Google has been pushing its relatively new tool, the “Performance Planner”, quite hard. Judging by their recent certifications, it looks like Google want PPC managers to be using the Performance Planner more and more.
This post would be most useful for people who are aware of the tool – or who have had a poke around in it but lost interest or hit barriers. I also expect this advice might go out of date within the next 6 months!
The performance planner uses machine learning to estimate the searches for your keywords in the future, combines this data with recent account performance, then kicks out predicted results and campaign settings that help you achieve your target goals; which can be conversions, spend, ROAS (“conv. value / spend”) and CPA.
But I’ve discovered that it is not without its limitations; it does some things better than others, and other things not so well at all. It’s also a bit of a nightmare to apply its recommended plan to your campaigns, especially to a larger account when you need a more automated process. Hopefully, rolling out its recommendations will be more straightforward in the coming months.
Rather than produce a generic how-to guide, I thought it would be useful to cover the pros, cons and limitations – but I will go over how to roll out changes en-masse since it can be buggy and there appears to be little documentation available on how to do this.
What Performance Planner is good at…
According to our experience, it works best when you want to reduce budgets, rather than increase them. More on increasing budgets later.
In one of our accounts, we used the performance planner to successfully reduce the spend by around £7k without sacrificing conversions. Reducing budgets is now far more complex than just reducing budgets! I would add that this particular account undergoes strict campaign experiments where we have been testing the roll-out of automated bid strategies, and only apply experiments when we find the optimum performance.
This is because the Performance Planner looks at account performance across different campaigns, as well as the interaction between those campaigns. A simple example to use for an explanation would be brand and non-brand – changing one without changing the other could still limit your account’s overall performance from a top-level.
Therefore, the Performance Planner is highly effective at forecasting the effect of changing both the budget and the targets/bids of multiple campaigns as well as the impact this should have on other campaigns.That is also why, if you have multiple campaigns in a plan but you only apply the tool’s recommendations to one campaign in your plan, you might not generate the forecasted results.
What Performance Planner is not so good at… Increasing spend.
Why? Consider this: the more conversions you want, the more expensive they get. The tool will always try and reach your target goals within the group of campaigns you’ve identified. So, as long as its forecast can generate the results you want, you might find that a campaign’s tCPA setting is recommended to shoot up from £5 to £140.
This happened to us when we said we would like to increase our spend but retain a certain ROAS (use the metric “conv. value / spend”). Since the planner was able to meet our target ROAS for the spend we had identified for the group of campaigns, it felt it would be ok to increase our tCPA for some campaigns as much as 2,700%.
But there is a difference between a target CPA and the actual CPA achieved. So to be sure, and eradicate any doubt, we decided to trial this planned tCPA as a campaign experiment for just 1 campaign. I understand that goes against my previous advice about not testing individual campaigns, but circumstances demanded it! Needless to say, machine learning got it wrong, and my actual CPA was extremely high. Why wasn’t I surprised! Since then, when implementing a plan that calls for a super high tCPA, I have increased the tCPA but capped it myself so it was not extortionate.
How to roll out Performance Planner plans en-masse into Google Ads Editor:
- From inside the tool, and the top right corner there is a download button, and from this, you can download the “Ads Editor file (.csv)” as normal.
- Now open a blank Excel sheet (do not open the file with Excel, or double click the download!)
- From your blank Excel sheet, navigate to the data import buttons and select Import from text/CSV (this is under the data menu).
- Under “File Origin” you select the character set. You need to select “65001: Unicode (UTF-8)”. This means that any special characters in your account are recognised properly. And then click “Load”.
- Unfortunately, this process seems to create secondary columns for CPA bid, target ROAS etc, entitled “CPA bid_1” etc. You should check to ensure that the appropriate data is in the right column and then remove the surplus duplicates.
- Now you can go ahead to “Save As” and make sure you select the filetype “CSV UTF-8 (Comma delimited) (*.csv)”.
- Finally, you can use Ads Editor to import the new file that you have just saved (Account → Import → From File). When I used the import function, I noticed it did skip some items, but after some thorough testing, I concluded it didn’t actually miss anything.
Optional: If you are choosing to reduce your spend, this is when you may choose to define your daily budget (because the performance planner won’t necessary achieve your forecasted spend – which means you overspend). To achieve this, you need to download the “Plan Summary” from the Performance Planner. Open it in excel and add a new column called Daily Budget. Then create a formula which calculates the column “Spend (planned)” by the number of days in the plan. Then save, and import into Ads Editor.
- It doesn’t work on campaigns using shared budgets
- You need enough historic performance data
- Campaigns need similar campaign goals/targeting
- It only works with certain bid strategies, i.e. manual cost-per-click (CPC), enhanced CPC, maximise clicks or target cost-per-action (CPA)
- Although not very obvious, after you generate a plan you can click on the blue graph to move your target, and see the impact this might have on spend (or other metrics).
- Make a backup of your account before applying changes, in case you need to roll them back.
- Remember that a plan may not include all of your campaigns; take this into considerations when setting/reviewing your target spend or you could drastically over-spend.
- Currently, Performance Planner only changes a campaign’s budget if it wants to increase it, it does not reduce a campaign budget. If you want to reduce spend, you should also cap your budgets. To do this, take your “forecast spend” value and divide it by the number of days in your plan to get your average daily spend.
- It only recommends campaign-level changes; therefore bid adjustments are scaled for all keywords within the campaign at the same rate. For example, all keyword bids could be increased by 100% (Even under-performing keywords). It’s the same for other bid strategies; changes according to the plan are sweeping and are done at the campaign level.
- Sometimes performance planner will want to set a target CPA to 0 (and perhaps target ROAS too), which is an illegal manoeuvre by Editor’s standards. This is its way of saying you should pause that campaign.
The Performance Planner tool certainly has a lot of potential. I fully expect to see its functionality and bugs resolved over the coming months.
Currently, its limitations are concerning; and whilst it may be useful for decreasing spend really efficiently, implementing the plan is somewhat challenging.
The reasons for creating the tool are solid, and it will certainly help advertisers maximise their investment and rake in the greatest returns.
It’s extremely complementary to the digital marketing zeitgeist of 2019/2020 where we are shifting towards automation; because automation shouldn’t just be set up and left alone. Business goals can change each month, search volumes shift between months and between campaigns, and how users interact with your ads will also change over time.
Use the performance planner to get the most out of your account, even if you are using automated bid strategies. But use it with caution.