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Google on maximizing PMax results and preparing for SGE

Automation has been a focal point in discussions within the PPC community this year.

Two noteworthy AI developments, Performance Max (PMax) and Search Generative Experience (SGE), are poised to revolutionize digital search marketing.

  • PMax: A new campaign type that allows advertisers to run ads across all of Google’s networks, from search to YouTube to Maps within a single campaign. 
  • SGE: A boxed-in AI-generated answer to a search query that appears above Google’s search results, including links, images, and a conversational mode for follow-up questions.

In an exclusive interview with Search Engine Land, Susie Vowinkel, Managing Director at Google Travel, provides insights into what advertisers can anticipate from these products as we move into 2024, addresses concerns and offers guidance on maximizing their effectiveness for optimal results.

Switching from manual to automation

Since its official launch in July, Google’s PMax has gained strong adoption within the digital marketing community. However, there is still room for improvement. Vowinkel highlighted that those hesitating to transition from manual methods may be overlooking significant opportunities.

  • “I have spent a lot of time with travel advertising over the last couple of months and everyone is talking about what they are doing with advertising on the AI front – so people do understand the potential of our AI solutions. However, we still have room to grow in terms of adoption.”
  • “Some advertisers out there are still trying to do this work manually when our AI solutions could really help them.”
  • “While there is strong adoption, there’s definitely more opportunity ahead.”

Unlocking PMax’s full potential

Elaborating on the reasons why advertisers should shift away from manual towards automated marketing strategies, Vowinkel emphasized:

  • “PMax utilizes your assets and the information you provide to reach consumers in the right way on the right platforms and with the right messaging.”
  • “It also takes a little bit of the guesswork out of trying to understand shifting seasonal behaviors – for example, summer travel may differ from travel during the holidays. Using PMax can save you from trying to manually figure out and understand what is is that you need to target.”

Vowinkel proceeded to present a case study showcasing how the global airline Lufthansa successfully reached its high growth targets for the year by utilizing PMax, achieving:

  • A 45% increase in customer acquisition.
  • A 59% rise in bookings.
  • A reduction of 27% in cost per action.

PMax assisted Lufthansa in achieving these outcomes by eliminating the guesswork in identifying and reaching its target audience effectively, according to Vowinkel.

Control concerns

PMax campaigns stand out as one of the most automated types within Google Ads. However, for some marketers, the level of control handed over to AI can be unsettling and has caused some concerns.

Addressing this issue, Vowinkel said:

  • “PMax was designed to take some of the need for control away.”
  • “It empowers folks to not have to manually try and anticipate or figure out [shifts in consumer behaviour]. For example, why one vacation destination was more popular last year and a different one is rising in interest this year. These things are really hard to anticipate.”
  • “So PMax was designed to help people not to have to understand as much and let the AI understand it for them. That’s why there is less control built into the product.”

PMax pitfalls

While PMax is gaining popularity among marketers, not everyone is confident in its capabilities as outcomes can vary significantly. Addressing common pitfalls with PMax campaigns, Vowinkel explained:

  • “Firstly, as it is a newer product, we have to wait for that growth and adoption, and then comes the deeper understanding of how the product works.”
  • “Secondly, a very important factor when it comes to PMax is what you incorporate into it – what you put into the product is going to help the outputs.”

Tips for using PMax

When harnessing PMax, Vowinkel suggested the following actions:

  • Set strong goals.
  • Incorporate a wide array of visuals and assets.
  • Use relevant audience lists.

Vowinkel noted that advertisers who follow these three steps have experienced “great success” and enabled AI to “work most effectively.”

Changes for 2024

In 2024, Google intends to further enhance the PMax product based on feedback from marketers. The primary focus in development is to explore new ways for advertisers to enhance the input they provide to PMax, recognizing that the product’s output is only as effective as the input it receives.

Vowinkel said:

  • “We’re thinking, how do we continue to work with partners on the quality of inputs and how will PMax continue to deliver on those goals.”
  • “That’s where we’ll continue to see the product evolve as we head into 2024 and beyond.”

The arrival of SGE

While SGE is currently in the experimental phase, SEOs anticipate a a significant impact on websites once it is officially launched. PPC marketers should also be prepared for an effect on advertising, given that Google recently tested a new SGE ad format just last month.

Commenting on what advertisers can expect, Vowinkel added:

  • “We don’t know exactly what the ad environment will look like or how it will be incorporated into SGE.”
  • “When we think about AI solutions, it’s definitely one of the more exciting things to come – but we just don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
  • “I encourage everyone that is interested to be playing around with our AI solutions – it’s exciting to experiment with – but they are just that, experiments, at this time.”

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The future of SGE and Google Ads

While Vowinkel couldn’t provide extensive details on what advertisers can expect when Search Generative Experience (SGE) is rolled out for general availability, she emphasized that there is every reason for advertisers to be excited about what 2024 holds.

  • ” I think it might be an aggressive time frame to say that we will know exactly what an advertising environment would look like within SGE [in a year’s time]. We’re a little way off on that front.”
  • “But advertisers should be excited because we are continuing to bring more experiences, and develop our understanding of inputs.”
  • “This is going to help us evolve what the future looks like.”

Deep dive. Read Search Engine Land’s PMax optimization guide for tips on how to improve your campaign’s performance, and our advice on how to prepare for Google’s SGE for actionable tips.


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