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Google has added many automated tools over the past years including Smart Bidding, Responsive Search Ads, and close variant keywords.

Performance Max campaigns are the latest addition to this increasing list of automated PPC tools.

And it might be the most revolutionary campaign type so far in Google Ads.

Performance Max campaigns let advertisers promote their products & services across all of Google’s advertising channels – YouTube, Display, Search, Discovery, Gmail, and Maps from a single campaign.

Traditionally, to run ads on all of Google’s networks, you needed different campaigns and creatives for each channel.

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But Performance Max rolls all of that into one campaign, simplifying the effort to reach customers.

It’s a fairly new campaign type, so best practices are still evolving.

To help build more knowledge around this topic, I recently spoke to product team members at Google who built Performance Max. (You can watch the full PPC Town Hall episode below.)

From early best practices to their roadmap, they shared a great deal and even answered several questions I had collected from the PPC community.

Here are some takeaways about Performance Max campaigns.

1. Performance Max Takes Priority Over Other Shopping Campaign Types

If you’re running a Performance Max campaign alongside a shopping or a smart shopping campaign for the same product (or groups of products), the Performance Max campaign takes precedence.

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That means the Performance Max campaign ads will show to users instead of the ads from the Smart Shopping Campaign.

This is similar to how Smart Shopping campaigns are prioritized over Standard Shopping campaigns when running simultaneously.

When Smart Shopping campaigns upgrade to Performance Max by the end of Q3 in 2022, they will continue to be given priority over standard shopping campaigns.

When you upgrade a smart shopping campaign to Performance Max, your ads will serve on other channels such as Search, Display, Discover, YouTube, and Gmail by default.

So when making the transition, you should definitely revisit and review your creative assets to make sure they are all set up correctly.

2. Upgrading Smart Shopping To Performance Max Doesn’t Mean You Have To Advertise On All Channels

If you’ve loved the convenience of Smart Shopping campaigns and don’t like the prospect of your ads serving in more places, you’re not required to add all assets to a Performance Max campaign.

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If you connect your merchant feed but don’t provide any other assets such as a video, images, and text, your Performance Max campaign will only serve shopping ads.

Ginny Marvin, Google’s Ads Liaison said,

“For shopping, when you link a GMC feed to a Performance Max campaign, but add no other assets, the campaign will be eligible to serve Shopping formats across Search, Display, YouTube, and Gmail.”

This points to a broader tip: While there is no way to select which channels you want ads from Performance Max to appear on, you can achieve this to some extent by being selective about which assets you add to the campaign.

3. Keywords From Search Campaigns Take Priority Over Performance Max Targeting

While Performance Max cannibalizes traffic from shopping campaign types, it is intended to run alongside your existing search, display, and YouTube campaigns. They are designed to be less cannibalistic in those scenarios.

When running a search campaign alongside Performance Max, Google will first try to show ads from the search campaigns.

Ginny Marvin said,

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“​If the keyword is identical to the query (or spell corrected), Search will be prioritized. Otherwise, prioritization is based on Ad Rank. The keyword must be eligible.”

The key here is about “eligibility.”

If an advertiser has tried a keyword without success and removed it or added it as a negative keyword in their search campaign, the Performance Max campaign may still decide to show an ad for it.

The search campaign wasn’t eligible to show an ad, so the Performance Max campaign filled in with incremental traffic.

Whether it decides to step in depends on whether it believes the incremental impressions can lead to the advertiser reaching their stated goal at the specified target.

And that leads to our next learning.

4. Reporting Accurate Conversion Data To Performance Max Yields Higher Quality Conversions

Google says that Performance Max is primarily a performance-driven campaign type with conversion goals as its target. Like all automation, it makes decisions informed by conversion data you feed into the system.

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So when you set up a Performance Max campaign, make sure to report the kind of conversions that matter for your business.

Instead of calling a lead a conversion, consider only reporting a conversion when a lead is qualified or when it turns into a sale.

In the case of ecommerce, consider not just reporting sales but also using conversion adjustments to account for returns and repeat purchases that may affect the lifetime value of a new customer.

Google has recently introduced Enhanced Conversions for Leads which makes reporting high-quality conversion data easier than ever.

5. You Cannot Allocate Specific Budgets To Channels

In a Performance Max campaign, you cannot allocate budgets to specific channels yourself.

But Google’s machine learning takes care of that dynamically in real-time across all channels. It tries to optimize for your stated goal and prioritizes the channels that best help it achieve that goal.

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According to Google, manually allocating budgets constrains Google’s ability to use its machine learning powers.

