This is the story of how our digital agency became a certified agency (again) as part of the new Google Partner Program. We talk about requirements, advanced tips, and things we learned along the way. Our goal is to help your agency become certified too!
Every digital agency wants to become a Google Partner. You get free gifts (we’ve received a pumpkin for Halloween and an invite to a virtual Pumpkin Carving Contest, FIFA World Cup gear, and lots of other fun freebies), as well as fantastic research and advanced education to help our clients win at digital. You also get Google’s official stamp of approval showing that they trust you as a digital agency that is able to drive real results through SEM, Display and Analytics.
Our agency has had in-house search engine marketing expertise from the beginning and was an AdWords certified agency under Google’s old certification program.
But when Google recently switched their certification over to the new Google Partner program, we were of course eager to jump on board and pop that coveted badge on our site again, nestled snuggly in our footer.
However, Google is not 100% straightforward with its requirements for certification, nor with the frequency at which the system reviews candidates. We found that for a short while we were treading in some murky waters; not yet certified, yet having followed all of Google’s suggestions offered through the partner program portal to meet the requirements for certification.
We had multiple certified individuals tied to our Partner account and our MCC exceeded the monthly spend threshold. However, we had not yet met our best practices requirements, despite having followed all of Google’s suggestions.
After a short wait and a lot of MCC house cleaning we got our certification, and made out with both the shiny new Google Partner footer accessory and some wisdom from the whole Google Partner ride.
What follows are a list of requirements for agency certification, some tips and tricks, and maybe a lifeline or two.
Here are the Google Partner requirements
There are a few straightforward requirements for achieving Partner status, along with one that is a bit more nebulous. Let’s take a look at them:
Certifications – To achieve partner status your agency needs only one fully certified individual tied to the agency’s partner account. Similar to the old program, a certified individual must pass the search fundamentals exam and at least one advanced exam (e.g. display).
Spend $10,000 – Your MCC must have a minimum spend of $10,000 USD over the past 90 calendar days for certification. However, there are a couple other caveats: your MCC must be at least 90 days old, and must have activity in it over the past 60 days. If you’re struggling to hit that $4/month mark in your spend you may have a problem becoming, and staying, certified.
Company Profile – As a certified agency you must fill out a company profile, which is searchable by prospective clients. If you’d like inspiration you can view One Net Marketing’s profile here.
Best Practices – Okay, here’s where things get muddy. To achieve certified status you need to demonstrate through your MCC that you’re meeting or exceeding AdWords best practices. There is a minimum threshold for your agency to hit; however you of course want to get your best practices as high as possible for more buffer room.Here’s what our Partner account is looking like. Note that there is a mark for the required minimum, and a mark indicating where the average Partner is sitting.
Tips and tricks for making the grade
Make sure you have at least one certified individual added to your Google Partners account, and remember that an individual is only certified if they’ve taken and passed the basic exam and at least one advanced exam.To check who has been added to your account, log into the Partners portal and click Overview > My Company > People.Remember that you need to add people using the email address that they’ve taken the test with. So, if you’ve added an employee using their company email address who has passed the test with their personal address, their certification won’t be linked back to your account.
Remember, the basic exam has a shelf life of two years, however the advanced exams expire annually. Google does give you a short grace period if exams have expired; however I wouldn’t push it.
Don’t forget, those old tests that you took prior to the rollout of the new Google Partner program have expired, so don’t expect those to migrate over. This is because Google now has their own testing environment within the Partner portal, as opposed to the old program, which used a third party for testing. But have no fear: Google in its benevolence has made the new tests free of charge.
In the partner portal, under Partner Status > AdWords, you’ll see your best practice status marked on a bar, underneath which you’ll see recommendations offered by Google. Here’s a look at some of those recommendations, and our take on them:
Target demographics – targeting by demographic is specific to display advertisers, so if you’re not running display campaigns you can ignore this. If you are, Google wants you to be as specific as you can with your targeting, to ensure your ads are hitting the most relevant eyeballs as possible.To dial in your demographic targeting, log into AdWords, click into a display campaign (you have segregated search and display campaigns, right?) and click into an ad group. Click on the Display network tab, and you should see a Gender and an Age tab. These are the demographics against which you can target. Click into either of these tabs and target away.
