How to get Google Certified for Paid Search


Having just re-upped my Google Certification, I thought it might be helpful to pass along some tips.

Google offers three different certifications: SEM, Display, and Analytics. All three require passing 2 exams: A single Fundamentals test that is taken for all three certifications and an advanced exam that is specific to each certification area. For a search marketer, the Fundamentals exam is not difficult. You are allotted 90 minutes: I finished in about 30. I have not taken the Analytics or Display exams (yet) so the information covered in this post pertains only to the Fundamental and Advanced Search Exams.

Google provides study materials that go very deep. Each section includes an overview as well as numerous videos and deep links enabling you to delve further into areas that are unfamiliar or need more clarity. My first tip on how to pass the test is that this additional info is very helpful but superfluous in terms of what you need to know for the test:  what’s in the main overview section of the study guide is enough.

The Fundamentals test focuses primarily on Quality Score and Ad Rank, the elements of account structure, and measurement. The measurement section covers Google terminology (such as the difference between conversions and converted clicks) as well as success metrics such as the formula for ROAS, etc.  .

The Advanced exam covered all of the above, but the Advanced Exam study materials did not have much on these topics. I recommend taking the two exams within a few days of each other or you may need to restudy the fundamentals material.

Here are some more tips for taking the exams:

– Every question is comprised of 4 multiple choice answers. 2 of the choices for each question are pure throwaways.  Some of the answers were so silly that people should maybe be dinged extra for choosing them.

– There were a handful of questions that you didn’t need to know the answer to at all — you could simply eliminate the 3 wrong ones. One question was posed about the intention of a searcher in Switzerland looking for something related to France. 3 of the potential answers started with “The searcher in France is looking for…”.  Basic test taking skills are very much in play on the exam.

– After a particularly hard question, there would be an easy one.

– There were as many questions on ad rank and quality score on the advanced exam as there were on the fundamentals.

– Profitability was a focus in the advanced exam. .The info in the study guide on this topic was great covering things like an advertiser who says “a $10 cpo just makes sense” without any rationale for why. Google does a nice job of addressing LTV in the study material, too. Even if you ware not studying for the certification exam, this section is worth a read.

– Similar to the content on the last certification exam I took a year ago, you need to be familiar with geo-targeting, location extensions, and Google My Business. The study material had not been updated from Google Places which is the only instance of the study info not being current.

– The study material provides lots of info on how to run certain reports. While this is helpful, the test didn’t ask any questions on it.

– With much recent talk of micro moments and cross device Analytics, I was surprised that there were practically no mobile questions.  I can recall only one having to do with best practice that I personally think is intuitive enough for people to answer correctly regardless of whether or not they studied. .

I definitely learned some new things in my studies, which always makes an experience worthwhile for me.  Many may know these things, but I did not:

– If you do a restructure, you can backup a copy of the old structure  in AdWords Editor. This could be helpful if the restructure post-launch doesn’t perform as expected and you want to revert back to the old one.
– I did not know that running campaign experiments can hurt quality score, but it can
– I did not know that search query data only went back 30 days
– The opportunities tab is filled with some very cool features  I wasn’t aware of some of them that I can’t wait to test out.
– A CPA in Conversion Optimizer can exceed the max due to reasons “outside Google’s control.” This is good to know. They say it should smooth out over time but do not say how long.
– With quality score being determined by the overall CTR of ads and keywords in an account, this strongly makes the case for brands to bid on their trademark terms which typically perform best. The material didn’t say to bid on trademark, but this was my takeaway.

The last time I got certified, my boss asked what compelled me to do it. I have often thought this question odd coming from the CEO of a digital agency to the President of a digital agency.  I believe that every senior search executive should be certified for several reasons. One is that the hands-on-keys junior-level people may comprise more of the AdWords power users, but how likely are they to spot or articulate major strategic changes unfolding?  In a future post I will cover voice search and some of the interesting changes we’re seeing in search query reports related to voice queries.  Moving search queries to keywords or negatives is probably not the role of a senior-level strategist, but it may be worthwhile for the strategist to periodically take a look as it pertains to (in this example) evolving the mobile strategy. This is just one reason why senior strategists shouldn’t stray too far from their craft in favor of things like business development. Certification is one way to continually stay informed.

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