If you set monthly budgets manually across specific channels, you’re basically returning to regular search, display, and other campaigns that may be already running in your account.

But remember the trick about selectively submitting assets to a Performance Max campaign to control which channels it can show ads. This, along with running multiple Performance Max campaigns, can restore some control.

Ultimately, ask yourself why you want that control, though.

Andrew Lolk said in another PPC Town Hall episode that when advertisers demand control, they often really mean they want actionable insight.

Advertisers are happy when automation drives good results but get frustrated when they can’t explain those results to clients and offer strategic advice.

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Google promises to build more insights for Performance Max campaigns.

6. You Can Optimize For Getting New Customers Using The New Customer Acquisition Feature

One complaint of another automated campaign type, Smart Shopping, was that it would sometimes prioritize remarketing and take credit for conversion from someone already in your pipeline, perhaps due to a non-PPC effort like SEO.

In these cases, the automated campaign may be overstating its own utility and do a poor job of growing a business with new customers.

You can avoid this by telling Google to focus on new customers and by sharing your first-party data about who your existing customers are.

And to help you with that, Google released a New Customer Acquisition goal beta through which you can optimize for new customer acquisition and maximize performance from that audience segment.

To get access now, you can reach out to your Google Ads representative or wait for the impending public launch of this new capability.

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7. Account Level Negative Targeting Is Supported

While Google doesn’t want advertisers to micromanage targeting, Performance Max campaigns will respect account-level negative keywords and negative placements.

Some advertisers have said it can be beneficial to exclude undesirable geo locations or, at the very least, think very carefully about settings like whether you target physical locations or locations of interest.

Automation can make many guesses to find new pockets of conversions but waste a lot of money in the process.

When you have already tried certain keywords, placements, or geo targets and haven’t found them to work, use the exclusion capabilities to forbid the automation from testing these things again at your expense.

Conclusion

Performance Max campaigns show a lot of potential for advertisers, but they are radically different from the other campaign types we’re more familiar with in Google Ads.

A whole new set of best practices will evolve as more advertisers try this new campaign type.

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But until then, we’re learning all we can by asking Google questions and listening to digital marketers who’ve already tried their hand at Performance Max.

Watch the full April 13, 2022, episode of PPC Town Hall for more:

More resources:


Featured Image: Sammby/Shutterstock

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Google On Hyphens In Domain Names

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What Google says about using hyphens in domain names

Google’s John Mueller answered a question on Reddit about why people don’t use hyphens with domains and if there was something to be concerned about that they were missing.

Domain Names With Hyphens For SEO

I’ve been working online for 25 years and I remember when using hyphens in domains was something that affiliates did for SEO when Google was still influenced by keywords in the domain, URL, and basically keywords anywhere on the webpage. It wasn’t something that everyone did, it was mainly something that was popular with some affiliate marketers.

Another reason for choosing domain names with keywords in them was that site visitors tended to convert at a higher rate because the keywords essentially prequalified the site visitor. I know from experience how useful two-keyword domains (and one word domain names) are for conversions, as long as they didn’t have hyphens in them.

A consideration that caused hyphenated domain names to fall out of favor is that they have an untrustworthy appearance and that can work against conversion rates because trustworthiness is an important factor for conversions.

Lastly, hyphenated domain names look tacky. Why go with tacky when a brandable domain is easier for building trust and conversions?

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Domain Name Question Asked On Reddit

This is the question asked on Reddit:

“Why don’t people use a lot of domains with hyphens? Is there something concerning about it? I understand when you tell it out loud people make miss hyphen in search.”

And this is Mueller’s response:

“It used to be that domain names with a lot of hyphens were considered (by users? or by SEOs assuming users would? it’s been a while) to be less serious – since they could imply that you weren’t able to get the domain name with fewer hyphens. Nowadays there are a lot of top-level-domains so it’s less of a thing.

My main recommendation is to pick something for the long run (assuming that’s what you’re aiming for), and not to be overly keyword focused (because life is too short to box yourself into a corner – make good things, course-correct over time, don’t let a domain-name limit what you do online). The web is full of awkward, keyword-focused short-lived low-effort takes made for SEO — make something truly awesome that people will ask for by name. If that takes a hyphen in the name – go for it.”

Pick A Domain Name That Can Grow

Mueller is right about picking a domain name that won’t lock your site into one topic. When a site grows in popularity the natural growth path is to expand the range of topics the site coves. But that’s hard to do when the domain is locked into one rigid keyword phrase. That’s one of the downsides of picking a “Best + keyword + reviews” domain, too. Those domains can’t grow bigger and look tacky, too.

That’s why I’ve always recommended brandable domains that are memorable and encourage trust in some way.

