Being a Google Partner gives a paid search agency a certain amount of street cred in the advertising world. It gives you bragging rights; not only do you know your way around Google Ads, but even Google will attest to your online pay-per-click (PPC) prowess.
If you had to choose between two PPC agencies and only one was a Google Partner and thus certified in Google Ads, which one would you likely choose? Even if you don’t know much about this program, you’d still probably go with the Google Partner. That’s how much clout the Google brand has behind it. Due to changes coming to the Google Partners Program in just a few months though, the answer may no longer be so obvious.
Google Partners: the Best of the Best
Google launched the Google Partners Program to recognize advertising agencies who demonstrated a high degree of expertise and skill in managing Google Ads accounts on behalf of other businesses or brands. Becoming a Partner comes with several benefits, most notably, the badge. Just like when you got a badge as a kid in Boy Scouts, this badge shows that you have demonstrated skill in managing Google Ads, that you have met spend requirements, that you’ve brought revenue growth for yourself and your clients and that your client base has seen sustainable growth. Essentially it’s an indication that you aren’t all bluster. You are as good as you say.
Being a Google Partner also allows you to earn company specializations which display your specific product expertise. These specializations can help you distinguish yourself from competitors. Among other benefits, Google also makes other perks such as trainings, events and other research and insights available to their Partners.
2020: The Beginning of the Google World Order
The badge isn’t like a participation ribbon. Becoming a Google Partner isn’t something you get just because you want it. Google has outlined requirements which agencies must meet to be recognized as a Google Partner. However, they’ve recently announced they’ll be changing these requirements by the end of June 2020 in order to maintain the high standards for which the program is known. But the changes coming have many PPC professionals up in arms.
Before we explain exactly how these changes will impact the future of search engine marketing on Google, let’s first explain exactly what these changes are.
Old requirements: Agencies had to meet a 90-day ad spend requirement of $10,000 across all managed accounts to demonstrate that your company has a healthy amount of activity.
New requirements: Now, agencies will have to meet a 90-day ad spend requirement of $20,000 across all managed accounts.
Why has Google doubled the ad spend requirement? Excellent question.
Old requirements: Agencies only needed to have one user certified in Google Ads who has admin or standard access to the company’s Google Ads manager account or any account linked to the company’s Google Partners registered Google Ads manager account.
New requirements: Now, a paid search agency needs to have at least 50% of its eligible users earn updated certifications from Skillshop.
Certifying 50% of all eligible users is a huge increase from just one. There has also been some confusion about what Google means by “eligible users.” Under the current definition, all admin and standard level users with access to the Ad Manager account or any account linked to it are counted as eligible. The new definition narrows this group to admin and standard level users with access to the Ad Manager account or any account linked to it that shares an email domain name with a user of the Google Partners Ad Manager account. Still, whatever the exact number of users will be for an agency, many see this new requirement as arbitrary and unnecessary.
Old requirements: Previously, Partners needed to meet the performance requirement by delivering solid overall ad revenue and growth, and maintaining and growing your customer base.
New requirements: After June 2020, PPC agencies will need to meet the performance requirement by using Google Ads effectively to set up and optimally run campaigns to maximize outcome. Google will evaluate performance with their optimization score which is based on implementation of their recommendations. The threshold for the new Google Partners badge requirement is 70%, which means Partners must adopt 70% of Google’s recommendations.
This new requirement has caused the most frustration and confusion for online advertisers. Right now, you can accept or dismiss recommendations as you choose, and they have no bearing on your Partner status. Under the new rules, if you don’t accept a majority of these machine learning-generated recommendations, you’ll lose your badge. This is problematic since most PPC professionals agree that these recommendations are typically not in the best interest of their clients. Usually, recommendations are seen to benefit Google’s bottom line more than improve your campaign performance. For instance, a recommendation such as “download the Google Ads mobile app” appears to be nothing more than an obvious attempt to push more Google products on users. Yet downloading the mobile app can affect your optimization score.
The Partner’s Dilemma
It is clear to marketers in the advertising industry that these changes are an attempt by Google to force its agenda on users. “This is just the latest example in a long list of tactics Google Ads has tried over time to force the universal adoption of these features,” says James Pruitt, a digital media specialist at The Ward Group. “They seem to put the interests of the paid search agency and the interests of their clients at odds with each other. By following the new performance rules, client campaigns may see a negative impact, but if we decide not to follow them, we lose our status as a Google Partner.”
Their automated recommendations are not altogether a bad feature, but Google’s sole use of them to determine performance disregards the skills and expertise being a Google Partner should entail. “There are some times where using Smart bidding or other automation is a good idea, but that is not the case for most smaller advertisers,” Pruitt explains. “An experienced paid search specialist will be able to tell the difference between a good recommendation and a bad recommendation. Google should trust them to do it.”
Unfortunately, it’s in Google’s best interest to not give advertisers autonomy, and they’ll go to great lengths to ensure advertisers act in Google’s best interest instead of the clients’. “They’ll unapologetically tell you that you need to adopt these things regardless of if it will help your campaign performance,” Pruitt says. “If your paid search agency doesn’t adopt these recommendations, they’ve been known to even call clients directly to tell them their agency is wasting their ad spend or doing things incorrectly.”
All of this begs the question:
Is the Google Partners Program Good for Agencies Anymore?
In answer to that question, Pruitt takes a bold stance: “If the new requirements for the Partners program go into effect as currently stated, like the required adoption of Google’s ‘recommendations’, I expect the Google Partners badge, which once held a certain level of authority and signafied your expertise of Google Ads, to lose whatever dignification it still carries.”
Instead, this badge may come to represent a different accomplishment: an unfailing commitment to the Google brand. According to Pruitt, “With these new changes, the Partners Program and badge will come to better represent loyalty to Google’s revenue numbers than it does stewardship of clients’ campaign performance and ad spend.”
The Ward Group: a Partner Like No Other
As media stewards, The Ward Group ensures our clients’ success and satisfaction in both virtual and non-virtual advertising environments. We treat each media dollar as though it were our own, and so we will always put our clients’ interests before a badge. In these confusing times, when the legitimacy of the Google Partners Program is being called into question, you can rest assured that our media experts are watching over your campaigns, badge or no badge.
Reach out to The Ward Group today to discover the right way partners should be treated.