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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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Eric Gehler 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!

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