When to use Target vs. Max CPA & ROAS Bidding Strategies for Google Ads

By Brad


General, PPC Management

Target and Max bidding are separated by a single checkbox. However, the implications of that single check can be quite large in how your campaign performs.

Target and max bidding in Google Ads

In this article, we’ll explain the differences in the bid methods and when to use each one based on your data and your goals.

What is Max Conversion & Conversion Value Bidding?

With the ‘max’ values, which can be the most conversions possible (max conversion bidding) or the most revenue possible (max conversion value bidding), Google’s goal is to spend your budget to get the most of your target goal, conversions, or revenue.

What is Target CPA & Target ROAS Bidding?

With the ‘target’ values, you input a value that you want the machine to achieve. For instance, if you want an average cost per action of $20, you can input $20. If your goal is a 400% ROAS, you can simply input 400% when using target ROAS bidding.

The Pros & Cons of Max Bidding

Max bidding can be useful when you do not have a lot of conversions for the machine to work with. With low data, conversions can be unpredictable, and the machine needs to attempt to project potential conversions (what we humans call guesswork) in order to try to get the most conversions or revenue possible.

Due to the lack of data, the CPA or ROAS numbers can be highly varied daily, often leading to unpredictable results. Since the machine is hungry for more data, it will try to spend as much budget as possible in order to get more data. This can result in spending your marketing dollars on very poor search terms.

One of your best optimization tools is your budget and budget calculator. You might find times you can lower your budget and get the same number of conversions or revenue since your extra budget was spent on poor queries for the machine to learn instead of queries that would convert.

Max Conversion and Max Conversion Value Bidding do not care about your targets. If there are 10 potential conversions and the first 9 are going to cost $10, and the last one will cost $1500 if you have a $1600 budget, the system will try to get all 10 for you. This is a huge difference from Target CPA bidding, which we’ll discuss shortly. This means if you do not care about the cost per conversion or your ROAS, the ‘max’ options are best for you since they want the most conversions and revenue regardless of their cost.

As your conversions increase and your data becomes more predictable, Max Conversion and Max Conversion Value Bidding will apply the same rules as with low conversion data. The bidding system will try to get as many cheap conversions as possible since that is the goal of the bidding system, but if you have a high budget, it will keep spending your budget to get any extra conversions or revenue regardless of the cost. This is how you can often end up spending more money on marketing than the conversions attained in revenue.

In general, the two best times to use ‘max’ bidding are when:

  • You have low-conversion data
  • You do not care about your CPAs or ROAS and just want the most possible

The biggest drawback is that it will try to spend your budget. Raising your budget might help you attain more revenue and conversions if you are getting very good results since there are often more conversions to attain. If your CPA is too high or your ROAS too low, lowering your budget (or adding more targeting options, such as other good keywords or audiences) can help lower your CPAs or raise your ROAS.

The Pros & Cons of Target Bidding

With Target CPA & Target ROAS bidding, you give the system rules regarding what you want the bidding system to achieve for you. Because the system is trying to achieve specific numbers, if the data is highly unpredictable, such as with low conversion or revenue numbers, the system might not enter you into the auction since it doesn’t know the outcomes. This is why Target CPA and Target ROAS can often fail with a small number of conversion points – it doesn’t have enough data to make good decisions.

As your data becomes more predictable, meaning you have more revenue and conversions, the system can learn the cost of trying to achieve certain conversions and revenue and make better decisions as to when it wants to try and get a specific conversion for your campaign.

Target CPA and ROAS use a portfolio strategy, meaning the blended conversions or revenue should hit your target, not each individual conversion.

For instance, if you have a target CPA of $15, and these are the possible conversions:

  • Conversion 1: $5
  • Conversion 2: $15
  • Conversion 3: $25
  • Conversion 4: $50

The system would want conversions 1, 2, and 3 as the overall CPA would be $15, even though conversion 3 was more than your target CPA. However, if the system also bid for conversion 4, it would push your CPA past its target, so it will not try and attain conversion 4 in this instance.

This example is a big difference between Max and Target bidding. Max bidding would want conversion 4 since it increases the total conversions. Target bidding does not want conversion 4 as it would raise the actual CPA too far past your target.

Target Bidding is best when:

  • You have a lot of conversions (minimum of 15 per campaign per month, but ideally 30-50+ per month), AND
  • You have a CPA or ROAS goal you are trying to achieve

Because Target bidding only tries to attain conversions that hit your targets, if you have a high impression share loss due to budget, raising your budget should get you more conversions at a similar ROAS/CPA than you currently receive. However, lowering your budget rarely results in cheaper CPAs or higher ROAS and generally only results in fewer conversions.

