When was the last time someone told you they were a good driver? Perhaps it was during an attempt to borrow your car for a weekend excursion, or boast their prowess in parallel parking. Do you recall how they backed up their claim? I’d be willing to guarantee they didn’t immediately pull out their wallet to show you their driver’s license. Why? Because that shiny piece of plastic holds little bearing on their actual capability to drive a car. You’re familiar with this conclusion if you have ever witnessed the exodus of a high school parking lot at 3:00 pm, driven on the 95 into New York City, or tried to merge anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania.
The same applies on the streets of Search. If you work in PPC or are looking for a consultant/agency, you might have noticed that an AdWords Certification is not a differentiator of any kind from other marketers in the industry. Passing the Google AdWords exam is a minimum indicator of competency designed simply to show that the recipient should likely know how to navigate the AdWords interface.
Here are four reasons why the Google AdWords exam isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When reviewing a candidate to manage your account or considering AdWords certification for yourself, keep these characteristics of the test in mind.
You’ll Know Only Enough To Be Dangerous
In the world of motorcycles there’s an acronym for inspecting your bike before each ride: T-CLOCS. It stands for Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis, and Stands. It serves as a checklist and guide for knowing the condition of the bike, and ensuring all the parts are correctly in place. However, there is one glaringly obvious lesson missing from this information. It doesn’t teach you how to ride.
The Google AdWords exam lacks the same value. By intent, it is not a course designed to create a highly skilled user, though it is often touted as such. In contrast, it is simply a basic overview of the system and its general application. It introduces you to the different parts of an account and provides a definition for each, yet doesn’t cover the finer points of when to turn the throttle or when (and when not) to pump the brakes. It’s purely defining the basics.
Take the example of a question below on Ad Rotation... [Note: We were asked to remove paraphrases of questions and obscure screenshots from the AdWords exam.]
The AdWords Exam Is Purposefully General
The next time someone promotes their Google Certification as the end all of qualifications to manage an AdWords account, remember that out of 180 or so questions, this one was included:
Don’t get me wrong, that’s most definitely correct, yet this is something every freshman knows going into Marketing 101. While good knowledge to have, you can see it’s not specifically directed towards the strategy of PPC advertising or honing your skill set in that medium. The Advanced Search portion , should you choose it over the Display Test , provides a bit more direction in strategy. However, it primarily focuses on when to increase budget and how to improve relevance. It flirts with valuable information to optimize your account, but does a better job of providing definitions.
The AdWords Exam Is Self-Serving
I really like when people are confident talking about themselves. It shows they believe in the value they offer, and there’s usually a long list of proven examples that have cultivated that confidence.
That being said, I could do without being tested on it. Anyone making it to the point of taking the Google AdWords exam should already know the benefit it can provide to their business. Being reminded why using AdWords is such a great decision 30 questions into the test just seems a bit too self-flattering.
The Google AdWords Exam Doesn’t Cover Potential Hazards
On my first motorcycle ride I made the critical mistake of running out of gas. This was partially due to the fact that my tank didn’t have a fuel gauge, an instrument that provides a very important metric. While the issue was fixable, it took valuable time and some unnecessary expense.
Learning curves exist in PPC as well, and, unfortunately for some, they can be costly. Working across hundreds of clients, I’ve personally seen the same common mistakes repeated across many accounts. Most come in the form of the application, or lack of, keyword match types  and unfavorable campaign settings or targeting. While each client knows the definition of most of these terms, they don’t understand the correct application of each. Therein lies the problem.
Take Automatic Bidding for example. The question below makes Automatic Bidding sound like the obvious ideal choice for those looking to run their account with little management. Yet, it doesn’t highlight how you’ll lose the opportunity to adjust your bids for position, impression share , or for your target CPA. These distinctions are lost in such a pretty question, and might lead in an unfavorable direction depending on your goals.
You Can Cheat
Have you ever been required to complete a “take home” test in high school? Depending on the course, I bet you breathed the same sigh of relief I used to. The reason the pressure would melt away is because with the use of your book or online resources you were guaranteed to ace the test. Now, even though that might have been the case, how confident do you feel about that content today? For most, I wouldn’t be surprised if that information left their memory shortly after copying down the answer.
In the same vein, the Google AdWords exam is quite literally a “take home” test. Even as recent as last year, you weren’t able to open any additional tabs in your browser during the test. That’s not the case anymore, as you can search the Google Support pages for the correct answer to your heart’s content (as long as that’s within 120 minutes). Good news is you can easily achieve a passing grade; bad news is so can any self-proclaimed expert.
Keep in mind, if you choose to take the Display Test over the Advanced Search portion, you only need a 70% to “pass” and be officially certified. When was the last time you happily handed over your marketing operation to someone who was certifiably average? I suppose it was around the last time you loaned your car to Dean Winters .
Now tell me: Am I wrong? Do you use AdWords certification as the core qualification of who you solicit PPC advice from? Or do you have a nightmare example of less than satisfactory results with a certified manager? Would love to hear the stories in the comments!