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The Moral Dilemma Agencies Face with the Google Partners Change

The big changes in the Google Partners program pose a moral dilemma to agencies – compliance or completence? Here's what we can do to take action.

The Moral Dilemma Agencies Face with the Google Partners Change

Before we get started I want to make one thing clear: I would love nothing more than for Google Partners to be great.

To be a thriving community of learning, trust, and credibility.

For it to be a place where I can send employees to confidently learn fundamentals.

To be a location that is helpful to both agencies and their clients.

A program that helps everyone succeed with Google Ads.

It would be more than welcomed, it is a need.

The changes announced to the Google Partners program last week aren’t that.

In fact, just when you thought the program couldn’t get worse, it had a “Hold My Beer” moment.

Instead of positively changing the program to create and cultivate a community empowered to serve their clients, the new rules are soiled with sales initiatives that strong-arm agencies to do Google’s bidding – and to do so to the detriment of their clients.

What Changed with the Partners Program?

The new requirements of the Google Partners program will force agencies to hit specific optimization score quotas in client accounts.

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These quotas are reached by implementing recommendations that Google provides.

Recommendations that often directly benefit Google.

The Moral Dilemma Agencies Face with the Google Partners Change

Previously, agencies could use their judgment and dismiss recommendations (as they often range from detrimental to catastrophic to clients) to increase a campaign’s optimization score.

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

Sample recommendations for some of my clients include the likes of:

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  • Increase budget (for a client with fixed budget).
  • Raise your Target CPA (more than client desires).
  • Use call extensions (for off-hour campaigns when nobody is at the office to answer the phone).

And the recommendations get even worse the more you look.

Google Partners as a Sales Tool

With this new change, Google has found an all-new sales channel by manipulating Partner agencies into implementing their recommendations.

If you think about it, it’s genius.

Instead of Google reaching out to clients to implement new initiatives, they can leverage Partner program agencies to do their bidding.

This forces the hand of an agency that wants to be a Google Partner.

If optimization score quotas aren’t hit, then a Google Partner will lose their badge.

For those vain agencies that need to be a Partner, this inherently places a dilemma on what actions to take, what they know is best for their clients or Google’s recommendations.

The Moral Issue

Requiring Partners to hit specific optimization score quotas will allow Google to force agencies to do their bidding.

In my professional opinion, Partner agencies will have a good chance of spending more money less efficiently on behalf of their clients (see Do You Really Want a 100% Google Ads Optimization Score?).

Google won’t be on the hook when a client is looking to re-up their contracts, but agencies will (rightly) still be held liable for the work they do.

By forcing agencies to implement Google’s recommendations, the onus is off of Google when it comes to executing those recommendations.

With this change, it is hard to find an outcome other than Google wins everybody else loses.

Over the years, Google Partners has rewarded more and more sales incentives instead of client success incentives:

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Historically, not hitting upsell incentives meant you would miss out on Google Partners store credit.

While not morally ideal, partners could still keep clients happy while retaining a Google Partners badge and not have to force clients into ill-advised programs.

Now, there is much more on the line than a scooter for the office.

Failing to implement Google’s recommendations (many times upsells) now means forfeiting your Google Partners status. It truly is a despicable thing to do to agencies.

With these changes, the Google Partners program should be renamed the Google Sales Partners program.

The Reality That’s Coming

The Partners program was set up to help people succeed with Google Ads and through the years it’s been neglected, dismantled and is finally turning into a sales tool for Google.

It’s a shame.

It’s debatable how valuable the Google Partners badge is, but what’s not debatable is what partners will be forced to implement beginning in the summer of 2020.

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When the Partners program was restructured in 2013 they had the following three objectives:

  • Connect more closely with Google.
  • Demonstrate credibility.
  • Grow your business.

Over the years Google has made changes that move away from many of these ideals, such as removing the Partners Search (really?), Insights & Leads.

As it stands, there’s nearly no benefit to being a part of this program other than the swag.

After summer 2020, it will be fair to say that Google Partners program agencies have no shame in placing a Partners badge over client success.

While those with spines will leave, the remaining agencies will be invited to all the Google Ads conferences and will be decked out in a bunch of Google Partners merch all while violently hitting the “Apply All” button … much to the chagrin of their clients.

If I were advising a company to choose an agency after these changes have been implemented, my advice would be to legitimately question any agency that is a Google Partner.

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It’s the client’s money being spent and the changes to this program put compliance over competence for agencies, which is a frightening thought.

I’d have them talk through any of Google’s recommendations that they make directly with the client and get their blessing.

What Can We Do?

The easiest thing is to admit that Google doesn’t care about us.

It’s the cold stark bottom-line focused reality.

Don’t worry about the Google Partners program – just do great work.

In summer, the Google Partners program will be much more of a detriment than a help.

On last week’s Marketing O’Clock podcast, I even called it a scarlet letter.

If you go this route and eventually lose your partner’s badge (while killing it for all your clients!) we put together a free little badge that will fit right where that old Google badge used to go.

Our team at Cypress North built a badge system on an independent domain Client.Partners that is free for anyone willing to state:

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“We will always prioritize our client’s best interests. We won’t sacrifice performance by making changes to their account simply to obtain a badge or certification from an ad platform, regardless of their market power.”

If you can check that box and are willing to put clients first, we’ve got a badge for you. One you can feel proud to show.

A badge that should open a healthy dialog with your clients about this topic.

We put this together with no catch, tricks, or BS.

We’ve just had enough.

The Moral Dilemma Agencies Face with the Google Partners Change

This is the hill that I will die on with Google Partners.

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Instead of leaving empty-handed, I’ll be sleeping well at night knowing that my agency will always put clients first.

If you’d like to sign up to be in this directory and get a free badge, head on over to client.partners and pledge your loyalty to your clients not to Google and their recommendations.

More Resources:


Image Credits

Featured & In-Post Images: Cypress North
Screenshot taken by author, February 2020

CategoryPaid Search

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Greg Finn

Chief Marketing Officer at Cypress North

Greg Finn a host on the SEJNetwork's Marketing O'Clock, and the CMO of Cypress North, a digital design, marketing and ... [Read full bio]

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