This week Google surprised me (and everyone for that matter) by making three significant changes to the way they handle relationships with agencies.
- New training programs and (apparently) a certification program that actually discriminates great PPC practitioners from the mediocre.
- A directory of certified AdWords agencies to help advertisers find the best company to help them with their paid search campaigns.
- A preferred API pricing model for certified agencies and third party SEM platforms.
So how does this change the game for agencies? Let's see.
Raising the Bar for Google AdWords Certification
This one was long overdue. As Andrew Goodman pointed out recently, the Google AdWords Professional exam is so easy, anyone with the bare minimum understanding of how AdWords works can easily become certified with little to no studying. I haven't managed a paid search campaign in years and I passed with flying colors. The fact it's so easy to pass the exam has the unfortunate consequence of making the program meaningless.
Under the new certification rules, SEM practitioners will need to pass not only the fundamentals exam, but also one of three other advanced exams covering PPC, display, or analytics.
Helping Advertisers Find Google Certified Partners
This appears to be a reformulation of existing directories related to resellers of things like Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer, but now doing a better job of allowing all qualified agencies to post rich profiles.
Depending on how much visibility Google will give this directory, it could have a significant impact on generating new business for certified partners. The jury is out on how important this will be for anyone.
Introducing Preferred AdWords API Pricing
What does preferred AdWords API pricing really mean? Free API?
Depends. Google gives qualified agencies some complimentary API units as a direct function of the ad spend under management. The more you spend, the more free units you get.
So while most ordinary clients will easily get by without paying anything to use the API, the same is not true of those who would hammer it every few minutes to see if they could change something. And that behavior is precisely why Google charges a toll to use their API.
One would think that in 2010, all professional PPC advertisers understand what makes a campaign successful -- relevant keywords, relevant text ads, relevant landing pages -- and, of course, all this has to be set to the right price. Changing your max CPC every hour can only be detrimental to your ROI, because the cost will outweigh the benefit every time.
But alas, most marketers are unaware of the API "tax" imposed by Google. Case in point:
Last week I was at Ad:Tech San Francisco. A group of three PPC managers from a local SEM agency walked up to our booth.
"We need real-time bidding, can you help?"
"Real time bidding? For display?"
"No for paid search. We need to update our keyword bids in real time"
"Hmmm... are you sure about that?"
"Yeah, but it doesn't have to be real time. Maybe we could work with 15 minute intervals"
Even though I took the time to explain the logic behind Google's API fees, and how their idea would cost them a fortune if it were even technically feasible, they just thanked me and remained convinced that I was crazy and they would eventually find a real-time bidding platform for PPC at the show. I may be crazy, but such a platform, they did not find. They never will.
This new preferred pricing isn't the same as free-for-all, all-you-can-eat API units. Abusers will pay through the proverbial nose, as they always did. This should be seen as a courtesy by Google, part of a charm operation, and not as an opportunity to try to manage bids like it's 1999.
Should Agencies Heart Google Back?
For the longest time, Google has been at odds with agencies. This is especially true in America. Not only does Google not pay agencies any form of kickback for the business they bring, but they often compete and play the role of a free "SEM agency" for some large advertisers.
Google never really had to play nice because they've always been in control of the U.S. search advertising inventory. However, to win on the display side, they need to start putting on the charm nice and thick, as they're far from owning this industry.
Making AdWords API usage free will encourage automation, which is vital for SEM agencies. Automating alerts, reports, dashboards, budget, and bid changes is important if they ever hope to scale their paid search business into other forms of media -- namely display, mobile, and video.
By investing in these new training programs, changing the API fee system, and creating lists of certified partners, Google is betting that it will see growth into the agency world and is making sure to give agencies all the tools they need to tackle the display-search opportunity. But in order to win the agencies' hearts completely, there is yet much more love to be given by the big G.
What Else Should Google do to Win Agencies Over?
Here are some bold predictions:
- As Google released a free version of DART for Publishers, we should also expect a free version of DART for Advertisers, integrated with AdWords.
- Display advertising should become much more intertwined with the AdWords platform. Google Ad Planner, Google Ad Exchange, and Google Analytics. All these products should become seamlessly integrated within the next three years.
- Google will stop providing free "agency" services to their large advertisers.
- AdWords will change names to Google Advertising!
- Google will play ball with the larger agencies that give them both their display and search business, and pay them some form of kickback.
I did say bold!