Be more relevant – add negative keywords – this one is pretty straightforward. Negative keywords function to ensure your ads are only displayed for the most relevant searches, while filtering out the noise. Negative keywords should be added to all campaigns that use keyword targeting (search and display), and can be added at the campaign or ad group level.To add negative keywords, click into the Shared Library on the left sidebar of the page, then click into the Campaign Negative Keywords section. From here you can create one or more lists of negative keywords. Once these keyword lists have been added you can apply them to specific campaigns. There are multiple ways to add negative keywords, and this is probably the easiest and most efficient.
Use ad extensions – you’re probably familiar with some or all of the wealth of ad extensions AdWords has to offer. If you’re not, extensions are simply pieces of information that are appended to text ads. If you haven’t already added extensions to your ads, as you can tell Google would really like you to.To start adding extensions, click into an ad group and click the Ad Extensions tab. You’ll notice a drop down box that lets you view extensions by type. I won’t get into an extension review (however if you’d like to see one let us know in the comment section), however I will say that there should be at least one extension there that is relevant to you.For most of our clients, I’ve found that the Sitelinks extension is quite helpful. This gives users links to click other than the ad heading, which sends them to your destination URL. I like adding About links, Pricing, Free Trial etc., and I find that by adding sitelinks I can generally increase my CTRs as well.
Add text ads to each ad group – this is a recommendation that popped up after I created a remarketing campaign using strictly image creative (banner ads). Though we were getting high CTRs, I responded to this suggestion by adding a lowly text ad. And what happened? The text ad beat the highest image ad CTR by around 20%, and during the past few weeks it’s had a conversion rate of 3.08%, vs. the average image ad conversion rate of, well, 0%. So I guess there might be something to these recommendations after all….
Quality score – I can’t remember the exact wording, but I know there’s a recommendation for boosting quality score. If you aren’t already paying attention to quality score (QS) you better start, as it directly affects your CPCs and ad rank, which can then affect your CTR.Quality score applies to search campaigns. My preferred way of reporting on QS is to click into a campaign, and instead of clicking into individual ad groups click the Keywords tab to view all keywords within the campaign. Then sort by QS (you have enabled QS right? To do so click the Column drop down, click into Customize columns, then find and enable Quality Score). Delete all low QS keywords, e.g. keywords with QS of 3 or under.You can also set up an automated rule for pausing/deleting low QS keywords. That’s beyond the scope of this post, but if you experiment in the Automate section you should be able to figure it out (note: One Net Marketing is not responsible for undesired campaign changes, performance, or exploded computers).But why stop there? There are other best practices related to the quality of your campaigns that you can implement. For example, deleting any paused ads, ad groups, or campaigns that are underperforming. Unlinking your MCC from any accounts that were poor performing and have since been paused. I recommend doing a deep dive into everything in your MCC and cleaning house.
Ad scheduling – this is another recommendation that I remember receiving. By setting up ad scheduling you’re limiting when your ads are eligible to be displayed – by hour and day of the week. This is a great feature, however you may want your ads displayed around the clock. This isn’t a problem, as you can set up a schedule for ads to be displayed 24/7 (which is the default anyway).To set up ad scheduling, click into a campaign and go to Settings. Click on the ‘Ad Schedule’ tab under the main navigation, then click the big red + Ad Schedule button. From here you can set your schedule, even if that schedule is 24/7.
Lastly, sometimes you’re going to have to tough it out, navigate through the automated menus and chat with one of the friendly folks from Google. If so, we have a couple numbers for you that you can punch into your address book:
Google Partners (most helpful for diagnosing new partner account set ups) –1-877-509-4289
Google AdWords (for existing account troubleshooting, diagnosing etc.) – 1-866-246-6453