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Got frustrated with the Google Search Advertising Exams? Author Sam Lalonde discusses his experience with the Search Advertising Exam and gives you advice on what to look out for!


I recently re-certified myself under the Search Advertising Exam for AdWords and as usual, I found myself scowling at some of the questions they were asking me.

As an experienced professional, I knew I was not going to have much trouble passing this exam but I did know I was going to have some fundamental disagreements with the way questions are asked and the multiple choices presented to choose the “best answer” from.

There is a difference between the correct answer, and Google’s correct answer

When going into Google’s certification exams, one must keep in mind that they are designed to in some way finalise your training into the Google mindset of campaign management and it is this mindset that is often times flawed and contrary to what skilled AdWords practitioners would deem as “best practice”.

The evening that I completed the exam, I found myself taking the time to critique – in the form of a few tweets – some of the questions being asked of me,

Here’s one such test question example:

Now, I have no idea if I am violating some obtuse policy regarding “sharing answers” but this article is not designed to help people pass the Search test; there are plenty of cheat websites out there in case you need “help”. Rather, the whole point of showing this particular question is to highlight how just how off it is.

A successful AdWords text ad is not necessarily one that “ties the call-to-action to the landing page”, which apparently is the “correct” answer here. In fact in different situations talking “about the advertiser’s reputation” may be the best course of action and in all actuality that might be the call to action in question.

The point that I’m trying to make is that “a successful text ad” is one that gets the highest Click Through Rate at the lowest Cost Per Click with the highest return and with the highest Conversion Rate.

That is the definition of a successful text ad.

To give Google some credence or some credit, I believe this question was designed with Quality Score in mind where Ad Relevance is in part a determinant of an “effective ad” and that’s fine for them (the people at Google) but when reviewing an ad’s performance I look at the bottom line. That is, I ask, is this ad doing the thing I want it to do and is it making me or my client money?

Ad Relevance

As I just said, I believe this question is directly tied to Quality Score and more specifically to Ad Relevance and to a lesser extent landing page experience where these factors are nearly inseparable and I have no problem with that! It is obvious that a text ad is the first step in getting someone to a landing page and the two should work together to provide a continuous and consistent message to ease the path through which the advertiser wants the person to take whatever action it is that they desire.

However, the issue that I’m raising here is that often times, what Google and the AdWords system may deem as an “unsuccessful” ad is what I view (based on my data) a successful advertisement and this inevitably gets us into the issue of how best we should be optimizing our ads in AdWords.

Ad Rotation & Testing

Google tells me all the time that I should be setting my ad rotation to be optimizing for clicks or for conversions but what tends to happen is that the system serves up ads that prefer one ad over many in an ad group making it nearly impossible to find statistical significance between multiple ads in an ad group based on my above-defined criteria of what makes an ad successful.

As such, I choose to run my ad rotations “evenly and indefinitely” because I need to understand how well an ad does at getting me the things I want at the lowest cost.

When you finally identify the ad that’s dominating conversion rates at awesome CPAs but has terrible Ad Relevance Scores or click through rates that are in dire need of improvement, you then iterate off that high performing ad based on Conversion Rates & CPAs. Over time you’ll find your ads that fit Google’s mould of “success” but where it’s mutually based on your own criteria.

4 Key Selling Points

Quickly returning back to the option in the test question: “mentions at least 4 key selling points”.

It’s my understanding that this is the “wrong answer” for this test question but I completely disagree. The point of having Callout Extensions, Sitelink Extensions or even Promotion Extensions is to do this exact thing! Companies have multitudes of key selling points and by taking advantage of Ad Extensions, you’re making an even more effective ad. This is yet another example of why this a poor question.


End of Diatribe

At the end of the day, successful ads are ones that get you the things you want, that meet your performance goals and – under ideal circumstances – beat those goals.

AdWords provides us with well-segmented data on Expected Clickthrough Rates, Landing Page Experience, and Ad Relevance and we should always be using these indicators to guide us into lowering our cost of acquiring new leads or sales but first we must always look at what works regardless of these “indicators of success” from a company that has no fiduciary responsibility to be saving you, the advertiser (their customer), money.

These “quality” factors are straightforwardly managed but I recommend you always focus on your bottom line first and not on Google’s definition of “what works”. After all, “what works” is what works for them.

It’s a fine balance and an interesting game we play and I hope this article in some odd way helps.


Disclaimer: This article was prepared or accomplished by Sam Lalonde in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the author’s employers or affiliates (past or present).

Sam Lalonde
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Sam Lalonde

Senior Campaign Manager and Strategist at Bloom Search Marketing
Sam is a Senior Campaign Manager and Strategist @ Bloom Search Marketing.

He has managed campaigns in some of the most competitive spaces on the internet, is a trusted advisor to his clients and loves pushing the SEM platforms to their breaking point.
Sam Lalonde
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