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Google Partners Replaces Google Certification Program: What about the SMBs?

by Katie Cothran, ROI Product Manager – ASPE, Inc.

Two weeks ago Google sent a notification email to customers currently with Google Certification Program (GCP) accounts announcing the launch of Google Partners. Google stated this change is a “new and improved experience for agencies and online marketing professionals…that make it more meaningful to get certified in Google advertising solutions like AdWords.” After receiving that notification, reading as much as I possibly could, and reviewing the our old GCP account and attempting to set up a new Google Partner account, I think there’s been a massive oversight:  What about all the small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that manage their own accounts?

When Google Partners officially launched on September 30, 2013, all GCP accounts became read-only and the information should have been transferred to the new Google Partners program. The main couple key differences:

  • All of your certifications, reminders, client center, etc. are now in one place
  • The certification exams are now free to take instead of the previous $50
  • Searching for an agency when you’re looking for representation gives a more thorough review and comparison of agencies

This is not earth-shattering news, but a decision by Google to build their relationship with agencies around the world. Basically Google is trying to improve their relationship with agencies that are the primary users and spenders in AdWords, which is fine. In a live stream presented on the Google Partners YouTube channel on Wednesday, October 2, 2013, several Google employees demonstrated different capabilities, user interfaces and features that Google Partners offers. To me, it’s a slight improvement that we all know will change in another three months, all in the name of making the Google Partner Badge more valuable.

However, the lack of information regarding online marketing professionals who do not work in the agency realm, and yet hold an AdWords or Analytics certification, is disconcerting. The immediate notification to them had the same information, but basically could be interpreted like this: “We’re changing the program you use to take your certification exams. You have to create a Google Partners account even though you’re not an agency, you don’t meet the required spend requirements, and you aren’t active 60 out of every 90 days to qualify as a partner. And even those who work for organizations that do meet the required spend and are active for 60 out of 90 days aren’t able to associate their certification with their organization since, being that they’re not part of an agency, they don’t have an account associated with MCC since they’re only managing one account. By the way, you can’t access GCP either, even though you had grown accustomed to its nuances.” Not to mention that during the live streams Google presented about Google Partners, not one topic or question had to deal with individually certified professionals who aren’t part of an agency.

While SMBs may not generate the millions of dollars in revenue that agencies produce for AdWords, and are not as experienced, they succeed in Google AdWords and generate profit for their companies. There are full time online marketing professionals who not only have AdWords on their plate, but are in charge of their company’s email marketing, Analytics reporting, social media messaging, search engine optimization and much more. The amount of updates Google produces weekly is staggering for anybody to keep up with.

With so many SMBs struggling in our current economy, why isn’t Google – the company that used to represent the ideal of putting everyone on the same playing field and granting access to information with its search engine genius, a company that touts its worldwide entrepreneurship programs supposedly encouraging startups – providing any resources, knowledge or path for marketing professionals that have chosen to be the AdWords guru in their respective company? There is no message for the average AdWords user unaffiliated with an agency. Instead it feels like Google Partners is forcing the hand for SMBs to turn to monopolizing agencies, something that just isn’t affordable and is not an option for them.

If anyone else out there has an opinion about this, or if Google itself has an answer to what they are providing to the rest of the business community, I encourage comments. You can also contact me on Twitter @k_cothran.

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