As many of you may have seen in your inboxes over the weekend, Google is changing the way that they run things when it comes to their certification program.  In the words of the email that was sent out, “Google Partners is coming to an agency near you.”

Starting September 30, 2013, the old certification program is being replaced by Google Partners.  One of our all-time most popular posts is about to be even more out of date.  What’s the deal with the changes?  Here are some of the things you’ll need to know:

The change is intended to make it “easier and more meaningful” to get your certification on.

  • It’s free!  No more $50 to pay!
  • All of the info in your Google Certification Program (which will be read-only following the transition to partners) will transfer when you join partners using the same Google account.  So make sure when you sign up you use what you’ve used in the past.
  • Your old expiration dates will be honored, so no need to get recertified in the new program.
  • As was the case with company accounts in the past, they’ll have to connect to a live MCC.

There are also some different ways that this will affect companies (who are, after all, the eponymous partners of this name change).

On September 30th, 2013, a Partners account is required to manage your company’s profile.

The grandfathering in of companies isn’t nearly as liberal as it is for individuals.  Whereas your individual expiration dates don’t change, companies need to obtain a new Google Partner badge by November 13, 2013, if they want to continue appearing on Google Partner Search.

How does a company obtain a Google Partner badge, you may be wondering.  There are five guidelines you’ll have to follow:

  1. Have an MCC that has spent at least $10,000 in 60 of the last 90 days.
  2. Have one person at your company fully certified (by passing one fundamental and one advanced exam).
  3. Maintain accounts that display Google’s best practices by “demonstrat[ing]… that you are effectively managing your clients’ campaign performance.”
  4. Take good care of your customers.  Google cites a couple of examples of things they’re looking for – “account activity, client retention and whether you’re making the most of their budgets, big or small.”
  5. Investing in what they call the Partner’s Pledge – “Be a champion for helping businesses succeed online every day.”

These steps all seem to be good behaviors to look for in advertisers.  Measuring them could get pretty, tricky, though.  Portions 1 and 2 are very straightforward and easy to track.  After that, though, things could get dicey.  We all know how subjective a lot of this stuff can be.

“Effective management” can mean so many different things and it will be interesting to see how that turns out in practice.  Anyone who has done an audit knows that some accounts can look pretty interesting, and anyone who has been audited knows that each of our accounts are delicate flowers that often look like they’re in total disarray to the uninitiated.  They can be messy, but they’re our messes.  It’s highly possible that rule three will only be enforced in cases of extreme neglect, sort of the Internet marketing version of those people with eighty cats living in the house with them.

Portion four seems to allow for some hard and fast metrics that you can be checked on.  Account activity has long been trumpeted by Larry Kim and the smart folks over at WordSteam as an indicator of account health, and Google seems to agree.  They can similarly check on how often you’re linking or unlinking (mostly unlinking it seems) new accounts and gauge your stability.  “Making the most” seems to have the highest potential for drama, as it invokes lost IS and trying to keep that as low as possible.  Again, though, there probably shouldn’t be any major changes to what we’ve experienced in the past.

If you think your company could qualify for the program, you can find more specifics here (and let’s be real, if you’re reading something as nerdy as PPC Hero you’re probably going to qualify).

These new regulations are definitely more stringent than what has been the case in the past.  For reference, here is the bar that companies used to have to clear in order to be listed in the Google directory:

  • Have managed at least a US $10,000 spend over 90 days (to be counted from the day the AdWords account is linked to the MCC). The MCC account linked to the company must have spend on 60 days out of a 90-day period and must also have been active for at least 90 days.
  • Have at least one individually qualified employee
  • Note [Google’s] terms and conditions

The first two points are unchanged, but now noting Google’s terms and conditions has gotten a lot more explicit.  There’s definitely language that will let Google decide if companies should lose their status.  It will be something to watch for sure, but as we said earlier, it probably won’t affect most people that seem to care about what’s happening in their accounts.

We’ve tried setting up a new partnership account and it appears that everything is still in the process of being created.  It seems wise to wait at least until September 30th to make the change, as our new partner accounts didn’t pass over any of our pre-existing certifications.  It’s safe to say that they will eventually (since that is what the email said that started all of this), but for now it may be disconcerting to not see anything you’re looking for.

We’re also having some problems linking individuals to our new partner accounts.  There doesn’t seem to be an option in our company account just yet.  We are also seeing the below notification on an individual’s partner account:

Setting up AdWords Partner account

It’s still unclear as to whether we’ll have to link all of our employees to the MCC moving forward or if the company account being linked to the MCC will suffice for all employees.  Since we can’t link employees to the company account just yet that’s still to be determined.  If any of you have success with that please let us know.

Be prepared.  In a week there will be a new way to become certified.  It should be a win for AdWords, as it’ll make for better partners.  And it’ll be a win for us humble Internet marketers, as it’s free.