Aug 5, 2020 - Rob Browning

Paid Search & Nonprofits: Your Guide To Google Ad Grants

In 2017, SPCA of Texas faced a challenge as destruction from Hurricane Harvey prompted an increased need for emergency animal care and shelter. After leveraging their Google Ad Grant and optimizing campaigns for search surrounding topics like animal relief, adoptions, and donations, SPCA of Texas increased its conversion rate. Using Google Ad Grants, the website saw 700 percent more contributions and 116 percent more conversions in recruiting volunteers and driving animal adoptions.  

For many nonprofits, not just the SPCA of Texas, Google Ad Grants provide powerful search engine marketing for no cost to eligible businesses. For these qualifying nonprofits, Google provides $10,000 per month in free advertising. The Google Ad Grant program ensures nonprofits have access to compelling Google ads and digital marketing strategies, and the goal is to connect people to causes for free. For example, in 2017, Google Ad Grants joined 51,000 nonprofits with free paid search services, prompting over 1.8 billion website visits!  

Google Ad Grants have enabled nonprofits to stay competitive on the search engine results page. If you are a nonprofit interested in a Google Ad Grant, this article provides an overview of how to apply to the program, how Google Ad Grants work, and how to optimize for paid search success using these campaigns. 

How Do I Apply for a Google Ad Grant? 

To be eligible for a Google Ad Grant, a nonprofit must register with the Google for Nonprofits program. Google for Nonprofits allows qualifying corporations to gain $10,000 a month in Google Ads spending. Still, eligible programs can also use specialized versions of G Suite, YouTube, and the Google Maps API. 

Before applying for Google Ad Grants, you will need to make sure your nonprofit is eligible. Charities in the United States must meet the following requirements:

  • The IRS must recognize organizations as being tax-exempt 501(c)(3)
  • Any organization that is automatically considered tax-exempt under a group exemption, such as a church, is still required to obtain a 501(c)(3) tax exemption.
  • Organizations must maintain current registration with TechSoup.

To be eligible for a Google Ad Grant, a nonprofit must apply for a Google for Nonprofits account. Once approved, campaigns must be set up in Google Ads and submitted for review. This approval is to ensure campaigns are operating within program guidelines. View the application process in detail here.

How Do Google Ad Grants Work?

After receiving a Google Ad Grant, there is a bit more work to accomplish before launching campaigns. Google Ad Grants come with limitations that you need to be aware of before creating advertisements.

First, ads in the program must be entirely text-based, meaning they cannot include images or videos of any kind. Thus, display campaigns and video campaigns are not eligible. This limitation means that the grant money does not cover YouTube, display, shopping, or mobile app campaigns. Ads will also appear only on Google search results pages, and they'll always show up in positions lower than those of paying advertisers.

Additionally, campaigns must be keyword-targeted and always have a set maximum cost-per-click (CPC) of $2​. ​ This limit does not exist when leveraging automated bidding strategies, like maximize conversions or cost-per-acquisition (CPA), which is highly recommended! 

Finally, there are specific standards a nonprofit needs to maintain to remain eligible for Google Grants and continue receiving its $10,000 in monthly ads. To stay qualified, your organization must adhere to the following rules:

  • Your ads may link to only one website domain.
  • You must log in at least once a month and update the account every 90 days.
  • Offering financial products and requesting donations of cars, boats, or another property isn’t allowed in ads.
  • Your site may not display Google AdSense ads.

In January 2018, Google specified new performance rules for all nonprofits with a Google Ad Grant:

  • The entire account must maintain a click-through rate of 5 percent or more.
  • Campaigns must have geotargeting enabled.
  • All campaigns must have at least two active ad groups, and all ad groups must have at least two ads.
  • You cannot use single-word keywords, except for pre-approved single-word keywords or branded keywords.
  • You cannot use keywords that have a Quality Score (QS) of 1 or 2. You will need to reassign these to different ad groups or pause/remove them entirely

It is imperative to maintain Google Ad Grant compliance to keep funds coming. Google may warn of suspension or instantly suspend grant funds based on account noncompliance, so following all account rules is essential.

How Do I Optimize My Google Ad Grant Campaign?

Setting up campaigns without putting in the necessary time, and research will cause your account to perform horribly. It is essential to strategize and carefully craft campaigns to maximize the Google Ad Grant. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your campaigns:

Define Your Goals and Optimize for Conversions

What do you want someone to do when they visit your site? Determine the preferred actions and potential paths for a user to complete those actions beyond visiting your website. Track your goals with Google Analytics, and import these goals into Google Ads, so that conversion tracking and reporting are aligned. 

Consider the landing page. If you are pointing users toward a blog post, the desired result might be a  user sharing the article to social media or filling out the CTA form at the bottom of the job.  On the other hand, if this is a dedicated landing page that funnels users to purchase, a subscription, or a gated offer, those concrete actions should be the goal of the campaign. 

Create Relevant Ads

Show meaningful ads through campaign structure in your paid search marketing campaigns.  Users should keep the audience in mind when grouping keywords together in a single ad group. Don’t forget to look for keywords you do not want to include, and add those as negative keywords. Follow these other tips as well:

  • Create ads that respond to actual search queries and use keywords to create compelling headlines, calls to action, and description text

  • Make ads specific, relevant, attractive, and empowering

  • A/B test ads in each ad group with different messaging or creative

  • Leverage ad extensions, including phone numbers, locations, snippets, and site links

Observe and Refine 

Create custom reporting that focuses on Google Ad Grant performance. Examine the quality score, which ranges from 1  to 10, and gives you a sense of whether a keyword is relevant to your ad text or landing page. Conversion-based smart bidding will bid higher on ads that work for you. Set up rules to keep your account performing, particularly a rule to pause low-quality keywords automatically.   

Get Started with a Google Ad Grants 

Google Ad Grants provide search engine marketing for nonprofits at no-cost, allowing nonprofits to leverage paid search advertising campaigns to drive traffic to their websites. 

After discussing eligibility, rules, and optimization strategies, it is clear that all eligible nonprofits should engage in the Google Ad Grant program to supplement existing SEO strategies and increase traffic to their website. 

If you are a nonprofit and need help applying to the program, or if you currently have a Google Ad Grant and need help with optimization or compliance, feel free to reach out to the team at Third and Grove for help by contacting us here.

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