When I started at WordStream in 2013, I was well aware that I’d be spending my first few weeks preparing for the AdWords certification exam. Although I was thrilled to have a job at a young and thriving Boston-based company, I wasn’t even close to thrilled at the thought of taking a test. At the time my AdWords knowledge was slim to none. I didn’t understand what a negative keyword was or have any clue what the AdWords interface looked like. But the thought of failing made my shoulders tense up. I was never one for test-taking…
I knew if I failed the exam during my first attempt I’d be starting off my new job with a wave of embarrassment, so I took it upon myself to over-study, even coming into the office on a Sunday. And phewf, I passed.
I recently re-took the AdWords certification test and passed, but was somewhat surprised when I felt stumped by a few of the questions. I kept second guessing myself: Well, both of the answers could be correct, but which is more correct? What’s the formula for that metric again? Some the questions struck me as unexpected and not relevant to my day-to-day.
For those of you contemplating getting your AdWords certification or looking to get re-certified, I’ve created this guide to provide everything you need to know about the process, since it has drastically changed over the last few years. Before getting too deep into this guide you should probably ask yourself…
Should I Get Certified?
Opinions tend to vary on whether getting certified is worth the effort. WordStream PPC pro Caleb Hutchings shared his opinions in this controversial post: Why Google AdWords Certification Doesn’t Matter. To say the least, the post evoked a lot of feedback both positive and negative. While I’d like to stay somewhat neutral on the topic, I definitely agree with Caleb on this statement: “Anyone making it to the point of taking the Google AdWords Exam should already know the benefit it can provide to the business.” Well said, Caleb, well said.
So, are you a PPC specialist or consultant that would gain value from having the certification on your resume? Often explaining to a potential client that you’re AdWords Certified can help evoke a higher level of confidence to assist in convincing the client to work with you. If you’re a PPC specialist, maintaining an AdWords Certification can help strengthen your validity to your current and future employers.
At WordStream we have all of our sales and customer service specialists become certified, because we’ve found that it does add validity to conversations with leads and customers. Often people feel more secure if they’re working with a “certified professional.”
But what about gaining actual paid search skills? In my opinion, mastering paid search and AdWords comes naturally with time and experience, but getting a certification alone isn’t going to make you an expert. Rather, working directly in the interface and playing the AdWords auction, measuring results, testing, and optimizing campaigns are the activities that will lead to becoming an expert in paid search.
About the AdWords Certification Test
Sadly, getting certified requires you to take not one, but two exams. You won’t be fully certified until you pass the AdWords Fundamentals exam, and one of the additional exams, which include Search Advertising, Display Advertising, Video Advertising, Shopping Advertising or Mobile Advertising (which is currently only available in the U.S.).
Cost: Previously the exam cost $100. Luckily nowadays the exam is completely FREE!
Time: For the AdWords Fundamentals, Search Advertising, and Display Advertising exams you have 120 minutes to answer roughly 100 questions for each. For the Video Advertising, Shopping Advertising, and Mobile Advertising you have 90 minutes to answer roughly 70 questions.
*NOTE that there’s no option to pause once you’ve started the exam. The test will time you until the end even if you shut your computer down so make sure you mark off the time to focus on passing.
Passing Score: The lowest score to pass is 80%.
Retake Period: Google allows you to re-take the exam after 7 days if you fail.
How Do I Sign Up?
Step #1: Sign in to Google Partners. If you’re not already signed up for Google Partners, make sure to do so. It’s easy, and any agency or individual who manages AdWords accounts can sign up. Note, this isn’t the same thing as being deemed one of Google’s trusted partners (i.e. having Google Partner status), but it does open you up to further opportunities of that nature. Go to google.com/partners to sign up, and watch this video if you need help.
Step #2: Navigate to Certifications à AdWords. Once you’re signed into Google Partners you’ll see the Certifications tab on the left hand side of the screen. Below that, select AdWords, pictured below.
Step #3: Take the Test. It’s that easy. This isn’t the SATs. You don’t need to sign up months in advance to reserve a seat. We’re part of the digital world so as long as you have a wifi connection, you can take it whenever you’re ready. Simply select the exam you’re ready to take under the AdWords Exams section, and hit “Take exam.”
