Google Ads

Why I’m No Longer a Google Partner (And Why You Shouldn’t Either)

25 · by Dennis Moons on 16 January 2023

Back in 2013, I was really proud to become one of the first Google Partners in Belgium.

When I got that badge, I plastered it everywhere I could: on my site, in presentations, bios and even in client proposals.

google-partner-badge
The Badge

Not that potential clients ever bothered to ask about it.

But I told them anyway: what the Google Partner program entailed, what requirements you had to meet, and how not everyone could qualify for it.

Besides these imaginary benefits, being part of the program was pretty useful at first.

I had an account rep at Google that was really helpful and got a lot of training and support that helped me to grow my business.

But over time, the program has gotten a lot less useful.

And today, I feel that being a Google Partner actually hurts the work you do for clients.

So whether you’re considering to become a Google Partner, or you’re a company looking to hire a new agency to run your Google Ads campaigns, there are some important details to know!

Let me tell you all about them!


What is the Google Partner program?

There are millions of businesses using Google Ads, which makes it hard for Google to manage them individually.

Enter Google Partners.

These are agencies, consultants or freelancers that do the following for Google:

  • Client acquisition: a web design agency might convince a client to also start running Google Ads to their brand new website
  • Support: Partners take care of first-line support, they answer client questions and figure out how to fix operational or technical problems
  • Account management: keep the client and expand the revenue through upsells (increase ad spend) or cross-sells (run other types of campaigns)

Google Partners don’t this for charity, most of the things that are interesting to Google, also make the Partner more money.

But there are a couple of extras advantages they get thanks to the Google Partner Program:

  1. A framework to prove their skillset: certifications
  2. Support in improving up their skillset: understanding new ad formats, better account optimization, etc.
  3. Business support: training and coaching on pricing, effective consulting, etc.
  4. Football tables, mini-fridges, and tablets (these are the prizes as part of the competitions)

Starting out, Google invested heavily in the program. I remember an amazing coaching session with Alex Langshur from Cardinal Path, which had a huge impact on my consulting work.

But for some reasons (organizational restructure, budget cuts, targets not met?), the Google Partner Program got less love internally.

Support was moved to an outside partner, then brought back in-house, then outsourced completely.

This really removed the feeling of being an actual partner, to being used as a resource to meet a target.

Shifting Requirements

All the changes had left me with a “meh” feeling about the Google Partners program these last couple of years.

But a revision of the program’s requirements in early 2020 put the final nail in the coffin for me.

After backlash from the PPC community, Google loosened its requirements around the number of certified users and gave the option to dismiss recommendations.

Here are the requirements to qualify as a Google Partner in 2023:

  1. Performance: min of 70% optimization score across linked accounts
  2. Spend: minimum of $10,000 in the last 90 days
  3. Certifications: min 50% of account strategists certified + certifications in all areas with min $500 ad spend

Let’s look at these changes in more detail.

1 – The Almighty Optimization Score 🤬

Google has always had a “Performance” component as part of the Google Partner badge.

It used to include a bunch of best practices like adding negative keywords, sitelinks, different keyword match types, bid adjustments, to the accounts you manage.

Here is how Google still defines “good performance”:

Ensure that you can effectively set up and optimally run Google Ads campaigns to achieve the greatest results for your clients

In the 2020 update, “Performance” changed and is now focused on “Recommendations”.  This is the thing that’s caused me to write this post and actively come out against the Google Partner program.

Recommendations

Not all recommendations are bad, but many of them aren’t exactly tailored to a specific campaign. The common theme behind a lot of them is about increasing ad spend and the adoption of new features. Both which are great for Google, but necessary for the advertiser.

Take a look at these 3 recommendations I just pulled from a client’s account:

recommendations
Recommendations in Google Ads
  1. Create Dynamic Ads
  2. Use Maximize conversions as a bidding strategy
  3. Use targeting Expansion in my remarketing campaign

While these could be good suggestions, they are not relevant in these campaigns because I know they won’t achieve my client’s goals.

Sometimes I might use a recommendation, but as someone that gets paid to manage campaigns for a client, your obligation is to the client, not to Google.

This is all reflected in the Optimization Score:

google-campaign-optiscore-optimization-score
The OptiScore or Optimization Score of a specific Google Ads campaign

The first thing to mention about the Optimization Score is: this score doesn’t have anything to do with the actual performance of the account.

It’s a vanity metric.

