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5 (+2) ways smart nonprofits make the most of their Google Ad Grant money

Considering there’s some 1.5 million registered charities in the United States, it continues to surprise us that only 20,000 charities worldwide are taking advantage of the Google Ad Grant program.

But then again, it doesn’t.

While this program, which provides up to $10,000 a month in free search advertising to qualifying nonprofits, is an incredibly powerful engine for driving traffic to your website and possibly capitalizing on key conversions — think newsletter sign-ups, membership sales, donations — Google’s rules to play can be intimidating even for the most internet-savvy of charities.

PartnersCreative manages Google Ad Grant search engine marketing accounts for a number of local, regional nonprofits and has learned much about how to successfully navigate Google’s labyrinth of requirements. Most of the internet giant’s rules, including a batch released in the past year, are actually designed to refine the audience reached through this in-kind advertising to only those who care most about your cause.

It’s a good thing, in short. But it does mean you need to stay on your game to make the most of the offering — and to avoid getting shut down.

Here are five factors to keep in mind for greater success in the Google Ad Grant arena (plus two more if you keep going):

1. Keywords are king

Keywords, of course, are those words you use when you “Google” a topic. Under its latest policy Google Ad Grants sets out some specific requirements, including that your keywords have a minimum quality score of 3 on a 1-10 scale. The formula used for calculating this score includes examining the relevance of your ads and your landing pages to your keywords, while also considering expected click-through rates.

Before the new rules went into effect, it wasn’t uncommon for organizations to use very general keywords, some even containing only a single word, with their goal to pull in as many clicks to their sites as possible. With a maximum budget of $329 a day and a maximum cost per click limited to $2, daily budgets can only be expended in a significant way with the help of a large number of clicks.

Now, with the requirement to be more descriptive, organizations need to be more thoughtful in their keyword selections. Single keywords are off-limits unless your name is one word (and even these can run the risk of receiving an automated red flag from Google). Also off-limits are any that are overly generic that would result in a low quality score; think “Men’s shoes,” Cat toys,” etc.

This can make it more difficult to spend all your grant money, but will likely lead to more “quality” clicks over “quantity” clicks.

When helping our client The Nature Conservancy improve its existing keywords for its Don’t Move Firewood program, we looked for words more specific to actual campaigns. For example, we changed keyword “Firewood,” which previously did well for driving clicks, to “Firewood Near Me.” This simple change led to an improved quality score and avoided noncompliance for being a single-word keyword. More importantly, the more specific keyword relates directly to The Nature Conservancy’s mission of promoting responsible firewood practices, triggering a search ad that leads to the “Firewood Finder” on the Don’t Move Firewood website.

In general: Don’t be general with your keywords. Be as specific in your keyword selections as possible. Ask yourself, what combinations of words best match or connect what my target audience is Googling to both my ad copy and landing page?

2. About that $2 a click …

As part of the 2018 change, Google lifted its hard-and-fast $2-a-click bid limit to up to $5 a click, allowing you to compete for more in-demand keywords — BUT with caveats: The only way to bid more than $2 a click is to use one of Google Ad Grants’ automated bidding strategies, “Maximize Conversions.” Setup includes connecting Google Analytics to the relevant Google Ads account (and enabling autotagging) for thorough campaign tracking, and then identifying in these platforms important conversions that you want to track, such as whether or not someone clicks the “Donate” button on your landing page. Once your campaign shows a consistent number of conversions each month, the campaign will be eligible to begin using the “Maximize Conversions” bidding strategy.

However, there’s another caveat: as an automated bidding strategy, Google Ads will decide in each “auction” what your max bid can be, and it’s not always between $2 and $5. The bid is set based in part on quality score and also on expected likelihood of a conversion resulting from a click on your ad.

This means that it is possible that if Google Ads deems the likelihood of a conversion to be low, the bid on your keyword could be also set low — even below the $2 max cost-per-click that you would have had by sticking with the usual “Manual CPC” bidding strategy.

As we said, it’s complicated.

3. Make it worth their time
As noted above, the quality of your landing pages is important to your overall quality score.

And, when you get down to it, quality landing pages are important for a whole host of reasons — starting with your reputation and ability to sustain and grow your nonprofit.

Ideally, your landing page (where your ad links to) should not be your homepage. Even more ideally, your landing pages should be unique for the campaign that you are running. Landing pages need to be specific to the ad text and keywords you select and should have some action for the user to take upon arriving — for example, downloading a webinar, providing an email address for more information, etc. It should also be well-organized and up to date.

Bold visuals and captivating storylines help even more.

4. Mind your click-through rate

One of the more seismic changes that came about in 2018 was Google’s requirement that nonprofits in the ad grant program maintain a minimum 5 percent click-through rate accountwide. Yes, accountwide. As in an average 5 percent minimum CTR across all active ad campaigns; this is above the average 3 percent CTR across other industries. Google Ads warns that grant program accounts will be suspended after two consecutive months with a CTR below 5 percent.

This change requires monitoring your account for both ads and keywords that are below par and either upgrading them — ensuring that ad copy aligns properly with keywords and landing pages and refining keywords into long-tail versions that are more specific to the campaign — or removing the underperforming ads or keywords to keep your overall click-through rate at 5 percent or above.

5. Don’t panic

Google reassures its Ad Grant clients that should your account be shut down due to noncompliance, you can make the appropriate adjustments to ensure compliance and request to be reinstated.

PartnersCreative is a Google Partner with staff certified in Google Ads search advertising. Our staff is experienced at helping nonprofits navigate the difficult application process and ensuring compliance with all of the Google Ads requirements.

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PHOTO by Larm Rmah