The other day, I read an article. Smarter ads, better results: The next era of digital advertising. In it, Google’s VP/GM of Advertising, Vidhya Srinivasan, speaks to the power of AI and how Google has harnessed it for Ads. Packaged and presented to you as Performance Max.

Shortly after, I met with a client. They had a huge project and wanted to know if they could just run a Performance Max campaign for branding and awareness. This client is the marketing manager for a global business. Their knowledge of Google Ads is strong, but they are not an expert. They don’t know the intricacies of running a B2B Google Ads campaign. That then struck me as dangerous.

Through Performance Max, Google is using their automation tactics and special recommendations to get advertisers to spend more money. And people trust them because they’re Google.

We all want AI and automation, but at what cost?

In their article, Google presents Performance Max as a campaign type that gives advertisers access to the entire Google Ads inventory in just a single campaign. The claim is that there are 18% more conversions at a similar cost-per-action (on average) for Performance Max users.

Sounds great! And it’s marketed very well. Of course, experienced marketers are jumping on board.

But here’s the catch: If you don’t know the system’s intricacies, you can’t fix problems with your campaign, and you won’t know when your budget is being wasted.

Performance Max campaigns: What it is and how it works

Critical comments aside, Google’s Performance Max campaigns represent a huge advancement in Google Ads’ advertising technologies. Utilising Google’s machine learning capabilities, Performance Max campaigns are designed to optimise ad performance across all of Google’s channels and inventory. This includes YouTube, Display, Search, Discover, Gmail, and Maps.

Tapping into that whole suite is a big deal. Advertising is complicated. All of that inventory contributes to successful campaigns. It would truly be a dream to roll it all up.

If we believe the hype, it gets even better.

The key selling feature of Performance Max campaigns is its ability to automatically find and target the most relevant audiences across Google’s entire suite of products based on the advertiser’s specified conversion goals.

These are the features Performance Max campaigns pitch:

  1. Goal-oriented: Advertisers set a specific goal for their campaign, such as lead generation, sales, or website traffic. The campaign then optimises to achieve this goal across all available Google Ads inventory.
  2. Audience and automation: Performance Max uses Google’s advanced machine learning algorithms to target audiences likely to convert based on the advertiser’s objectives and conversion data. It dynamically adjusts bids and placements to maximise performance.
  3. Asset-based: Advertisers provide assets such as images, headlines, logos, and videos. The system then automatically tests different combinations of these assets across various formats and platforms to determine the most effective combinations.
  4. Insights and reporting: Performance Max offers detailed insights and reporting tools that help advertisers understand where and how their ads perform. This includes data on which audiences and creatives are driving the best results.
  5. Integration with Google’s ecosystem: By leveraging the entire Google ecosystem, Performance Max can place ads in optimal locations at the right times, regardless of the specific platform a potential customer is using.

Despite our cynicism, the goal of Performance Max campaigns and the features it provides are really powerful. It’s a cool use of AI to do things that would have never been possible before.

However, it’s crucial to address a significant concern, particularly for B2B businesses: Performance Max’s potential drawbacks, given the longer sales cycle and nuanced buyer journeys typical of B2B markets. For businesses engaged in more complex, expensive purchases, the one-size-fits-all approach of Performance Max most often won’t suffice.

The system’s lack of nuance and customisation for the intricacies of B2B transactions poses a risk. Unknowing business owners or marketers might get caught up in the allure of AI and automation, not realising that these tools don’t readily suit all industries. The result is inefficient spending and suboptimal campaign performance. B2B Google Ads strategies need a more tailored approach.

Manual B2B Google Ads reign supreme (if you know what you’re doing)

While Performance Max campaigns offer extensive automation and optimisation across Google’s advertising network, for B2B businesses, it doesn’t beat an old-school manual Google Ads campaign, despite what they say.

Here’s why:

  • Targeting control: Manual campaigns allow B2B advertisers to have more control over targeting options such as keywords, demographics, locations, and devices.
  • Budget allocation: With manual B2B Google Ads campaigns, advertisers can allocate budgets to individual campaigns or ad groups based on performance goals and priorities. We cannot do this with a Performance Max campaign.
  • Ad customisation: Manual campaigns provide greater flexibility in ad creation and customisation.
  • Performance tracking: While Performance Max campaigns offer automated optimisation, manual campaigns provide more transparent performance tracking and reporting.