I have a campaign that’s delivering amazing results and it has a score of 13.8%.

So using the “OptiScore” as the main metric to optimize your account is clearly the wrong move.

One of the requirements is that the average Optimization Score of accounts linked to your MCC needs to be above 70%.

You have two options to hit that score:

  1. Apply all recommendations
  2. Dismiss them

In the initial announcement, Google stated that dismissals wouldn’t count towards your score. In their 2021 revision they do allow it.

This also hollows out this part of the requirements. If you can simply ignore everything, what’s the point of having it there?

2 – More Skillshop Certifications

Before you needed at least 1 person to get a Google Ads certification, today you need to have 50% of your Company Account Strategists.

The initial overhaul of the Partner program had as a requirement that 50% of users linked to your the Manager account (MCC) needed to be certified.

That raised a lot of concerns.

Like this one:

More certifications than team members 😅 – Source: @AmiliaeFowler

An update is now that you can indicate how many Company Account Strategists you have:

company-account-strategists

This is a good update, because you can indicate how many people actually work on the account, as opposed to a manager or boss that has view access.

Then only 50% of the people that work on the account will need to be certified.

And in a 2023 update, you now need to have one certified user for every part of your account that has spent $500 USD in: Google Ads Search, Google Ads Display, YouTube Ads, and Shopping ads.

In order to become certified, I would need to get a Display and Video certification.

Is the Google Partner Programs Still Worth It?

Ok, Dennis, with all this hate of the Google Partners program, what’s your alternative?

If you get paid to manage Google Ads, there is only one thing important:

PUT YOUR CLIENT FIRST

No matter how many free tablets, air hockey tables or drinks Google sponsors, you are responsible for doing the things that achieve for your clients first.

Update December 2020: After a suggestion from one of our readers, we’ve launched a Google Partner alternative: The Clients First Club. There is also a badge, but the requirements make a lot more sense. Join us!

Google Ads Support For Outsiders

Google distinguishes three tiers of users: Members, Partners & Premier Partners.

For those claiming to have special support, because they are a Google Partner, this overview from Google’s website contradicts that:

Overview of the benefits of being an official Partner

Both “Members” and Partners get similar support.

I haven’t been an official Google Partner for a while, and I’ve found them to be just as helpful as before.

Beta invites

As a Google Partner, you hear more often about what Google is up to a little earlier than others.

Sometimes this allows you to opt your clients into new beta programs that have the potential to be very lucrative because you’re the first advertiser using these features.

But when those features are rolled out globally, that advantage goes away pretty quickly.

I also want to say that I’ve been able to join to a couple of beta programs via regular support.

The problem is that these beta features often have an NDA associated with them. So if no-one is talking about it, it’s hard to know they exist in the first place 🙂

One source for beta info is Google reps (the good ones). They are focused on growing the spend of a particular account and don’t really care about the Partner status of the person managing it.

Getting certified and finding new clients

To distinguish yourself from others, you’ll need to do a lot better than slapping the Google Partner badge on your website.

If that was your strategy for finding new clients, your business probably isn’t booming.

Most clients don’t care either:

do-clients-care-about-google-partner-program
Only about 30% of non-PPCers in this poll seem to care – Source: @PPCKirk on Twitter

The certifications part of the Partner program requires an absolute basic level of Google Ads knowledge. You can get certified without ever having managed a single campaign in your life.

So instead of focusing on the theory, start doing the actual work. Leverage that works into real case studies you can share in an article or as a speaker at a local event.

If you don’t feel ready yet to handle clients, consider a course that will teach you how to get results, not just make Google more money!

What About The Premier Program?

Premier Google Partners need to meet all of the regular Google Partner requirements, AND be in the top 3% of all partners in a country.

This 3% is across a number of different areas:

  • Client growth: get clients to spend more and signup clients new to Google Ads
  • Client retention: get clients to stick around
  • Product diversification: don’t just limit your campaigns to Search but also run Shopping, Display, App or Video campaigns
  • Annual ads spend: total spend across accounts

I haven’t been a Premier Partner, so can’t really say if it’s worth it or not.

But by the nature of being in the top 3%, businesses that qualify for this manage a lot of clients and campaigns.

That doesn’t mean they’re any good, but you at least know that you won’t be someone’s first client 😅

What do you think about the Google Partner Program? What benefits is it giving you?

Dennis Moons

Dennis Moons is the founder and lead instructor at Store Growers.

