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Who Owns Your Google AdWords Account?

Posted by Steve Cameron
Steve Cameron
Steve Cameron is the Director Owner of Advent Communication. With more than 25 years experience he has a deep...
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on Thursday, 14 May 2015 in Google

adwords account ownershipThere was a short debate on one of the forums I regularly visit this morning where several AdWords consultants and agencies were discussing client's "interference" in accounts.

One contributor suggestedf that clients should be given "read only" access to the AdWords interface. Another, that they should only be given a monthly report, and that no access be given to the AdWords account itself at all.

I was, not to put too fine a point on things, stunned. Actually, double stunned.

Firstly, as an agency ourselves, we never open Google Adwords accounts in our own name. It is always the client's account, in the client's name - more of this later. But expecting a client to allow us to manage an online advertising campaign without them having access reeks of secrecy and, frankly, deception.

The second reason for being stunned is that the clients themselves appear to be OK with this.

Like any business relationship - actually, any relationship - things are all flowers and sunshine at the start. Clients are excited at the prospect of trying a new marketing avenue - one which holds such promise. And the agency is excited at the prospect of helping a new client realise their growth potential. But as we all know, the reality is that relationships, like BFF's, are not always, well, forever.

So who brings up the question of what happens when we break up? Do we need a pre-nup?

Of course, I am writing within a context (Spain) where a contract between agency and client actually means very little and no-one is ever likely to waste their time (a lot of time) and money (a lot of money) to try and enforce a contract through the courts. Frankly, why would you?

There has to be an element of trust in the relationship. The client has to allow the agency to make decisions, often significant decisions, about budget allocation and spend; at the same time the agency has to be working towards the client's stated objectives with clarity and commitment. But trust is not the same as control. 

If you are thinking of using an agency to manage your AdWords account I would strongly recommend that you own the account and that the agency is given admin access. Here's why:

1. If you don't own your account you don't own the history or the traffic. You might think that it doesn't matter if you lose the account, you can just set up a new one. Well, you can... but you lose all the historical data, and, if your agency have been doing a good job, you will have an account rank and keyword Quailty Scores which might take some time to build on a new account. You will also not have access to all the historical data which can help determine which are the keywords/ads/bids that work best for your market. Climbing that particular learning curve again will involve spending money all over again to find out what doesn't work.

2. If your agency suddenly disappears, closes down, changes hands or simply decides they don't like you anymore, you might not be able to get access to the account. On the AdWords forums it is surprisingly common for advertisers to come and ask what they can do if the agency they were working with refuses to hand over control of their account. And the answer, unfortunately, is very little.

3. If you control the account, you are the one who gets to revoke access to the agency - not the other way around. Think about that for a moment.... this is your ad campaign and you're paying for it. Through the agency, of course, but the money that's going to Google comes out of your pocket. It should be yours. Simple.

4. If you want to have a third party audit your account you can grant whomever you want access to the account. Read only, if you prefer. Good luck getting your agency to give access to one of their competitors to run an audit if they control the account. They will come up with a long list of reasons why that cannot be done.

5. If your account is one of several the agency own, and they have a payment issue with another of their clients, their entire account could be at risk. Your domain could be permanently suspended by Google and depending upon the mood of the Google rep the day you try and reclaim it, you may never be able to advertise on Google again. Ever.

But perhaps the most important reason you should control your account is because your online activity is important. Too important to relinquish control to anyone outside of your organisation. Over the years I have seen companies - often large companies run by smart people - who don't own any of their online properties. They don't own their domain names. They don't own the hosting where their website resides. They don't own AdWords accounts, Analytics accounts, facebook profiles, twitter accounts and so on. At the time they just let their agency deal with it. That's what they're there for, right? Well yes. But you are willing walking into what could turn into a hostage situation in the future. I have seen cases where a terminated agency has presented a massive invoice to clients for access to their own domain.

There are a number of reasons why an agency would insist upon controlling your AdWords account. None of them are good reasons. And having an agency refuse you access to your own account should be a mssive red flag.

