Felicity Hindle

Digital Account Manager

The ultimate guide to Performance Max for nonprofits

6 mins read

Performance Max is the latest campaign type in Google Ads. As a conversion-focused campaign, Performance Max uses machine learning to help nonprofits deliver high volumes of conversions at a typically lower cost-per-acquisition (CPA) than the more established campaign types in Google Ads.

Whilst Performance Max has been around for some time now, it’s still a relatively underutilised campaign for many nonprofit organisations. So, we’ve created this guide to help more nonprofits get started with Performance Max; it contains everything you need to know paired with real examples from our clients in the third sector.

If you’re looking to supercharge your campaigns, but you’re not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered!

Performance Max Blog Image

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What is Performance Max and why is it different from existing campaigns?

Performance Max is the latest Google Ads campaign that surfaces ads across Google’s inventory including YouTube, Display, Maps, Discover, Gmail, Search, and Shopping. After being released in late 2021, it is a unique and powerful new strand to many organisations’ paid advertising strategies.

The main difference between Performance Max and other campaigns is the effective targeting and optimisation across the different Google properties, based on the conversion goals and audience signals set by the advertiser. It uses machine learning and optimises your performance in real-time to help you achieve your conversion goals.

It’s also more cost-effective than running campaigns on these properties individually. And, rather than having to create lots of individual campaigns, you have the ability to create one single campaign that works harder for your budget.

We’re huge fans of Performance Max here at Torchbox - and so are the clients we’re using it with.

What is the benefit of Performance Max for nonprofits?

We’ve seen incredible results from Performance Max across a variety of campaigns for our clients including Girlguiding, MS Society, and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity. Not only is it a more cost-effective way of reaching the intended audience, but with higher conversion rates and the ability to target similar audiences, there is a powerful leverage for future campaigns too.

Google recently said that Performance Max is a cost-effective way to expand reach beyond your current customers, and organisations are seeing an average 13% increase in conversions for the same ad spend.

We had previously used paid social as the main driver to advertise volunteer roles for a Torchbox client. But, with rising costs on Facebook and Instagram and a decreasing ROI, we put Performance Max to the test.

Since then, we’ve seen the lowest CPA ever, reduced by 37% year on year, alongside a 2.7% increase in conversion rate. We also gained new audience insight and critical learnings for the most effective and engaging creatives too.

What should I know before launching a Performance Max campaign?

To get started with a new Performance Max campaign, there are a few things you’ll need to have in place.

  1. You must have a relevant conversion goal set up in your Google Ads account to make use of the optimising powers of Performance Max. This could be transactions, challenge event sign-ups or downloads.
  2. At the moment, it’s not possible to select which placements your ads appear on. So, make sure you're happy for your ads to appear across Google's properties (e.g. on the Display Network, on Gmail).
  3. You’ll need a selection of imagery, logos, and video creatives, as well as headline and description copy. The more assets you can provide, the better results you can expect, allowing for more ad combinations to maximise performance.

Here’s a breakdown of the creative specifications:

Image specifications

You have the option to add up to 20 images, although Google recommends using at least seven. If you were to use seven images, Google recommends:

  • 3 x landscape images - 12000 x 628 px
  • 3 x square images - 1200 x 1200 px
  • 1 x portrait image - 960 x 1200 px

You can also add up to five logos, but Google recommends including at least two:

  • 1 x square logo - 1200 x 1200 px
  • 1 x landscape logo - 1200 x 300 px

Images need to be in JPG or PNG format; the maximum file size for each image is 5120KB.

Video specifications

Google recommends adding up to five videos. You'll need to add at least one video, if not, Google will create a video out of the provided images - which could be visually displeasing and be a shortfall to your campaign.

The video needs to be longer than 10 seconds and must be linked to via YouTube.

In a recent donation appeal, we tested a variety of video lengths, finding that shorter videos worked better with prospecting audiences, while longer videos performed best for remarketing audiences.