He's a Google Ads expert with over 12 years of experience in running Google Ads campaigns.

During this time he has managed more than $5 million in ad spend and worked with clients ranging from small businesses to global brands. His goal is to provide advice that allows you to compete effectively in Google Ads.

Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

25 responses on "Why I’m No Longer a Google Partner (And Why You Shouldn’t Either)"

  1. David says:

    nice article. Definitely more important to put customer first vs getting and showing badge. I would evaluate a freelance or agency on results achieved vs having badge. Actually google certifications are only multi andwer questions you get all answers on the web. So definitely not a proof of being good at managing google ads accounts.
    To get the best ppc manager and boost campaigns results, ask him references and results from other customers and ensure to track relevant conversions that will allow you to know validity of this channel for your business !

    1. Dennis says:

      That’s a solid approach to find a good PPC manager indeed. Thanks David!

    2. Lydia says:

      Great article – I have been selling advertising packages for a premier partner and their only strategy seems to be too get as many clicks as possible and and to set up automated bidding… they don’t seem to do anything the customer couldn’t do

  2. Jimmy Garns says:

    You literally took the words out of my mouth. Well said and something i’ve been thinking for some time now. Agencies are fighting a battle between retaining their partner badge and what is actually in the best interests of their clients. If an agency has a client with a huge Google Ads budget that isnt performing as well as another channel (eg. Facebook), does the agency continue to pour the clients money into adwords to retain their badge at the detriment of the clients overall success? Unfortunately I think this is true for too often.

    1. Dennis says:

      Yeah, Google exploits this pretty well. The vanity of the badge and an occasional goodie like a tablet or Chromecast in exchange for getting clients to overspend thousands…

  3. Searching for a company that can manage my Google Ads.

    1. Dennis says:

      Hey Rachida,
      Just responded to your email 👍

      1. Davy Seer says:

        Hey. Need a website streamlined for my new book sales and my ecommerce store.

        Google/FB/Amazon campaigns.

        Buget is constrauned to best results.

        Can you? or recommend?

        Thanks much
        David

        1. Dennis says:

          Hi Davy,
          That sounds like a cool project. I don’t take on any design work (I’ve got enough trouble with my own site already 😅)

          Since your site is Wix based, I’d look for someone that’s familiar with that platform. Maybe have a look at any Facebook groups? (like this one: https://www.facebook.com/groups/WixStores/)

          I hope you find the help you need!
          -Dennis

  4. Paul says:

    Thank you for the article. When someone with google partner budget contacted us, we usually stayed away from them. They usually brought more bad news than good news to our business when we were doing business with them in the old days. Few years later, we still don’t really buy into that google partner badge thing.

  5. Yeah, I noticed the shift toward ad spend in the updated Google Partners Program. I agree that Recommendations are not always helpful. For example, Dynamic Search Ads are NOT good for any of my clients. The other tough about the OptiScore is Google determines the % weighting of each recommendation. Unfortunately, Google’s Recommendations don’t “listen” when I dismiss them because they’re just not relevant for my niche and specialty clients. But I wholeheartedly agree… Do what’s best for you client. They’ve put their trust in you to manage their Google Ads campaigns… to get results! 🙂

  6. Great article. We haven’t applied to be Google Partners and I’m thinking we won’t. The allure is certainly there. But philosophically, I just can’t “go there”. I don’t want to be a tightly controlled franchisee where I have to tow the corporate line despite my Clients’ best interests. I want to remain free to use my knowledge and experience to best serve my Clients. All we need now is the counter-badge to display…the Clients First badge!

    1. Dennis says:

      You can find that right here Scott: Clients First Club 🙂

  7. Steve says:

    Great article. Need to vent a bit:

    As you all likely know, the new program requirements now start in February 2022. My agency currently meets all of the requirements of the active Partner program, but is not being recognized as a Google Partner. After speaking to Google Support, they informed me that not only will we need to wait until the new rollout next February to become a partner, but we will also need to fulfill the new requirements.

    I need Google for my job, but these types of events are happening more and more often.

    1. Dennis says:

      Sorry to hear that Steve.

      While you need Google /Google Ads for your job, luckily you don’t NEED the Partner status 🙂

  8. Wow, thanks for this article. We’re from Canada and too small to qualify for the 90-day budget threshold (and we like it that way!), but it always seemed so wrong that Google would incentivize agencies to inflate clients’ budgets to meet the Partner cutoff. I’ll be saving this article for future reference and will check out the Client’s First certification 🙂 Love it! take care.