But Google Ads are still run by Google

For the sake of balance, let’s go after the top rather than the subs. We are all reliant on Google. In B2B digital marketing, we have no choice but to use their Search and Ads features and design almost everything we do with their parameters in mind. But that doesn’t make them infallible.

Even in using our beloved manual Google Ads, this is what we’re up against:

Data-driven attribution 

When Google says it “gives credit for conversions based on how people engage with your various ads and decide to become your customers.” it overstates the importance of Google Ads, encouraging advertisers to spend more money on the platform.

This is the default option, and periodically, Google will decide to upgrade all conversions to data-driven unless you manually change every conversion back—one by one!

For some of our B2B clients, that would be ten or more conversions. And it’s not easy to find where to change this manually. It’s deliberately difficult to find and stop.

Data Driven b2b marketing

Automatic Ads updates

Google knows best, right? So, by default, their Google Ads suggestions are automatically applied unless you opt-out. That includes broad match keywords, probably the most damaging of all their tactics. Adding broad match keywords will generate more clicks through to the site that are not relevant (costing advertisers more money).

This one tends to upset clients. Naturally, they would like to be in control of their ad content. However, Google will randomly add extra headings, sitelinks and other bits and pieces that they think are useful. The problem here is that these tools don’t always have context. There may be information on the website that is irrelevant to the specific ad campaign.

Useless bits and pieces make their way into campaigns, impacting the efficacy of their results.

b2b google ads

Consultants

Google consultants call so many times that it borders on harassment. This one particular day, I was driving in the car with my colleagues, and they called 8 times in an hour. Our CEO had to file a complaint to ask them to stop calling.

These are Google-employed sales reps. They tell you they’re calling to give you tips about your account, but they really want you to spend more money on the campaigns. This was obvious after many calls. They never properly listened to the campaign details or the nuances of the clients. Their goal was to get us to spend more money, whether it was needed or not.

The worst part: they go after clients, too. When our clients’ details are connected to the Google Ads account, Google Consultants will approach them and send them sales emails.

We go from a B2B Google Ads agency to a Google Consultant bouncer for our clients.

Other features in the platform

Google Ads offers a feature called ‘upgrade to broad match.’ I’ve already hinted at how much I loathe broad match keywords, but the word ‘upgrade’ is what bothers me the most about this one.

“Upgrade” naturally gives unknowing users the impression that broad match keywords must be better. It’s an upgrade. However, in most cases, broad match keywords are not. They are more broad, i.e., less relevant, but they reach more people, so the advertiser spends more money. It’s a win for Google and a loss of ad spend for the advertiser.

b2b google ads

The hidden costs of Google Ads convenience

Promises of greater optimisation and automation, automatic updates, valuable upgrades, and personal calls from your very own Google Consultant all need careful analysis before you conclude that they are benefits.

While they’re king of the Ads, you (and we) can never really let them go, but you can be aware.

Don’t take their marketing at face value. It’s in Google’s interests to inflate its importance and value and never forget that they are a well-oiled machine driven by sales.

In the case of Performance Max campaigns, the use of AI and automation sounds amazing but almost always comes with pitfalls. Be prepared to lose visibility and give up tailoring and customisation (and thus relevant results) in exchange for the time you save.

If you don’t know the intricacies of Google Ads, don’t go in blind. It may be in our interests to steer you toward us and discourage you from doing it yourself, but the reality is that the tactics they use to boost spending are designed to pull one over those who don’t know.

No one sees clearer through Google’s marketing spin to get at the true value of their tools better than those of us in the weeds with their services day in and day out. We will tell you what you need and what you don’t. Google won’t.

If you don’t have the budget to outsource, tread with caution. Read as much as you can online. Set modest spending limits. Stop campaigns, analyse their efficacy and repeat, repeat, repeat.

To learn more about how we can help you avoid falling into costly Google traps, contact one of our B2B marketing consultants. At The Lead Agency, we develop powerful B2B marketing strategies and B2B Google Ads campaigns that get you the results you want without the stuff you don’t need.

b2b digital marketing