If you’re running your own campaign, you could test a variety of creatives to find what works best for you. Why not try happy and sombre images, short and long videos, and happy and sad music to see what works best for you?

What are the best practices when it comes to audience targeting for nonprofits?

We recommend including a range of options to help Performance Max optimise accordingly. On Facebook, you may choose to target people from a specific email list, those who visited your website, or people interested in specific topics. But with Performance Max, you provide audience signals instead. This may still include all three of the audience types outlined above, but on top of this, Performance Max will also seek out new audiences with similar browsing history too.

Google outlines that your ads will automatically be shown to people who are most likely to convert for your goals. You can speed up optimisation by providing audience signals which mean that your campaigns may not only be delivered to those audiences. Rather, Google will use that data to identify similar consumers that are likely to exhibit the same behaviours and interests.

A Torchbox client recently had the aim to generate more subscribers to its regular giving product. Providing demographic and interest-based audience signals, we reached new audiences who hadn’t engaged with the organisation previously and improved performance by 81%.

What are the limitations of Performance Max?

And now we get to the reporting. Part of Performance Max that we’re not so fond of.

Performance Max reporting has limitations, lacking transparency of exactly where conversions are coming from within the Google properties. Though this information would be useful to understand more about the audience and success of individual platforms, Performance Max is continuously optimising the ads, so, some might argue that having such granular detail isn’t that important given the strong improvement in results that we’ve experienced.

During Google’s Marketing Livestream, Google announced that, following feedback from its users, this is an area they will be working to improve.

Despite the lack of property-specific metrics, Performance Max does have some handy indicators when it comes to your creatives. With a ranking on which creatives perform best, Performance Max will begin to optimise towards the best-performing creatives and learn the types of content that are most impactful for your objectives.

What are the most effective campaigns I can try for my nonprofit?

Performance Max can be used for a variety of campaigns. Whether you’re looking to increase donations, encourage volunteers, or promote a fundraising event, you can test Performance Max for any campaign type!

Here at Torchbox, we’ve used Performance Max for a variety of campaign types including those outlined above. We recommend testing Performance Max for whatever your objectives and goals are, and gaining new learnings from different tests.

How can I report on Performance Max results?

As we mentioned above, the reporting within Performance Max is limited. But it’s still a useful tool and there’s a lot that can be learned.

We recommend getting the final number of conversions from Google Analytics. You can look at people who converted there and then, and also people who have come back and converted later.

The metrics we recommend reporting on include CTR (click-through rate), conversion rate, and CPA (cost per acquisition), as well as the total number of conversions.

We’re looking forward to seeing the new and improved reporting metrics within Performance Max, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated when this changes.

Our top three takeaways to make your Performance Max campaign a success:

Test a variety of creatives

Test out a variety of images. This might include images of volunteers, images of people doing an activity, or people talking. For video, test out different lengths. A fast-paced video vs. a slower video, voice vs. talking head, with music or without music. Test different messaging within the ad copy too.

Provide as much as possible and kick back whilst Google figures out which works best for your charity.

Make sure that your Google Ads account has conversion data

If your aim is to drive donations, for example, you should import this goal from Google Analytics into your Performance Max campaign so that your campaign is being optimised towards that goal. This setup is really important, and without this link, Google won’t be able to find the most impactful audiences and won't be optimising towards the right thing. If you’re not sure where to start with this, get in touch and we can discuss how our Data & Measurement team can help you with this.

Don’t make any changes during the learning phase of your campaign

The initial optimisation phase can take up to two weeks, so we’d recommend starting with a slightly lower budget for the first two weeks whilst the campaign learns. After these two weeks are up, you can review your campaign and look at any changes you’d like to make.

And for our final piece of advice? Don’t be afraid to try something new!

We know that trusting a new tool with your budget can feel daunting. But we’ve been really impressed with the capabilities of Performance Max and we’ve seen incredible results for our clients!

If you’re interested in running a campaign on Performance Max with Torchbox or you’d like to discuss our digital marketing services, get in touch via email [email protected]