    1. Dennis says:

      Thanks for your feedback Aleksandra. I also think it’s healthy to offer some counterweight to all things Google 🙂

  9. Mike says:

    Thanks for sharing, not enough is said about Google’s underhanded processes that incentivize their own priorities over those of clients.

    I actually just finished renewing my certifications for the sole reason that it’s so difficult to get good support for the resolution of erroneous disapprovals and account suspensions. I remember when Google first started experimenting with outsourcing support functions. Needless to say, low quality support to folks running boutique agencies (thus outside of the Premiere Partner Program), has gotten worse and worse. Conspiracy: Google hopes to squash smaller agencies to consolidate the client base between those accounts that are fully-automated and those agencies that are spending the most money.

    Like many others, I’m ranting. I hope that obtaining these worthless certifications as a seasoned PPCer actually do lead to more quality resolutions to our various account issues.

    1. Dennis says:

      Hi Mike,
      I totally understand where you’re coming from.
      In recent years, I haven’t really found a difference in support between being a partner and not being one.
      I’ve found that everyone from “Google” that reaches out about an account (whether their your partner manager or on behalf of a client’s account), that’s always a sign of trouble.
      -Dennis

  10. Hi Dennis – I am in complete agreement and would like to see your opinions get more attention.
    How do we refresh and broaden this conversation? Where can we see who is in the CLIENTS FIRST club?

    Thank you for posting this, as I, too want more for my clients. While we have Google Partner status it’s because we have a lot of clients running digital campaigns so we meet the budget threshold – not because we aim for it. That Partner status means nothing to us or to our clients.

    I want to add the CLIENTS FIRST badge – but am wondering if – as partners (or former partners or any Google Ads strategist regardless of “status”) could we combine our voices to try to get Google/Alphabet’s attention? According to linked in they have 281,127 employees – imagine if a group of us started a campaign to connect with them and what that could look like?

    https://www.linkedin.com/company/google/people/

    – Connie

  11. Jonathan says:

    Well said. Thanks for being open and honest about this.
    Terrible that most recommendations now are about adding broad match and increasing budgets… Thanks Google. So spend more and reducing targeting effectiveness…??

  12. Shree Anish says:

    Well said. Thanks for being open and honest about this. I’m a digital marketing agency, Makes 360, and I was looking for – how to get badges of these google partners!! Now I’m more sure to not take it.

    1. Dennis Moons says:

      Yeah, everyone has to decide this for themselves!

  13. Jason King says:

    I think I became a Partner at the wrong time, just as it went into decline.

    Same here Dennis: not one client has ever asked what it means, or said they chose me to work with me because of it.

    So many things don’t work properly. Most quarters I’m offered zero ways to earn rewards. When I do have a target it will be something unattainable like accept or dismiss 1,700 recommendations, which is more than my account actually received; or use smart bidding on 98% of ad spend (nope); or for 50% of ad spend to be in new geographic areas (nope again). If I did what they want me to do, it would wreck my client relationships!

    There’s little meaningful communication. Certainly nothing personal. I’ve had invites to online breakfast meetings. The invites were in English but when I rock up, the meeting’s in German.

    When I call for support, my partner status doesn’t help even slightly. Doesn’t get me a dedicated rep. Doesn’t seem to help with trust.

    They alarm partners by announcing drastic rule changes, don’t explain them properly, then change their mind completely a few months later.

    I’m in several other Google programs, for example: Product Experts and Ad Grant Certified Professionals. They have led to fantastic opportunities, including face to face meetings, presenting beside Google managers at conferences, networking and international travel, and new clients. Why is Partners so rubbish in comparison?

    OK, whinge over!

    1. Dennis Moons says:

      I completely understand what you’re saying Jason.

      I think a big component of the decline has to do with the evolving market. About 7 years ago, the Partner program was important because it helped Google to sign up existing businesses to Google Ads. Incentivizing agencies to do this on their behalf worked really well.

      But today, I think a lot of that is over. I rarely meet existing businesses that don’t have a Google Ads account, or have never tried it. So in terms of new customers, it’s only going to be growing as fast as new businsses sprout up. Which is way less than the gold rush of 5-10 years ago.

      So with the evolving landscape, I think this program simply is a lot less important. So costs are cut and quality goes way way down…

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