group for Nike and it would make the most logical sense to only include the range of Nike products, especially if you’re using keywords as an audience signal to find your customers.

For those a little more advanced, you can take advantage of using custom labels to get granular with the products that you want to include, such as top sellers, on-sale items or even by a price point. Aligning your products is a key element here, so ensure you spend time looking at how you want to segment these out in comparison to the audience that you will be targeting.

Audience Signals

Creating these signals will guide Google’s machine learning models on the way to better optimize your campaign. One caveat with this is that these campaigns may show ads to audiences outside of these signals if Google’s machine learning indicates that there is a likelihood of attaining a conversion that falls within your goals.

When starting out, it’s always good to have a solid foundation of audience signals in place to get things going. This initial information is going to help your campaign ramp up and optimize performance faster. Whilst having all your products and signals in one group is the simplest way to start, ideally, every audience should get its own asset group and intended audience. These audiences should include:

  1. All website visitors
  2. Competitor terms and website
  3. In-Market with a combination of relevant and “outside-the-box”
  4. Affinity
  5. Customer match list or All converters
  6. Converting keywords
  7. Brand

These are not the specific audiences that you’ll be targeting but the characteristics of those audiences Google will use to find the right customer.

*Top tip – If you’re looking to create a large number of asset groups by combining categories and audience signals, Google Ads Editor is going to be your best friend. Whenever you duplicate an asset group from within the Google interface, the Listing Group defaults back to all products and you’ll need to segment it each time. If it is duplicated in the Google Ads editor, it will retain the original segmentation of the products.

All Done, What’s Next?

Absolutely nothing!

Not quite but you do need to understand that these new campaigns take time to work through the learning process, gathering all the data from your assets and signals, to achieve the goals you have in place. While this doesn’t mean you won’t see some early wins, and you should, it just means you’ll have to be a little more patient. Generally speaking, this can take up to 5-6 weeks from the time you hit the GO button for new campaigns, which for some can be a nervous period. 

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you can walk away and let it do “its thing” for the next few weeks. As they say, a champion team will always beat a team of champions, and this is no different when talking about your Google Ads account. Relying on a single campaign, as many did with Smart Shopping, can be fraught with danger. Whilst Performance Max campaigns utilize all of the advertising networks that Google has to offer, you want to ensure that you’re not missing any opportunities. 

For starters, a Brand campaign.

I suggest running a branded search campaign alongside to ensure that Performance Max is not taking all the glory in sales and converting the low-hanging fruit of those people looking for your business. Although there is hope that it will eventually become available, you’ll still need to speak to your Google rep about adding your brand name, and its derivations, as negative search terms to Performance Max.

Running a standard shopping campaign can also be beneficial, especially if you have core products that need to be front and center with your audience. There is a lot more control, and data to analyze, which can help with improving the overall account, too. The Performance Max campaign will help with “filling in the gaps”, especially with the additional channels it has to market to.

You should also look to run a Dynamic Remarketing campaign. Unlike the previous Smart Shopping that so many were used to running, the remarketing component was far superior, and a dedicated remarketing campaign will give you far more information to review and make decisions.


We live in a media-rich world, where platforms such as Instagram and TikTok rule. The reason they are the kings, or queens, of the social media world is the use of visual creatives. This is no different when it comes to Performance Max campaigns. Make sure you keep a stock of fresh visual images and videos and implement them into newly created themed asset groups for further testing.

But won’t this reset the learning cycle?

Thankfully, it won’t reset the learning phase for the entire campaign, just the newly created asset group. 

Will Performance Max campaigns take traffic/sales from my other campaigns?

The short: it depends. Whilst they are known to “steal” impressions and clicks from other campaigns, there are reasons why. Part of the reason comes down to your ad ranking across all your campaigns. For Search based campaigns, if there is no exact match term in other Search campaigns, then it will be based on the highest ad ranking in your account. When it comes to competing against other YouTube and Discovery campaigns, it’s different again.

To clear up the confusion, here’s a table to give you an idea of which campaign will show:

Campaign #1 Campaign #2 Campaign entered in the auction
Search campaign that matches user query exactly Performance Max Search Campaign
Search campaign that does not match user query exactly Performance Max Campaign w/ higher ad rank
Standard Shopping campaigns Performance Max Shopping Ads on Search/Shopping: Performance MaxShopping Ads on search partners: Performance MaxShopping Ads on Gmail & YouTube: Campaign with higher ad rank
Display campaigns (with no feed) Performance Max Campaign w/ higher ad rank
Display campaigns (with feed) Performance Max Dynamic remarketing: Performance MaxAll other display ads: Campaign w/ higher ad rank
Video campaigns Performance Max Campaign w/ higher ad rank
Discovery campaigns Performance Max Campaign w/ higher ad rank
Local campaigns Performance Max Campaign w/ higher ad rank
ACE campaigns Performance Max Campaign w/ higher ad rank


As you can see, getting started with a Performance Max campaign isn’t as difficult as it may seem, and for those that are either new to Google Ads or crossing over from Smart Shopping, that journey has been made simpler. 

Whilst the above will get you up and running, there is still much that can be done through review and testing, as well as working on accompanying campaigns to complement the performance of your account.


If you’d like to find out how to get the most out of Google Ads for E-commerce, you can contact me at Digital Darts.

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