Google Performance Max Campaigns: A Good Fit For Higher Ed Marketing?

By: Mackenzie Hope Aug 24, 2023

Google Performance Max Campaigns: A Good Fit For Higher Ed Marketing?

Author’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2022 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Should Colleges Use Google’s Performance Max Campaign Type?

Performance Max is a new campaign type in Google Ads that can help you get more leads. It’s been around for a while now, and it’s proven to be very effective.

What we’ve discovered is that, like any new offering, Performance Max has its pros and cons. The AI-enabled ad placement might help you achieve incremental increases in the number of prospects you engage, but a lack of transparency and other challenges mean this new campaign type might not be right for everyone.

What is Performance Max?

Performance Max combines display, search and video into one Google ad campaign. Ads are served dynamically, based on ad copy and the content of the URL you provide. Which type of ad gets served depends on which ad type Google’s algorithms calculate will perform best. Optimizations on the back end keep Performance Max from competing against your other keyword-based campaigns. 

This ad type is part of an overall trend toward increased automation in paid search. Using Performance Max means giving up a lot of control over your ad campaigns and relying on AI to make the best decisions.

The Pros and Cons of Performance Max Ad Campaigns

The Performance Max ad campaigns we’ve run on behalf of our college and university partners have seen mixed results. While this campaign type offers some opportunities, these may not offset the challenges for some programs.

The Challenges

More Spam Inquiries. Performance Max ads seem to bring in more spam than other ad types. We’ve seen performance max campaigns generate up to 20% spam lead inquiries. Although Google will credit an account to offset the cost of spam inquiries, it still muddies the waters. Spam can affect back-end optimization and inflate overall conversion rates, while artificially deflating cost-per-conversion. So it’s harder to tell how the campaign is actually performing. 

Lack of transparency. Transparency is an issue for Performance Max campaigns. Unfortunately, for advertisers, increasing privacy restrictions and a trend toward automation may continue to narrow the amount of data they’re able to access. Even as the student’s journey becomes more complex, we’re getting less data about what that journey actually looks like. 

Early in 2022, Google released a new placement report allowing advertisers some insight into where ads are showing. It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go before Performance Max offers real transparency. 

Weaker down-funnel results. Although Performance Max campaigns are bringing in leads schools might not otherwise see, those leads aren’t necessarily converting into students. A lower percentage of Performance Max leads are converting compared to leads from more targeted campaigns. 

Positive Results

Incremental volume. We have seen an incremental gain in the overall number of leads. Despite the spam problem and the weaker conversion rates, schools are getting new leads from these ads. Since Google doesn’t allow Performance Max ads to conflict with your other campaigns, it seems safe to say that these leads might have been missed without this campaign type. 

Fairly inexpensive. Performance Max still gives you control over bidding costs, and winning bids tend to be lower than other campaign types. That makes performance max campaigns more affordable than other ad types. The question is, are they offering value?

Leveraging AI in Google Ads and Adjusting Your Digital Marketing Approach

Performance Max allows for increased automation in personalized ad creative, helping to reach the right audience at the right time. Generative AI significantly impacts marketers by improving their efficiency and enhancing personalization.

1. Prepare High-Quality Assets

Performance Max relies on your assets, such as headlines, descriptions, images, and videos. Ensure these assets are high quality and effectively represent your products or services. Quality assets enhance the AI’s ability to generate effective ads.

2. Test Different Variations of Ads

Generative AI can help marketers quickly generate multiple versions of ads for A/B testing. This helps identify the most effective ad variations and optimizes campaigns for better performance.

3. Leverage Automation

Performance Max is all about automation. Embrace this aspect and allow AI to optimize your campaign. Be prepared to relinquish some control over individual placements and let the system allocate your budget where it’s most effective.

4. Monitor and Optimize

Pair AI-generated content with down-funnel data analysis to uncover insights about what types of content resonate with different student segments. One of the most important things to being successful with Performance Max is using down-funnel data to optimize the campaign.
Down-funnel data is information about the actions that students take on your website or app that are closer to a conversion, such as adding an item to their cart or submitting a contact form.

So, instead of using a pixel fire/thank you page conversion, which is a less valuable conversion event, a deeper conversion event, such as a qualified inquiry or an application, is more meaningful. These events are more likely to indicate that a student is ready to enroll, and they will search for more information which creates more effective ads and improves ROI.

5. Ensure that AI-generated creatives and messages align with your brand’s voice and values

Even though Performance Max generates ads, ensure that the AI-generated creatives and messages align with your brand’s voice and values. Regularly review and adjust as needed. Download our latest AI eBook for more ways to leverage AI for content generation for today’s higher education landscape.

Should You Use Performance Max Campaigns for Lead Generation? 

Performance Max can be a useful tool if you already have a strong ads strategy in place. We’ve seen incremental gains, but also a lot of spam inquiries. There’s plenty of room for improvement both in terms of lead validation and in communication from Google to ad managers. 

Our team of digital media experts will keep testing the most up-to-date advertising options from Google and beyond. Our data-guided approach helps you enroll more students and build more effective ad strategies. EducationDynamics offers a variety of higher education marketing services to help you accomplish your enrollment goals. If partnering with an expert higher education marketing agency is an experiment you’d like to try, contact us today to get started.