What “Being Partnered With Google” Actually Means

I’ve noticed lately that a lot of marketing agencies – especially ones targeting their services towards smaller businesses – proudly tout that they’re “partnered with Google.” If you’re a small business or intimidated by the process of getting to the top of Google (which is a lot harder than it sounds, but I already covered that) it probably sounds mesmerizing. There’s an allure and a boldness to saying that your business is partnered with Google.

In a lot of cases it sounds like a no-brainer. You’d have to be a complete idiot to turn down the opportunity to work with an agency so well-connected that it’s partnered with Google itself, the gold medal podium of search engines!

Except these agencies are not literally partnered with Google as an entity. Agencies, you know you’re misleading your audiences with this language, but I’ll get to you later.

What does being “partnered” with Google actually mean?

The Google Partner Program, as it’s actually known, is defined by Google itself as a marketing program for advertising agencies or third-parties that manage Google Ads accounts on behalf of other brands or businesses.

That’s basically it. Being “partnered” with Google in this manner doesn’t give any particular agency or freelancer any kind of special relationship with Google when it comes to increasing clients’ organic search engine rankings nor does it confer any kind of special rankings to Google Local. Instead, the Google Partner Program is based through the Google Ads platform.

It’s also hardly an exclusive insiders club (Premier Partner is another story). The requirements for becoming part of the Google Partner Program are actually pretty straightforward. You need to have a minimum optimization score of 70%, you need to have a $10,000-plus ad spend across 90 days on accounts, and agency reps need to get certified in Google Ads across multiple areas, such as Search, Display, or Video ads.

So while Google doesn’t maintain a current list of Google Partners, it’s fairly routine for marketing agencies to get partnered and not a particularly extensive or difficult process for most agencies with seasoned talent. It shows that they’re taking ad campaigns seriously and are experienced with reasonably expensive ad buys, not to mention they have enough people on staff to get certified.

The Misleading Language

The problem is linguistics. Most ethical agencies will list the Google Partner badge on their website with an explanation of what it means or explicitly identify themselves as part of the Google Partner Program. Marketing companies with less scruples will proudly announce that they’re “partnered with Google” without any kind of context or background. No, you don’t say that you are literally partnered with Google as an institution but you know what that implies.

It’s a marketing gimmick that I’ve seen pop up among agencies in the last 2-3 years especially and it’s pretty easy to imagine why. Agencies wooing small or hyperlocal-level businesses generally understand that most of their clients don’t have enough experience to understand that you’re talking about a Google Partner Program. Even a lot of larger companies have plenty of people outside of marketing that don’t know what the Google Partner Program even is, other than the fact that it sounds vaguely sexy.

As a result, referring to being “partnered with Google” is often a buy in for a lot of agencies that target smaller businesses who are usually more interested in organic search engine optimization. They’re almost never going to have the kind of budget needed for a long or even short-term Adwords campaign, so referring to yourself as being partnered with Google whispers unspoken promises about the agency’s ability to rank you higher on Google. Especially because a lot of “search engine optimization” from local agencies is mostly an add-on service and not their area of focus.

The Upshot

The ironic part about this is that unless you’re actively seeking a heavy investment in Google ads, plenty of people have written about the diminishing returns associated with the Google Partner Program. While I haven’t needed to be part of the Google Partner Program myself (you’ll notice I’m using specific verbiage here), Store Growers shares a sentiment that I’m noticing: Google doesn’t seem to care much about it any more.

Support for the Google Partner Program has been outsourced entirely, for one, which diminishes even the “prestigious” nature of being able to call yourself a Google Partner in the first place. Plus it’s an ominous sign whenever Google decides to start scaling back support for a program or service it once invested heavily in.

It gets even better. Google’s own website seems to infer that there are very little unique benefits or support that Google Partners get. Regular members can get the same product trainings, sales trainings, and even phone, chat and E-mail support. Why wouldn’t they? The money of non-Partners is just as green as that of regular partners.

So in short, the Google Partner Program has very little relevance for hyperlocal merchants unless they’re invested in a long-term, expensive ads campaign (which I’d probably dissuade anyway for various reasons). It’s especially important to not fall for unscrupulous, misleading advertising.

If you’re a marketing agency that does this, ask yourself if you’re concerned about just appearing prestigious or if you’re actually putting your client first. The latter is where real success comes from.