Performance Max for Lead Generation – The complete guide

Let’s be honest—Performance Max doesn’t make life easy for lead generation advertisers. If anything, the amount of conversion data hoop-jumping you need to do for it to be even functional means it’s best left to bigger accounts with larger budgets.

If you’re looking for something more introductory, this guide on Performance Max setup best practices might be more your speed.

You can also see what I have to say about more universal Performance Max optimisations, basic and advanced—as well as to-dos and best practices unique to ecommerce.

Performance Max for Lead Generation: Account Structure

Performance Max for lead generation is a bit of a tricky venture, so make sure you hit these prerequisites:

  • At least 30 conversions per month
  • Some historical data i.e. not a brand new account
  • Existing audiences to use as signals to kickstart the campaign
    • Website visitors
    • Current customers
    • Micro-converters

You want one campaign per service category, even if that means one asset group. If you’re a plumber that does 24/7 plumbing, emergency plumbing, and boiler installations, you probably want to split those out. The reason being you get better reporting and it’s easier to optimise.

Example Of How To Structure A Performance Max Campaign For A Lead Generation Account
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In terms of what you can control, you get:

  • Bidding, but only at the campaign level
  • Budgets (obviously)
  • Cross-platform reporting at the campaign level (sorry, asset groups)

If you want to keep it simple, start with one campaign, split out by asset group, and see if one spends and the other doesn’t. And then split into two campaigns—or if you’ve got 30, you split depending on the goals and how you want to budget things. Again, always abide by the minimum conversions logic. Don’t do it if you don’t get conversions for each category.

This is one example of a layout with URL expansion turned off, so it doesn’t drag in all the pages that you don’t want to. The campaign structure is straightforward: service one, then another service or an unrelated service, or a campaign for something with a different goal. And then you might have a dedicated remarketing campaign, which is not Performance Max but a “traditional” campaign. It might be Search, YouTube, Display, whatever.

Your campaign structure options are pretty limited with Performance Max, and bidding is most likely going to be target CPA. It can be stupidly simple. You might also have a specific need for a different campaign, such as different types of conversions that you want to go after. And of course, you can go after new customers. Again, you need volume in the hundreds and thousands depending on your niche.

Prospecting would be a different audience, with dedicated assets and budget. That’s essentially top of the funnel to drive traffic, build up your audiences, and use those audiences in another campaign that’s more bottom-of-funnel to drive end conversions. Or you can use it to layer the audience that you’ve created over another asset group’s audiences.

These are a bit more nuanced, and most of you in lead gen probably won’t need to go to this level of detail. You’ve got an easy life (kidding).

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Performance Max for Lead Generation: Managing Budgets and Bidding

The biggest thing to avoid is taking budget from existing campaigns that are performing well. This should be common sense, but I’ve seen people do it annoyingly frequently. They’ll literally close off or pause a Search campaign that was driving conversions in favour of Performance Max. Instead, take some budget from the underperforming areas of the account and stick it in Performance Max. But then keep an eye on existing campaign performance and ad spend to see if Performance Max is cannibalising it. You can get around this a little bit with some keyword optimisation.

Bidding assumes you’ve got conversion data. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be having this conversation anyway. Target CPA is pretty much the way you want to go if you want stability in ad spend. There’s no wrong or right answer, so do test things. With Maximise Conversions, start with a smaller budget than you might normally and just notch it up every week or as conversion volumes come in. Control your CPA through your budget, nudging it along gently as it goes. Without data, all of this is a crapshoot.

Remember, Performance Max is not the endgame; it’s an option, particularly for lead gen.

How to Improve Your Lead Quality with Performance Max 

Traditionally, we would run a macro conversion as the front end goal that we see in Google. That would be a phone call or a form submission, for example. Technically, that’s not the macro. It might have been, historically, from an ad perspective, but the true macro is the sale off the back of that lead.

So to improve conversions and lead quality measurement first-party data is crucial. Adding a value is optional, but remember that doing so will impact the bidding behaviour, particularly for Performance Max.

So when is a conversion not a conversion? When it’s a lead. Treating front-end conversions as the final conversion assumes that all forms and calls have the same value to a business, which we know isn’t true.

Qualifying your conversion data

Conversion data quality might be the most important factor in Performance Max, but doubly so for lead generation. So how do you improve it?

There are a lot of layers and levels of complexity, so the simplest one is validating leads i.e. marking a call or form submission as either junk or qualified. Did they want the thing you’re offering, even if they didn’t buy?

Your front-end data in Google Ads shows you a certain number of conversions, but then you re-import these qualified leads and see the reality of those conversions. Those are the actual conversions that you would then bid against. So you start off getting “traditional” conversions, and then once you’ve got the data, get it back in the account and move bidding over to that level.

Your call tracking software, IVR system, CRM—whatever your business or your client has got, you need an export of that data and tally the good and bad leads. Then you import that into Google Ads.