As online reputation becomes increasingly important in the new era of semantic search, so the digital spaces you occupy become ever more intertwined and interdependent. Lose control of one or more of them and you risk jeopardising your online future.

So who controls your online presence? Use the comments below for feedback.

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Steve Cameron Friday, 15 May 2015

Excellent post Steve,

When we create a new account for advertisers, (if they don't have one) we start out by creating them a Gmail account. They own that gmail account and we sync all the necessary properties to that gmail account and create the AdWords account under that Gmail address. This allows us to efficiently manage the account with all the syncing issues and give complete ownership to the Client. The client also has admin rights under there own email address, and we use MCC access to attach that Adwords account. At the end of the day the client owns everything and it works efficiently to address any issues with the joint gmail access account.

Another red flag I see a a lot is when Agencies want to start a new Client ID Adwords account instead of taking over the management of an existing account. On rare rare occasions, creating a new account and dumping the current account might be necessary, but those instances are extremely rare.

Great Article and Yes The client always owns the Adwords account. No questions asked.

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Steve Cameron Friday, 15 May 2015

Thanks, Eric.

There does seem to be a whole range of approaches. I would dearly love for someone to write a comment about how the agency controlling the account is the "right" way to do things - I have tried to think of the advantages and possible justifications, but I come up blank.

I do recognise the issues around those clients who cannot resist making a "little tweak" here and there - just to help, of course - but having access to the change history and having a separate MCC login can usually help identify this, and a chat with the client about why we struggle to track (read: understand) these changes usually helps!

Guest Friday, 21 April 2017

I'd say it all depends on the contract details and the remuneration model. I used to work for an agency that offered a profit share model. The agency paid the ad spend and when the spend exceeded the profit, the agency had a negative earning. There was no long cancellation period, the client could just cancel to the end of the month.

In the first months of the partnership, ad spend and personnel expenses for setup always exceeded the profit share that the client had to pay. If the client had owned the AdWords account, he could just have let us do all the work for the setup, pay us nothing (or almost nothing) and leave with the account after a couple of months. So of course, it was part of the contract, that the agency owned the account. (But the client had access to a in-depth reporting, sometimes even read access to the account.)

What I want to say with this example: You're wrong to generally state, that the client should own the account. The remuneration model I just talked about is the fairest I have ever seen (for the client!) - and it wouldn't have been possible if the client owned the account.

Steve Cameron Monday, 24 April 2017

Interesting comments... but I do have a couple of follow up comments of my own.

Firstly - I'm not suggesting that there is anything sinister in terms of account ownership - but I do question the "black box" approach that many agencies take - i.e. you give us money over here and we show you results over there... but we will not show you any of the process.

But perhaps more importantly is the core question of who owns your digital assets. If I win the lottery tomorrow, my clients will have a hard time finding me to tweak their campaigns. That's not to say I wouldn't try to organise a smooth transition - but it probably wouldn't be my priority :D

I'm curious also about the profit sharing model... who determines the profits? Or is this based on some kind of price per lead? Or price per conversion? What about the attribution models? Do you get the profit from a view through conversion - or only last click?

I general, I feel that agencies step way beyond their remit when they start encroaching on the client's business activity... for example, if the agency is going to share the profits from their activity, do they get to sit in o n the selection, training and assessment of sales staff? If it is a pure ecommerce site, things would be easier - but even there, who is responsible for ensuring that all products are in stock? If I generate a visit to the site from someone who wants to purchase, but they can't because the item is OOS, do I still get paid?

In my experience - and I confess, it is limited - transparency is preferable to black box, and remuneration for the work done should be paid independently of the final results. I appreciate that this latter part of the comment is open to misunderstanding... I do not mean that an agency should get paid for crappy campaigns - but that if the campaigns are doing their job - i.e. targeting interested prospects who visit the website - then they should be paid for doing that. If the client is then unable to sell the visitor his product or service, then he needs to improve said product or service.

A quality product backed up by exceptional service might help a poor ad campaign to perform well, but no ad campaign is ever going to be able to carry a poor product or service.

Each to their own. Ad agencies run the ads, clients run their business. and each should be paid for how well they do what they do.

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Guest Friday, 06 December 2019