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Google to Certify SEM Pros

Google will begin certifying search marketers as “Google Advertising Professionals” if they pass the search giant's entrance exam, the company said yesterday.

The program, similar to those run by Microsoft and Cisco for developers and engineers, requires search marketers to pass an online aptitude test to prove their knowledge of Google advertising policies and product details. The test, which includes about 100 questions, costs $50. The passing grade is 75 percent.

Along with passing the exam, marketers must handle at least $1,000 in AdWords spending over a 90-day period to qualify for certification. Google Advertising Professionals receive a logo to display on their Web sites and marketing materials. They also get access to My Client Center, a centralized “master account” for managing different client accounts.

“It is part of the evolution of Google recognizing that third parties have a big role to play in reaching advertisers and potential advertisers,” said Sukhinder Singh, Google's general manager of third-party sales.

Both Google and Overture Services have moved to formalize relationships with search marketers and other third parties. Overture's 3-year-old Ambassador program last month opened its third-party reseller program to ad agencies. Overture Ambassadors are certified to sell Overture ad products and gain access to more customer support. They also get access to Overture sales, training and account management tools.

The certification program comes two weeks after Google inked a deal with BellSouth to sell AdWords through its 2,000-person sales force, marking the first time Google authorized a third party as a reseller. Google Advertising Professionals will not be certified as resellers.

“This is really the first step in evolving this program,” Singh said. “We see the scope of the program [growing], depending on its success.”

Singh said developing a healthy search marketing “ecosystem” is a priority for Google, complementing its online self-service used for many customers and direct sales efforts for large clients. The influence of such intermediaries is likely to grow as Google reaches out to small businesses for its new local search platform.

“I think the third-party channel is something we're investing in, in recognition that there are a lot of advertisers we cannot reach today,” said Singh, who is also general manager of Google Local.

To prepare test takers, Google set up an online test-preparation center with multimedia lessons on topics such as Google's trademark policy and campaign optimization techniques. Testers can take the exam up to twice monthly, paying the $50 fee each time. The exam is available in English. Certification lasts a year, after which Google Advertising Professionals will be required to take a new test that would include Google product developments and policy changes.

Google said the certification program is open to any individual in compliance with the company's advertiser rules. Unlike Overture's Ambassador program, Google is certifying individuals, not entire organizations, though a company can display the “Google Advertising Professionals” logo if it specifies the number of employees who have qualified.

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