Most CRMs do support exports to Google Ads now. If you or your client doesn’t have a CRM, then you can use something like Zapier or do it manually in Google Sheets (pain in the backside). My experience tells me that clients aren’t very good at doing this themselves.

If you’re more sophisticated, and have got in-house business intelligence, then the Google Ads API is probably the best route. It’s fully automated.

Optionally, you can have two conversion actions. One is the qualified lead, and you can add a value to that based on expected conversion rate to a sale. The other is a junk lead, but mark it as a secondary conversion and never target it; use it only for analysis.

Lead qualification in action

Conversion Breakdown By Lead Stage For A Google Ads Performance Max Campaign
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Let’s look at this account that operates in the finance industry. We have the traditional conversion, which is a completed quote. The actual conversion is that quotation being taken into the system and being turned into an application, so the junk gets filtered out. And then the final macro conversion—the actual sale—is when the policy gets approved and the new customer makes a payment. So there are actually three conversion steps, and you can feed this data back into Google.

Why is this important? Look at this Performance Max campaign spending €16,000 a month segmented by conversion action. We’ve got the application, the policy, and all the different quotes and calls in between. The thing at the top—the application—is the middle step while the policy is the final step. So there’s lots of leads in the middle.

One thing that Performance Max is doing—and this is where lead quality becomes a concern—is driving phone calls double the average for this account compared to Search campaigns. But the client wants quotes because they convert better; around 75% of thos3 quotes should turn into applications.

Conversion Breakdown By Lead Stage For A Performance Max Campaign, Highlighting The Real Value Of The Leads Converted
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But with Performance Max, if you run the numbers on the screen on the “all conversions” column on the right, it’s more like 20% of these leads turning into applications.

That means the value of the leads coming from Performance Max are really low in comparison to other campaigns in the account. So when I mention lead quality, I’m talking about understanding this hidden layer of data that’s in the business. It’s there, and you have to get it back inside Google Ads.

Yes, Performance Max leads can be cheaper—some people frame this as a positive. But more leads equals more calls to the business. It means more emails, more qualification time, more administrative work. That equates to more cost for the business. It might even require them to hire people to cover this additional burden.

The only thing that this does is inflate your ad ego. It makes you think you’re doing a great job of Performance Max, while all you’re doing is slowly draining the business of cash. In a larger business, the impact of this is worse because the issue is hidden in plain sight and very easy to miss.

Using qualified lead data in Performance Max

Goal And Action Optimisation Options For A Performance Max Campaign
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What do you do once you’ve got the improved conversion data back inside Google Ads? First of all, please be careful with it.

If you had 30 conversions in a month (of which only three were qualified) and re-imported that data to Google as your default goal, you’ve essentially stripped 30 conversion signals from the bidding system and given it three in their place. You’ve drastically reduced the amount of data available to the bidding system, and this will obviously hamper it.

Imported Leads Sorted By Lead Stage, For Use In A Performance Max Campaign
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As I mentioned earlier, you can instead use primary and secondary conversions. If you look at this finance example, there are a number of conversion events from applications down to the final policy. Quotes via form or call are the first touch, so that’s the conversion that the bidding engine is optimising against currently.

You can have this set up with secondaries in there. Essentially, you’re counting the secondaries but not using them for bidding yet. You gather the data, wait and review, and see if you’ve got enough volume to make a decision on how to proceed. You might look at this and say, “I have sufficient application data here. It’s not the 2,000 conversions I wanted, but it’s close to 1,600, which is a good chunk of qualified leads.”

A Screenshot From Google Ads Showing Two Different Conversion Actions At Different Lead Stages, Explaining How Newly Qualified Leads Can Be Tested In Performance Max
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As a test, run the application conversion as a primary against the campaign. I wouldn’t recommend just dumping it across the whole account and hoping for the best. Set your primary goal or conversion action as the account default, but don’t just throw the rest at it because it’s a recipe for disaster. Use that on Performance Max to try and improve the quality of the leads.

You can also enhance your data with enhanced conversions. I’m not going to go into how to do this, because it’s different for different websites. You might require a developer. To be fair, the Google support files are pretty helpful for this. But essentially, enhanced conversions match names, emails, and any other information you can provide to the data that Google has on that person. So it enhances that lead and the quality of tracking.

A Diagram From Google Explaining How To Enhance Conversion Data And Quality Using Enhanced Conversions
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Is it optional? Yes, but I would absolutely try and get it implemented, especially if you’ve got more than a few hundred leads a month. It’ll give you an uplift in accuracy, so it’s worth investigating at the least.

Next steps: Put what I’ve taught you to use

As I’ve said, lead generation accounts are served best by avoiding Performance Max if they don’t have the minimum number of conversions, conversion tracking, post-conversion data to enhance the machine learning, and a sizable budget.

In truth, all lead generation should tread carefully. Anything is worth testing, and everything needs testing. Hopefully, you’ll implement some of this advice as you do that. Otherwise, why did you just spend 15 minutes reading the bloody thing? (You did read it, didn’t you?)

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Performance Max For Lead Gen Cta
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