The Problem with Google: The Squeezed Middle (Account Manager)

Troubleshooting the Phone System by Solarbotics -

<tl;dr> Google Adwords is a fantastic tool for the S of the SMEs and the giants of paid search advertising, but medium-sized companies are increasingly squeezed of precious access to account management and inside info. </tl;dr>

I can only vaguely remember a world without Google. Being in my late thirties, my career and I grew up in an age where everything digital was evolving. I saw and took part in the birth of social media and I incubated, in my own way, the launch (and occasional failure) of early ‘dotcoms’.

The happy, early days of Adwords

Although I remember a time when we focussed all our energy on website design and almost none on search visibility, those projects are now recalled only with shame. To be a successful digital marketeer in 2015 requires deep integration into the Google ecosystem, reacting to organic search algorithms, display & video ad theories and of course, the behemoth that is Google AdWords.

I remember the day in 2012 when it was reported that Google was earning £100 million a day through AdWords. It was an exciting time when any company I worked with, be they a small charity or a global brand could reliably, measurably and fairly affordably purchase a stream of near-conversion-point traffic.

It was largely a self-help format, even when AdWords agencies were becoming giant companies and thousands of people in every city claimed to have the certificates. We all did the same thing, some more efficiently than others. The options were the same: whether spending your first £10 or a brand whose budget was starting to shift from broadcast to web.

Today, Google is very different

Where once most of the available support was user driven (forums official and unofficial), new customers are now offered multiple touchpoints to kickstart a human conversation with Google. Telephone, email and live-chat helplines exist to hand-hold your first steps within the world’s largest ever commercial auction.

Most brand names also quickly acquire an Account Manager, the larger of them (£m+ spend in my experience) talking to Industry Managers with particular sector knowledge. Importantly, prized insight into the keywords that help with the battle for first place in the ad rankings, fought over by a handful of advertisers, competing for available clicks.

I always thought this was a natural step. Where brand owners were used to dealing with the very human world of television or print advertising, Google too would need to offer some physical hugs as we moved as a group into a virtual game.

Google's 'middle' problem

A small company, say a startup or local store, can easily gain the sort of low level but interesting traffic [from Adwords] that makes a 10% or 20% difference to their annual turnover They use automated bidding tools and spend in the very low £thousands to get traffic that would have been hard to reach before AdWords existed.

At the top end too, High Street brands and famous dotcoms can work directly with a team at Google to optimise their AdWords account, earning a few pence more from each click. They do this using complex bidding tools, building a history of Quality Score, all of which puts them in a position to steer the majority of Google searches to the point of transaction.

The problem occurs when you’re not small and not large. SME businesses or challenger brands fight for the same keywords as the giants, without the personalised assistance that Account Managers, Industry Managers and the like can provide (free of charge).

Often they are bidding on auctions in which Google’s own experts, in my opinion, can swing the win simply by providing more active and timely support for the larger brand.

I’ve chatted to clients, some very recently, who have found that despite having a multi-year / £bigish relationship with Google Inc, their calls for support now take weeks not days to be resolved as bigger brands step into their auctions.

In cases I've known, Google has told companies who cannot spend as highly as their bigger competitors that they no longer have an Account Manager on call, even if they've had one for three or four years before.

The 0800 number gateway to vagueness

Even those clients who are used to plenty of personalised support now report being asked (politely and opaquely) to call an 0800 number for help, the same that any starter would use, going forward until their spends are much higher. And believe me, that 0800 number is a gateway to vagueness.

This is a new world. It’s not the world I grew up in where Google (and search in general) offered everyone, big or small, the same chance to succeed online.

So who do you turn to if your calls aren't returned and you want to throw those virtual toys out of the Google pram? You can't switch to Microsoft, the traffic levels on Bing simply wouldn’t support spending more than a few thousand a month for most of my clients.

There is no option to invest it all in Facebook or Twitter - yes you can entertain there, yes you can build brands there, but like any good party, few people are shopping. You can only struggle on with Google and unless you're better than they are at using their tools, you don't have the advantage.

Of course, this is why people pay me or people like me. I can, through years of experience, achieve things with AdWords that you’ll have difficulty doing yourselves. But I can't always win, unless I'm hired for the long-term and can negotiate an Account Manager to stay with you when I depart. And to be honest, how fair is it that you need me at all, if you’re already spending the money, why should it be you not Google who pays to have have issues resolved quickly by pros?

For years I loved Google but now I mutter the name with much lower regard. I really am considering my options and frequently, openly discussing my opinions of the limitations of AdWords with all of my clients. I work in a world where amazing things can come from the effors of the smallest of companies. I push and strive for success from very small seeds.

My interests are deep within the machinery and theories that push start-ups to be big-ones and mini-stores to be megastores. I stand by my clients through the thick and the thin, the times for spending and the times to hold back. And I just don't think Google feels the same way [he says glancing over to his second screen where a chat agent is yet to reply].

Customer support: try all channels, simultaneously

You know the exact moment when I knew it was broken? The moment I thought "no, this company is not on their side"... it was when an Account Manager at "Google UK & Ireland" told me the best way for a client to get a solution to a crippling issue with AdWords* might be to start a live-chat, a call and an email complaint all at the same time so that one of them might get a suitable response.

Something you'd have thought, an Account Manager might have done for the client, rather than admit.

*Seriously, in the recently emailed words of a Google rep “Based on the type of action you took i.e. emailed/called/chatted and the time it takes place, it varies on who will handle the issue so I would recommend trying them all".

Photo (cc) Solarbotics on Flickr.