Behind the Scenes at the Great Google Getaway of 2019

February 7, 2019

What a week it was! Nearly six months have passed since we first fired up our Great Google Getaway contest. A refresher—here’s what we wrote about it then:

Imagine, if you will, spending an entire day on Google’s campus with unfettered access to their product and marketing experts… Now, imagine getting that kind of exclusive access for FREE. No conference fees, no hotel fees, no sirloin steak fees—not even air fare. Your only responsibility? Improving your Google Ads account—which, you guessed it, is also going to save you money. Some might call that the dream. We call it the Great Google Getaway.

Six months later, Senior Manager of Engagement Marketing Chris McHale and I joined our three lucky winners in Mountain View for a week of slick presentations, vintage wine tasting, all around good-time-having, and a ribeye that was far too big for one person. Here’s a wrap up of the trip.

Great Google Getaway

The fellas. And our travel coordinator, Sammy (far right).

The Winners

But first—let’s devote a little time to talking about the wonderful personalities on this trip.

The winners were selected from a pool of contestants who ran our Google Google Ads Performance Grader from July 16 to September 15 of 2018. The contestants were to use the insights gleaned from their first reports to improve their accounts within 30 days. At the 30-day mark, we automatically ran the numbers again. Of the hundreds of people who entered, we chose the five who made the biggest improvements to their accounts in that 30-day time frame. Unfortunately, two of the winners dropped out due to conflicts; the remaining three joined the WordStream team in California to reap the spoils of their victory. 

Great Google Getaway Golden Gate

Champagne at 9am! From left to right: Brian Hackney, me, Dug Stevenson, Chris McHale, Samantha Clifford, Maggie Kuckie, and Jim Kuckie.

Brian Hackney, Hackney Brothers Concrete Cutting LLC

Brian hails via Austin, Texas, where he owns and operates Hackney Brothers Concrete Cutting Company. He’s been using Google Ads for about 10 months, and he says his biggest challenge has been optimizing his ad dollars. Had he known about companies like Wordstream earlier in his advertising efforts, he says, he could have easily saved thousands up-front:

“The Grader provided recommendations that, in my opinion, offered real value for maximizing brand exposure; however, most of my clients conduct their transactions via email or in-person. Nonetheless, I can see the need for these services growing as the construction industry takes further advantage of the time and cost-saving technologies available via most web platforms, particularly in the areas of bidding, billing, and customer relations.”

Brian’s business has achieved some incredible milestones this year, including doubling his operational fleet and adding a full-spectrum concrete pouring service for his clients. The name of the game at this point, he says, is to continue his company’s upward trajectory by further building out his operations fleet and actively seeking out ways to minimize his day-to-day expenses.

Jim Kuckie, Spa Remedy

Jim runs Spa Remedy out of the Chicago area with his wife, Maggie, who joined us toward the end of the trip. Jim has been using Google ads for about 3 years, and his biggest challenge is managing the time to invest in learning new features. WordStream’s Performance Grader helped Jim focus on adding the right keywords, adding the right negative keywords, tweaking his bid strategies, implementing more landing pages, and focusing on conversions (not just clicks). 

In the coming months, Jim is excited about opening a newer, bigger Spa Remedy location, hiring more people, launching an exclusive brand of CBD products, and growing his team of professionals nationally. He is proud to say that Spa Remedy was recently voted "Best Day Spa" by Yes! Magazine, and he also owns and operates Ship Audit Pros, a software solution that helps shippers everywhere hedge against overpaying their carriers. Quite the entrepreneur!

Dug Stevenson, Bay of Quinte

Dug was our international representative for the week, bringing his bright personality and trademark north-of-the-border cheer. Dug works on the Regional Marketing Board at the Bay of Quinte, which is located on the northern shore of Lake Ontario and booms in the summer with tourism. Dug’s organization is new to Google Ads, so their biggest challenges have been envisioning their goals, setting their own strategy, learning as much as possible, and managing workflow. One solution to the workflow conundrum has been partnering with agencies:

“As a destination marketing organization, we work across many projects. When we can create a strategy for something like this in tandem with an agency and have them handle the admin side, it frees us up to keep the train running on our other streams.”

As a non-profit, Dug’s organization is a big fan of the additional resources they receive from the Google Ad Grants Program. He notes that the Google Ads Performance Grader allowed him to drill down his keyword strategy to a layer of granularity he previously couldn’t achieve, and that’s one of the main ways he was able to improve his account.

Tuesday, Jan. 14

Now, let’s get to the trip itself!

Most of us landed in San Francisco on Monday and checked into Hotel Nikko. Tuesday morning consisted of an hour or so drive in a party bus (okay, not really, but we made it a party) to Google in Mountain View. There, we got a tour of the expansive campus and ate lunch in the cafeteria. The food in the cafeteria was very free, and very delicious.

Great Google Getaway Googler

A Googler basks in a moment of solitude with his burrito. It was burrito day.

Great Google Getaway Dug

Dug channels his inner Jeff Goldblum.

After the tour, we sat down in some swanky conference rooms for several hours of presentations. On the docket: YouTube optimization, Google My Business, and local service ads, all of which were particularly pertinent to this crowd of small business owners. 

Great Google Getaway YouTube

Talking YouTube.

In terms of relevance and opportunity, the presentation on local service ads took the cake. The winners, all of whom run Google Ads, but none of whom had tried local service ads, all walked away seriously impressed with the format. Local service ads not only give local advertisers the ability to occupy more real estate in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), but display information like reviews, hours, and a business phone number. You know, all the stuff that’s absolutely critical to know before deciding whether or not to buy a local service.

Great Google Getaway LSA

That evening, we all convened at Wayfare Tavern in downtown San Francisco for beer, grass-fed beef, and general tomfoolery. One WordStreamer was even talked out of ordering a 32 Oz. ribeye special because it was “too much for one person.” He still maintains he could have finished it – and has every intention of returning to do so.  

Wednesday, Jan. 15

Presentations in the rearview, the crew awoke on Wednesday ready to have some fun. We hopped back in the party bus and made the hilly trek to the Golden Gate Bridge for the token tourist shot. Our driver, who knew more about Napa Valley and the San Francisco area than any human being should, even popped some bubbly for the occasion.

Great Google Getaway Golden Gate 2

After a tour through the seriously beautiful Sausalito, we made our way up 101 toward Napa for a day-long wine tour. We took on 3 wineries, some spectacular views, some even better tasting menus, a smorsgasbord of olive oil, and a server who was adamant that the tasting menu should be enjoyed before the smorsgasbord of olive oil, and not the other way around. Fresh pallet and such.

Thursday, Jan. 15

After check-out and breakfast, it was time to say farewell. The WordStream crew would like to send a sincere thank you to the lucky winners who joined us for a few packed days of learning and exploring. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to run the Great Google Getaway Contest, and while it was great giving the winners an intimate experience with Google’s marketing experts, we hope and believe that our Google Ads Performance Grader was able to provide all the contestants that entered the kind of insights that allowed them to make improvements to their account, and ultimately make advertising online a less cumbersome and expensive experience. 

Farewell for now, and be on the lookout for our next contest! If you’re interested in cutting down on ad spend and becoming a more efficient advertiser, don’t hesitate to check out our Google Ads Performance Grader. You’ll get a first-hand look at the tool that helped this year’s winners make some seriously drastic improvements to their accounts.

Gordon Donnelly

Gordon Donnelly is a college hockey washout turned SEO & content marketer. He's a sucker for fly fishing, mudslides, and Jim Morrison.

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