Our General Rules for Which Bid Method to Use

Google Ads can be unpredictable at times, so nothing is always 100% true when discussing PPC tactics. However, these general rules should help guide you on when you should use target or max bid strategies.

You want the most conversion or revenue possible regardless of what it costs you: Max Conversion or Max Conversion Value bidding since these two bid methods do not care about their targets, they only want the most possible.

You have 15 or fewer conversions each month in a campaign: Max Conversion or Max Conversion Value bidding since these two bid methods try to get the most and aren’t reliant on predictable data.

You have 15 or more conversions per month and want a predictable CPA or ROAS: Target CPA or Target ROAS bidding since these two bid methods are focused on hitting your target goals.

If you change your bid strategy, you should mark the date and use a tool like the Performance Analyzer to monitor your before and after data to ensure that switching bid strategies leads to the outcomes you are trying to achieve.

We hope this makes the differences between Target CPA/ROAs and Max Conversions/Conversion Value clearer for you to understand so you can pick the bid methods that give you the best chance to succeed in your PPC goals.

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  • Ryan

    For accounts with under 15 conversions a month, I still prefer the old school approach of manual cpc. But I may give maximise conversions a go and see how it performs.

    • Brad

      There’s nothing wrong with using manual CPC with low conversions. We see some people with a lot of conversions use manual CPC as they just do better than Google’s automated bid systems. Automated bidding doesn’t always get it right even with large data sets.

      • Ben

        I always see the “30 conversions in 30 days” rule (or sometimes 15) for utilizing smart bidding. But no one ever seems to specify if this is at the account level or per campaign. I see “per campaign” is what is mentioned above. If I have over 400 conversions per month at the account level, then is it still a bad idea to use smart bidding for a campaign that gets only 2 conversions per month?

        • Brad

          Hi Ben,

          Great question. The conversion rule is by how Google aggregates conversion data for bidding. If you are using portfolio bidding, then it’s by the campaigns using that portfolio bid strategy (which should use a shared budget to get the best results). If you’re not using a portfolio strategy, then the conversion thresholds are by individual campaign.

  • John

    Hi Brad,

    When testing different bid strategies, do you use campaign experiments with a 50:50 budget split, or do you change the original campaign bid strategy and make notes of when it was changed to compare data? Wondered if you had any preference.

    I guess for low-converting accounts, it can take time to see results from experiment campaigns. This is why we sometimes change the bid strategy in the original campaign.

    • Brad

      Hi John,

      If I think the change is going to be positive, then I just change the bid strategy and analyze the data in the Performance Analyzer. As Adalysis automatically detects changes to bid strategies, it’ll save the date and show an easy time frame comparison understanding what the bid change did.

      If I’m experimenting to see which might work better but I’m not really sure which will be best, then I use experiments.

  • John

    Thanks Brad,

    Ah, that’s interesting about Adalysis. Where can I review bid strategy performance changes in Adalysis. Is there a specific report?

  • Johan

    “You have a lot of conversions (minimum of 15 per campaign per month, but ideally 30-50+ per month)”

    Is this true even if you have a portfolio strategy, is it then 30+ conversion per portfolio strategy? And if so, is the bidding good enough to actually steer the campaigns with lower conversions or should you try to consolidate those campaigns that have low conversions and same kind of targets?

    Example data per month:

    Campaign Conversions
    Campaign_Aurora 53
    Campaign_Boreal 49
    Campaign_Cascade 43
    Campaign_Delphi 40
    Campaign_Empyrean 35
    Campaign_Flare 30
    Campaign_Galaxy 15
    Campaign_Horizon 14
    Campaign_Impulse 13
    Campaign_Jubilee 12
    Campaign_Kaleidoscope 12
    Campaign_Labyrinth 11
    Campaign_Mirage 11
    Campaign_Nebula 10
    Campaign_Oasis 9
    Campaign_Panorama 8
    Campaign_Quasar 8
    Campaign_Radiant 8
    Campaign_Stellar 7
    Campaign_Terra 7
    Campaign_Utopia 7

    • Brad

      If you are using a shared budget, then Google is generally smart enough to manage bids across the portfolio strategy. Where it gets messy is if each campaign has it’s own budget, target regions, or any changes to campaign settings. When there are campaign changes, Google can’t use everything it learns since there are differences. If they are all the same, then Google does use data across the campaigns. However, if you aren’t using different budgets or campaign settings by product, then Google generally does an even better job if you put them in one campaign since their system doesn’t have to do any cross campaign analysis in setting bids.

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