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Google Angers Agencies With Partner Program Update

Who Hasn't Google Upset In 2020?

After upsetting web users with its recent desktop search redesign and regulators around the globe with alleged anti-competitive behaviour, it is now the turn of marketing agencies to fall out of love with Mountain View’s finest.

It is hardly scandalous to say that digital and social media marketing is awash with charlatans.

Therefore, given the multitude of digital marketing agencies in the marketplace, Google has for years distinguished between the better performing agencies via its coveted Partner program.

With the bigger hitters qualifying for the Google Premier Partner accolade.

Launched in 2013, the Partner program has become a north star for clients when rostering agencies for Google media buying. Facebook, offers similar with its Marketing Partner program.

To become a Google Partner, a digital advertising provider must meet various Google Ads requirements, i.e. agency skill level, client ad spend, the size of the agency’s client base as well as agency and client growth levels.

It is herein that agencies have taken issue with Google’s latest updates.

So What’s All The Fuss About

As of June 2020, agencies which wish to maintain, or earn, Google Partner status will need to meet three updated criteria.

Some reasonable, some more questionable.

Firstly, the ad spend threshold has doubled. 

The 90-day spend requirement (across all clients under an agency’s manager account) is going up from $10,000 to $20,000. 

From Google’s perspective, this will likely weed out a lot of agency minnows, who probably eat up valuable account management capacity without moving the needle too much. Obviously, for little agencies impacted this will suck, but for most this shouldn’t be too big a deal, at the current $20k per quarter level.

Naturally smaller agencies wishing to keep their Partner status will look to grow their books, either through upselling or winning new business.

Secondly, More users need to get certified.

Having one user Google Ads certified will no longer cut it. Agencies will need to have at least half of the users who have admin or standard access to their manager account take and pass the relevant certification tests (Search, Display, Video, Shopping).

For medium, to large agencies, this will hurt. A lot.

Ensuring 50% of account accessing staff have their relevant Google certs up to scratch will be time consuming and costly. As will ensuring maintenance ongoing.

Although, to be fair, its pretty absurd  that Google allowed this in the first place.

Clients choose Google Partners because they assume the business and all account handlers are suitably qualified. Many clients would be shocked to discover that this has, in fact, never been the case at all.

While painful for agencies, this is a net win for clients. And all involved in the medium – learn term.

Initially, it does appear there are some bugs around this at the backend of agency accounts, but they will inevitably be ironed-out.

Thirdly, Optimization score evaluations matter.

The main sticking point for agencies appears to be forcing agencies to hit specific optimization score quotas in client accounts.

These quotas are reached by implementing recommendations that Google provides.

To determine whether an agency is meeting the performance requirements, Google says it will start evaluating the optimization score in their manager account, located in the Recommendations tab. 

Previously, agencies could use their judgment and dismiss recommendations (they often range from random to poor for many clients) to increase a campaign’s optimization score.

This is no longer the case; dismissing recommendations will not count toward the account optimization requirement.

Interestingly, “spend more” seems to be a popular Google recommendation. Go figure.

Are Google Partner Agencies Relegated To Shills?

The third of the pronouncements above has more than a passing semblance to Tupperware parties about them.

Or worse still, a whiff of essential oils about them… as agencies, desperate to bolster their Optimization Scores, would be forced to push recommendations and campaign updates, lest computer says no and they fall out of the Partner program.

Irrespective of the best interests of their clients.

Inevitably, a lot of good agencies will fall out of the program, rather than push product or make recommendations they do not back.

The timing of these changes to the Partner program is also interesting, following weeks after yet another weak quarter of trading from the online ad giant.

With Amazon nibbling at its search business, and Facebook whooping it on brand building, Google’s twenty-year advertising hegemony looks anything but cruisy.  

Could it be coincidental that Google puts the thumb-screws on agencies now? Maybe. Maybe not.

Given the pushback Google is receiving from current Partners, there is reason to believe this third and more controversial edict could mutate and get watered down ahead of launch.

However, for clients, these changes should highlight potentially detrimental new vested interests, prompting frank discussions, come June.

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