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TPE #66: Search Themes for pMax (guide and best practices)

Oct 30, 2023

Read time: 4 minutes

Hey, Bob & Miles here! :)

Last week, Google announced the beta launch of Search Themes for Performance Max campaigns.

At a first glance, this sounds promising: more control for advertisers.

But… When we dig deeper into this new feature, we wonder if that’s true.

It looks like a great feature, but it will have a big impact on your account if you don’t know how to use it.

In this issue of The PPC Edge, we’ll break down:

  1. What are Search Themes and how do they work?
  2. The impact on pMax, Search & audiences.
  3. How to set up Search Themes.
  4. Setup best practices.

Let’s dive in!

 

1: What are Search Themes and how do they work?

In Google’s words, this is what Search Themes are:

“A new beta called “search themes” in Performance Max provides you with an easy way to guide Performance Max to serve on placements that you may not be reaching yet.

Performance Max currently looks at your assets, feeds, and landing pages to predict which placements, including search queries, will perform well for your campaign. Now with the search themes beta, you can fill in gaps by adding information about your business that you expect to perform well.

By combining your expertise with Google AI you’ll be able to expand your reach on all channels, including Search.”

So to paraphrase, Search Themes are additional signals to inform Google what search themes are relevant for your brand. They are especially important when pMax can’t match on the right search terms based on other signals from your landing pages, assets, feeds etc.

 

Always remember these things:

  • Search Themes are SIGNALS, not actual targeting.
  • And you enter broad Search THEMES, not Search TERMS!

 

Some other important notes:

  • They work similarly to how you use Audience Signals — as mere suggestions. Google can and will eventually look beyond them.
  • Use them to ramp up (new) campaigns, and proactively inform the algorithm about what Search Themes are relevant for your brand.
  • Search Themes do not only work for Search inventory, but can also be applied to YouTube, Display, and other channels.
  • You can add up to 25 Search Themes per asset group.

 

2: The impact on pMax, Search & audiences.

Search Themes can have a positive, negative or neutral impact on various campaign types. Let’s look at what to expect for Performance Max, Search, and your audience segments.

 

2.1: Search Themes’ impact on Performance Max.

Naturally, Search Themes will have a big impact on Performance Max campaigns. They give advertisers additional levers to pull in order to drive results.

Search Themes are optional, but we do recommend to use them to give the algorithm additional signals of what search themes are important for your campaigns.

Google explicitly mentions that Search Themes “may help identify new or incremental traffic that drives improved performance when traffic can’t be found with keywordless AI technology through the Final URL Expansion feature.”

Always remember that Search Themes are signals, not actual targeting. Don’t expect too much from them, but use them in the same way you use Audience Signals.

As a result of using Search Themes, you COULD see increased spend and conversions coming from the Search network. Always keep an eye on your spend allocation script.

You can analyze the impact by cross-checking if your Search Themes show up in your search term insights.

 

2.2: Search Themes’ impact on Search.

This is where it becomes a bit tricky. Using Search Themes could in theory lead to cannibalization of your Search campaigns.

Here’s what Google has to say about it:

“On Search inventory specifically, search themes in Performance Max campaigns will have the same prioritization as your phrase match and broad match keywords in Search campaigns. Exact match keywords that are identical to the search queries will continue to be prioritized over search themes and other keywords.”

 

What that means:

  • Search Themes in Performance Max campaigns will have the same prioritization as phrase and broad match keywords in Search campaigns.
  • Exact match keywords in Search campaigns that are identical to the search queries will take priority in the auction.
  • Phrase and broad match keywords that are identical to the search queries will be equally eligible to enter the auction.
  • So phrase/broad match keywords will have the same value in the auction as Search Themes (if you don’t consider AdRank).
  • If there is no identical match, the campaign/ad group that enters the auction is often determined by AdRank. Exceptions might apply if campaigns are limited by budget etc.

 

This only proves that it’s still very important to build out granular, well-structured Search campaigns (if you wish to take full control over this campaign type), and don’t blindly random Search Themes to Performance Max asset groups.

And keep in mind: in the auction, Google will give the same value to phrase and broad match keywords as it will give to your Search Themes (if you don’t consider AdRank).

 

2.3: Search Themes’ impact on audiences.

Search Themes will also have a big impact on your custom audience segments:

“In early 2024, we’ll automatically upgrade your existing custom segments based on search activity to search themes. With the release of search themes, you will no longer be able to add or edit custom segments based on past search activity in Performance Max. Custom segments based on interests will still be available.”

So… Say goodbye to search-based custom audience segments, and get used to using Search Themes.

They can be used on both non-Search and Search inventory.

You can still create custom segments for custom affinities, interests, apps, and (competitor) URLs. Within Performance Max, you can find them under “Interests & Detailed Demographics”).

 

3: How to set up Search Themes.

Search Themes will be rolled out to all accounts in the upcoming weeks/months. Here’s a screenshot from Google’s announcement:

 

 

Here’s how to set up Search Themes:

  1. Go to your Performance Max campaign
  2. Select campaigns > asset groups
  3. Clicks “Signals”
  4. Add up to 25 Search Themes

Simple as that.

 

4: Setup best practices.

And now for the final part of this guide, here are the best practices when you set up Search Themes:

  • Use broad Search Themes
  • Don’t use duplicates or close variants
  • Don’t expect massive changes in the beginning
  • Align Search Themes with assets and messaging
  • Use Search Themes to ramp up (new) pMax campaigns
  • Analyze by checking the search term insights of your pMax campaigns
  • Monitor your pMax spend allocation script: review impact on Search campaigns
  • Search Themes will respect Brand Exclusions and account-level negatives
  • You can add up to 25 Search Themes per asset group, but it’s ok to use fewer
  • Understand that traffic from Search Themes go to landing pages from Final URL Expansion, Page Feeds, and “URL Contains” settings.
  • Understand that Search themes will have the same prioritization as your phrase match and broad match keywords in your Search campaigns. AdRank plays a huge role here.

 

Last note: before you set up Search Themes, deeply study the mechanics.

We like Search Themes, but only when used correctly. Before you set them up, deeply study the mechanics: how do they impact the auction, your Search campaigns, your pMax campaigns etc.

All the answers are in this issue of The PPC Edge, but if you want to get all of the context, we recommend to study the announcement from Google.

To close this off, here are 3 important notes to remember:

  1. Search Themes are NOT Search Terms.
  2. Search Themes are SIGNALS, not targeting.
  3. Phrase & broad match keywords will have the same prioritization as Search Themes.

 

That’s all for today.

Thanks for reading, and see you in Friday’s issue of The Friday Roundup :).

Cheers,

Bob & Miles

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