Step #4: Repeat the Process for the Next Exam of Your Choice. I’d recommend studying for and taking each exam in chunks, starting with the AdWords Fundamentals. Once you’ve passed that, hold off on popping the champagne, and strategize as to which exam you should take next. As I said above, you can take any one of the complementary tests to become certified, so consider which area of advertising you feel would benefit you most. Are the majority of your clients in the e-commerce space? Then take shopping as your second exam. Once you’ve passed two exams (one being the Fundamentals) you’ll officially be AdWords Certified.
Preparation Tips for the AdWords Certification Tests
Before we can even talk about popping bottles, we should talk about prepping for the test. This might not be the LSAT, but you will regret not preparing, especially since the passing score has to be above 80, and you’re under a time restriction of 120 minutes.
With that said, it’s not necessary to kill yourself with stacks of flashcards and nights of sleep deprivation. Yes, some of the questions are framed in a manner that almost appears as if Google is trying to stump you, but the for the most part if you’re confident and comfortable with AdWords then passing the exam shouldn’t be an issue. The time allotted is more than enough for most, and when in doubt on certain questions, there’s no teacher standing over your shoulder and monitoring your every move – AKA you can cheat a little (as bad as that sounds).
You’ll want to divide your studies into two parts for the two exams to not overwhelm yourself. Here are some resources I recommend utilizing to get you up-to-speed.
- Google’s Exam Study Guides: Google has a thorough study guide center to help you prepare for each exam. Personally, it’s a bit too thorough in my opinion. I don’t have time to read through the extensive content for each section of each exam that seems to lead to more and more links of information. No thanks, not happening. This simply isn’t my style, but I do find it helpful that their study guides are divided into sections because then you can opt to go through chunks of information that you may need a refresher on. I wouldn’t kill yourself printing out these pages and working through the material with a yellow highlighter. You’ll just find yourself with a headache after killing a rainforest of trees if you opt for that method.
- iPass Exam: Ah! A much healthier option that won’t leave you with a guilty tree-killing conscious. I absolutely love this program, and recommended it in my first blog post written for WordStream. It still holds true. Their system is the perfect way to practice and pass the AdWords exams. The program gives you practice tests that ask very similar questions to the real exam. I reused the system recently before getting re-certified and noticed several duplicate questions from iPass in the live exam. These practice tests help you determine which areas need a bit more study love before attempting the test. iPass offers some free study guide resources, but their tests, which are most helpful, do cost a small fee. I’d recommend trying out the free trial and then making a case to your boss as the why it’s worth the small investment.
- Do Real Work: This is probably the best piece of advice to pass the exam with flying colors. Unless you’re required to pass this before doing real client or in-house PPC work, then first get some actual AdWords experience under your belt. I guarantee the answers will come much more naturally this way. Even Google recommends on-the-job AdWords experience before attempting the certification tests.
What to Do Once You’ve Passed the Exam
You did it! You passed! Once you’ve recovered from your post-celebration hangover, you might want to start contemplating a way to promote the fact that you are indeed certified. As we discussed above the certification does help instill confidence in potential clients or employers so you should have some strategy to flaunt it.
First off, to access and print the certification, sign into your Google Partners account and select “My profile” under the overview section. Below your profile picture you’ll see the “AdWords Certified” link; click there to access and print your certification.
To get full use of it I recommend doing the following:
- Add the title to the Certifications section of your LinkedIn profile
- Promote on any other social platforms you use for business. For example, if you’re active on Twitter add it to the description below your Twitter profile picture
- Add the certification status to your resume, website, and business cards
Post-Exam: Staying Certified
The AdWords certification is valid for one year. Then you’ll need to renew the AdWords Fundamentals test as well as the second test of choice to maintain your fancy certification status.
AdWords Certification vs. Partner Badge
You may be wondering the difference. Put simply, individuals typically get certified and agencies get badged. To earn a badge as an agency there’s a specific process you must follow after your agency joins the partner program (note that you do not get automatic status by signing up for Google Partners). Learn more here.
There you have it. Whether it’s worth the trouble of getting certified, you decide, but this guide is here to navigate you through the trenches.
About the Author:
Margot is a Content Marketing Specialist at WordStream with a background in PPC, SEM, content and digital marketing. Margot is passionate about writing and is also a regular contributor to Search Engine Journal and socialmediatoday.com. She enjoys running and eating ice cream during her free time (not simultaneous although that would be impressive).