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Read the post on Reddit:

Are domains with hyphens bad?

Read Mueller’s response here.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Benny Marty

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Reddit Post Ranks On Google In 5 Minutes

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Google apparently ranks Reddit posts within minutes

Google’s Danny Sullivan disputed the assertions made in a Reddit discussion that Google is showing a preference for Reddit in the search results. But a Redditor’s example proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten of the search results within minutes and to actually improve rankings to position #2 a week later.

Discussion About Google Showing Preference To Reddit

A Redditor (gronetwork) complained that Google is sending so many visitors to Reddit that the server is struggling with the load and shared an example that proved that it can only take minutes for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten.

That post was part of a 79 post Reddit thread where many in the r/SEO subreddit were complaining about Google allegedly giving too much preference to Reddit over legit sites.

The person who did the test (gronetwork) wrote:

“…The website is already cracking (server down, double posts, comments not showing) because there are too many visitors.

…It only takes few minutes (you can test it) for a post on Reddit to appear in the top ten results of Google with keywords related to the post’s title… (while I have to wait months for an article on my site to be referenced). Do the math, the whole world is going to spam here. The loop is completed.”

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Reddit Post Ranked Within Minutes

Another Redditor asked if they had tested if it takes “a few minutes” to rank in the top ten and gronetwork answered that they had tested it with a post titled, Google SGE Review.

gronetwork posted:

“Yes, I have created for example a post named “Google SGE Review” previously. After less than 5 minutes it was ranked 8th for Google SGE Review (no quotes). Just after Washingtonpost.com, 6 authoritative SEO websites and Google.com’s overview page for SGE (Search Generative Experience). It is ranked third for SGE Review.”

It’s true, not only does that specific post (Google SGE Review) rank in the top 10, the post started out in position 8 and it actually improved ranking, currently listed beneath the number one result for the search query “SGE Review”.

Screenshot Of Reddit Post That Ranked Within Minutes

Anecdotes Versus Anecdotes

Okay, the above is just one anecdote. But it’s a heck of an anecdote because it proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank within minutes and get stuck in the top of the search results over other possibly more authoritative websites.

hankschrader79 shared that Reddit posts outrank Toyota Tacoma forums for a phrase related to mods for that truck.

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Google’s Danny Sullivan responded to that post and the entire discussion to dispute that Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums.

Danny wrote:

“Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums. [super vhs to mac adapter] I did this week, it goes Apple Support Community, MacRumors Forum and further down, there’s Reddit. I also did [kumo cloud not working setup 5ghz] recently (it’s a nightmare) and it was the Netgear community, the SmartThings Community, GreenBuildingAdvisor before Reddit. Related to that was [disable 5g airport] which has Apple Support Community above Reddit. [how to open an 8 track tape] — really, it was the YouTube videos that helped me most, but it’s the Tapeheads community that comes before Reddit.

In your example for [toyota tacoma], I don’t even get Reddit in the top results. I get Toyota, Car & Driver, Wikipedia, Toyota again, three YouTube videos from different creators (not Toyota), Edmunds, a Top Stories unit. No Reddit, which doesn’t really support the notion of always wanting to drive traffic just to Reddit.

If I guess at the more specific query you might have done, maybe [overland mods for toyota tacoma], I get a YouTube video first, then Reddit, then Tacoma World at third — not near the bottom. So yes, Reddit is higher for that query — but it’s not first. It’s also not always first. And sometimes, it’s not even showing at all.”

hankschrader79 conceded that they were generalizing when they wrote that Google always prioritized Reddit. But they also insisted that that didn’t diminish what they said is a fact that Google’s “prioritization” forum content has benefitted Reddit more than actual forums.

Why Is The Reddit Post Ranked So High?

It’s possible that Google “tested” that Reddit post in position 8 within minutes and that user interaction signals indicated to Google’s algorithms that users prefer to see that Reddit post. If that’s the case then it’s not a matter of Google showing preference to Reddit post but rather it’s users that are showing the preference and the algorithm is responding to those preferences.

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Nevertheless, an argument can be made that user preferences for Reddit can be a manifestation of Familiarity Bias. Familiarity Bias is when people show a preference for things that are familiar to them. If a person is familiar with a brand because of all the advertising they were exposed to then they may show a bias for the brand products over unfamiliar brands.

Users who are familiar with Reddit may choose Reddit because they don’t know the other sites in the search results or because they have a bias that Google ranks spammy and optimized websites and feel safer reading Reddit.

Google may be picking up on those user interaction signals that indicate a preference and satisfaction with the Reddit results but those results may simply be biases and not an indication that Reddit is trustworthy and authoritative.

