By Dennis - Comments: 19

Last Updated on November 9, 2021

blog-banner-google-partner

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

The changes outlined above 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 early 2020 put the final nail in the coffin for me.

Th impact of COVID-19 on small businesses and negative feedback from the community caused Google to loosen it’s requirements.

Let’s take a look at the requirements:

google-partners-requirements-2021
Requirements to become a Google Partner in 2021

On the left-hand side you can see the current Partner status and requirements, on the right-hand side you can see what’s changed.

Let’s run through the biggest changes.

1- More Skillshop Certifications

Before you needed at least 1 person to get a Google Ads certification, now 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.

The old certifications obtained from the “Academy For Ads” won’t be valid anymore (this is what google now calls “legacy” certifications). So everyone will be required to take the new Skillshop exams.

There you take an exam for the specialization you want to be certified in: Google Ads Search, Google Ads Display, Google Ads Video, and Shopping ads.

I would say that Google fixed this part with its new update. But the next part is what’s still irking me.

2 – 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”:

Delivering solid overall ad revenue and growth, and maintaining and growing your customer base.

But with this new update, “Performance” will now center around “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.

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?

Does the “updated new” Partner Program Change anything?

Here is what Google changed after the initial backlash:

  1. Keep minimum ad spend at $10,000 in the last 90 days
  2. Change 50% certification requirement for all users to Company Account Strategists
  3. Dismissing a recommendation will give you the same score as adding it

As I said, #2 is a pretty good move. #1 doesn’t really change a thing in my opinion. But #3 makes the whole Google Partner thing acceptable again.

Google Partner Alternatives

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 The Clients First Club. There is also a badge, but the requirements make a lot more sense. Join us!

Google Ads Support For Outsiders

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

google-partners-support-levels

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 added 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 🙂

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, the 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!

Few! It feels good to get this off my chest 🙂

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

About the author

Dennis

Dennis is the founder of Store Growers. He's an ecommerce PPC expert from Belgium and has been running Google Ads campaigns for over 8 years.

His goal is to cut through the BS when it comes to ecommerce advice and provide you with tactics and strategies that will make you more money.

Read more

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

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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…

      1. 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. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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! 🙂

  5. 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!

  6. 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. Sorry to hear that Steve.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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. 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *