Becoming a Google AdWords-Certified Professional

If you’re a nonprofit, you more than likely have a Google Grant (if not, read up! It’s a great program), and sometimes you may have an additional paid AdWords account. That’s a lot to manage! I’m sure you would love to know ways to more efficiently manage your account and save valuable time and resources.

Well, Google’s here to help. They have an online certification program complete with a Learning Center that will teach you everything you need to know (and a little more) on Google AdWords. The knowledge you’ll gain from this test can help you manage your account more efficiently, expand your account to new advertising platforms, or optimize your current account to increase potential revenue.

Some organizations recruit the help of external agencies to manage their AdWords accounts because they don’t have the resources or knowledge to fully understand Google AdWords. If you’re managing a search marketing agency, I would still recommend becoming a certified professional, because you’ll learn more about AdWords and what you should be expecting from your agency. Knowledge is power!

 The Specifics 

  • There are two exams, each costing $50 to take (so $100 total for the complete certification)
  • Google gives you 2 hours for each exam
  • There are around 113 questions on each exam
  • You need at least an 85% to pass

The Fundamentals Exam

The first exam, the Google Advertising Fundamentals Exam, covers the basics of utilizing Google AdWords, including ad formats, placements and targeting, bidding and budgeting, and tracking performance. Everyone must take the Fundamentals Exam before passing on to choose an Advanced Exam.

When I became certified and took the Fundamentals Exam, I found it pretty straightforward. If you've put in some hours studying the materials and are pretty familiar with AdWords, it isn't incredibly difficult. (But don't let that be an excuse to not study!  If you fail you have to pay the $50 testing fee again). Google gives you two hours to answer about 113 questions, which should give you plenty of time to mark questions for future review and come back to ponder your options.

Choosing Your Advanced Exam

After the fundamentals exam, Google lets you choose between three different, more advanced exams.  

  • Search Advertising Advanced Exam – covers advanced best practices for utilizing Google AdWords, making you truly a pro in this specific area. This is basically a continuation of the Fundamentals Exam, and has the most overlap (good for studying purposes, but less variety in what you learn).
  • Display Advertising Exam – covers advertising on YouTube and the Display Network. Take this exam if your organization is particularly interested in advertising on sites other than Google.com with large banner ads, image ads, and more. (Note: YouTube advertising is not available in every country. If you’re organization plans to advertise in countries where YouTube advertising is not permitted, you may wish to take a different exam.)
  • Reporting and Analysis Advanced Exam - covers best ways to utilize Google Analytics, Website Optimizer, the AdWords Report Center, etc. Take this exam if you’re planning on getting more into the nitty gritty of the analytics.

The Search Advertising Advanced Exam

When I became certified, I chose the Search Advertising Advanced Exam. Compared with the first exam, the advanced exam proved much more challenging! I recommend putting in many hours of reading carefully through the online materials, taking notes, and studying your notes.

If you plan on taking the Search Advertising Advanced Exam instead of one of the other three options, you'll have the benefit of a lot of overlap in the study material, so once you know the fundamentals material it's easier to focus your studying efforts on those few sections that are solely on the advanced exam.

One topic in the Search Advertising Advanced Exam study materials that I found misleading was the AdWords Application Programming Interface material. Even though the section mentions the Google API is mainly for developers, definitely spend time studying it because Google expects everyone to know how the API works and the tools you can use with it.

Taking the Test

When you actually take the test, I recommend taking the two exams on consecutive days. The tests are two hours each, so afterwards your brain will probably be fried (mine was), which is why I recommend getting a good night's sleep in between. Also, if you take the exams on consecutive days you will be able to better retain the content that is on both exams and won't need to re-study much material.

Practical Test-Taking Advice:

I’m not sure how long it’s been since you had to sit down and take a two hour test, but here’s some practical advice on creating your ideal test-taking environment to help ensure you don’t get distracted or need to leave mid-test:

  • Set up your computer in a quiet area.  This is a bit obvious but even voices through a wall could become distracting.
  • Bring scratch paper and a pen, in case you need to do calculations or map out something.
  • It is two hours long!  Remember to use the restroom beforehand.
  • Get yourself a glass water or tissues or whatever you could potentially need.

Theory v. Reality

After the exam, be sure to note that what Google teaches in the Learning Center may not always be the best for your organization. Google likes to highlight new or underused products in the study materials to encourage more people to use them. Just make sure to take everything Google teaches you with a grain of salt, and plan out what will be the best strategy based on your grant money, or the budget in your paid account.

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