Is Reddit Benefiting From A Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop?

It may very well be that Google’s decision to prioritize user generated content may have started a self-reinforcing pattern that draws users in to Reddit through the search results and because the answers seem plausible those users start to prefer Reddit results. When they’re exposed to more Reddit posts their familiarity bias kicks in and they start to show a preference for Reddit. So what could be happening is that the users and Google’s algorithm are creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

Is it possible that Google’s decision to show more user generated content has kicked off a cycle where more users are exposed to Reddit which then feeds back into Google’s algorithm which in turn increases Reddit visibility, regardless of lack of expertise and authoritativeness?

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Kues

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WordPress Releases A Performance Plugin For “Near-Instant Load Times”

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WordPress speculative loading plugin

WordPress released an official plugin that adds support for a cutting edge technology called speculative loading that can help boost site performance and improve the user experience for site visitors.

Speculative Loading

Rendering means constructing the entire webpage so that it instantly displays (rendering). When your browser downloads the HTML, images, and other resources and puts it together into a webpage, that’s rendering. Prerendering is putting that webpage together (rendering it) in the background.

What this plugin does is to enable the browser to prerender the entire webpage that a user might navigate to next. The plugin does that by anticipating which webpage the user might navigate to based on where they are hovering.

Chrome lists a preference for only prerendering when there is an at least 80% probability of a user navigating to another webpage. The official Chrome support page for prerendering explains:

“Pages should only be prerendered when there is a high probability the page will be loaded by the user. This is why the Chrome address bar prerendering options only happen when there is such a high probability (greater than 80% of the time).

There is also a caveat in that same developer page that prerendering may not happen based on user settings, memory usage and other scenarios (more details below about how analytics handles prerendering).

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The Speculative Loading API solves a problem that previous solutions could not because in the past they were simply prefetching resources like JavaScript and CSS but not actually prerendering the entire webpage.

The official WordPress announcement explains it like this:

Introducing the Speculation Rules API
The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them.”

The official WordPress page about this new functionality describes it:

“The Speculation Rules API is a new web API… It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation.

This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.”

The new WordPress plugin adds support for the Speculation Rules API. The Mozilla developer pages, a great resource for HTML technical understanding describes it like this:

“The Speculation Rules API is designed to improve performance for future navigations. It targets document URLs rather than specific resource files, and so makes sense for multi-page applications (MPAs) rather than single-page applications (SPAs).

The Speculation Rules API provides an alternative to the widely-available <link rel=”prefetch”> feature and is designed to supersede the Chrome-only deprecated <link rel=”prerender”> feature. It provides many improvements over these technologies, along with a more expressive, configurable syntax for specifying which documents should be prefetched or prerendered.”

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See also: Are Websites Getting Faster? New Data Reveals Mixed Results

Performance Lab Plugin

The new plugin was developed by the official WordPress performance team which occasionally rolls out new plugins for users to test ahead of possible inclusion into the actual WordPress core. So it’s a good opportunity to be first to try out new performance technologies.

The new WordPress plugin is by default set to prerender “WordPress frontend URLs” which are pages, posts, and archive pages. How it works can be fine-tuned under the settings:

Settings > Reading > Speculative Loading

Browser Compatibility

The Speculative API is supported by Chrome 108 however the specific rules used by the new plugin require Chrome 121 or higher. Chrome 121 was released in early 2024.

Browsers that do not support will simply ignore the plugin and will have no effect on the user experience.

Check out the new Speculative Loading WordPress plugin developed by the official core WordPress performance team.

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How Analytics Handles Prerendering

A WordPress developer commented with a question asking how Analytics would handle prerendering and someone else answered that it’s up to the Analytics provider to detect a prerender and not count it as a page load or site visit.

Fortunately both Google Analytics and Google Publisher Tags (GPT) both are able to handle prerenders. The Chrome developers support page has a note about how analytics handles prerendering:

“Google Analytics handles prerender by delaying until activation by default as of September 2023, and Google Publisher Tag (GPT) made a similar change to delay triggering advertisements until activation as of November 2023.”

Possible Conflict With Ad Blocker Extensions

There are a couple things to be aware of about this plugin, aside from the fact that it’s an experimental feature that requires Chrome 121 or higher.

A comment by a WordPress plugin developer that this feature may not work with browsers that are using the uBlock Origin ad blocking browser extension.

Download the plugin:
Speculative Loading Plugin by the WordPress Performance Team

Read the announcement at WordPress
Speculative Loading in WordPress

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See also: WordPress, Wix & Squarespace Show Best CWV Rate Of Improvement

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