Imagine walking into a casino, and the bouncer hands you a briefcase with $10,000 cash, and says you can use it however you want, as long as you use it in their casino. How could you say no, right!? That’s exactly what the Google Ad Grant is for eligible nonprofits — free money!
Once you apply for the Google Ad Grant, there are some ways to screw it up, and guardrails that can and will get your account suspended. Some of it is part of the rapidly-changing ethos of Google (this is, after all, the world of “move fast and break things,”) other aspects are human error. We’ve been following Google Ad Grant policies closely at Whole Whale as part of the Google Ad Grants Certified Professionals Community, especially since the larger Ad Grant policy updates that began in 2018 and continue into 2019. We’ve put it all together here in our guide to Google Ad Grant management for nonprofits, beginning with 7 common mistakes to avoid, and followed by 9 best practices we recommend.
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7 Mistakes made in Google Ad Grant management
Mistake #1: Not following the new Ad Grant Guidelines
On January 1, 2018, the Google Ad Grant team updated some of the fundamental rules of its nonprofit grant and how it can be spent. Here is a brief summary of those rules, which if violated will get your account suspended:
- Minimum 5% CTR account-wide. Accounts will be suspended after 2 consecutive months with a CTR below 5%.
- Minimum keyword quality score of 2
- Minimum 2 ad groups per campaign
- Minimum 2 ads per ad group
- At least 2 sitelink ad extensions
Mistake #2: Promising puppies and not having puppies (aka Poor User Experience)
Nobody likes bad directions, especially your website visitors. When spending Google’s money, you should be sending people to the best pages on your site, based on what your ads promise them. Do you want people to go to a donation page; a take action page; a volunteer page; a newsletter sign up page?
Think about your goals, and about which pages reflect those goals, so you can send people to a specific destination with the right keywords. For example, it’s easy to get a lot of traffic by promising “free puppies,” but when users click those ads and go to a landing page that asks for a donation instead, bad things happen. Think of how you’re priming the users coming to your site based on the keywords, ad copy, and targeting. Think of the puppies.
Mistake #3: Using a single ad in a group
You should always be testing ad copy to see what resonates more with people, and what increases click-through rates on your site. For every ad group, make sure you write at least two ads – not only is this necessary to test messaging, but it’s actually required by Google that each ad group has at least two ads. So write your ads, and then compare their performance after they’ve been live for a week or so. Which ad has the higher click-through-rate? Which ad leads to more conversions and engagement on your website? Swap out the losing ad for new copy, and keep the tests going!
Mistake #4: Having broad, catch-all terms
Don’t waste your time on broad keywords like “donation,” “events,” or “New York City.” Most likely your ad won’t be shown since there are already huge organizations and other companies that are bidding on that same keyword. Plus, Google has started to add regulations that restrict Ad Grant accounts from bidding on generic and single-word keywords. Instead of going general, look for long-tail keywords that are a little more specific. For example; instead of “shoes,” use “red Nike mens running shoes.” These keywords will not only drive more qualified traffic to your site, but they’re typically also cheaper.
Mistake #5: Ignoring your landing pages
Here’s a quick example. When the Wright brothers were building their plane, all of their competitors were focusing on the engine. They were trying to make the most powerful one, to get their plane in the air. The Wright brothers focused on the wings instead. They knew that without the wings the plane would never fly, no matter how powerful the engine was. The same thing applies for Google Ads: You can try to pick all the best keywords, you can optimize your bids, but if your landing page isn’t great, Google will notice, and will not want to send people your ads.
A bad, or irrelevant, landing page can also make your keyword quality score suffer, which can put you at risk for losing the Ad Grant. Not to mention, higher quality scores often lead to lower cost-per-click, which means you get more traffic for the same amount of money! Your landing page should contain the keywords you’re bidding on and the keywords in your ad copy. This will help keep your quality score up and increase your chances of reaching, capturing, and converting the most qualified audiences. The importance of your landing page quality can’t be emphasized enough: Include a custom view in Google Ads that shows landing page scores so you can keep track.
Mistake #6: Seasonal keyword adjusting and cleaning
Ignoring seasonal behavior influenced by weather, holidays, and cause-related events in your Ad Grant strategy is a huge missed opportunity. Don’t sell winter coats in June, and think about how you might take advantage of potential giving holiday moments like Valentine’s Day.
Spring (and summer, winter, and fall) cleaning on keywords that have a quality score of under 3 is also a good idea to do regularly. These keywords can sometimes be grouped into new ad groups or just removed all together.
Mistake #7: Ignoring time and place
By default, most accounts will be set up to spend throughout the day across the native country you’re in (for us, that’s the United States). This completely misses the potential value of dividing up the regional areas and creating more targeted keyword/ad copy to speak to that region! Imagine trying to convince Yankee fans to buy Red Sox gear. Thinking regionally can give you tons of new ideas to reach and segment your audience.
Next, time of day can be one of the biggest variables that determines how people convert and what they are looking for. At Whole Whale, we’ve seen as much as a 30% difference between time of day on conversions for email registration. This makes sense: By 9pm fewer people are buying coffee, so why spend your ad money trying to change that trend?
Speaking of trends, you can explore hourly interest in the keywords your interested in with a 7 day Google Trends search. For example, here is the hourly trend for the term “volunteer.”
That all makes sense, right? Great. Let’s take a look at 6 things you SHOULD do with your Google Ad Grant and Google Ads strategy…
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6 Best practices for Google Ad Grant management
Best Practice #1: Focus on Conversions, Not Spend
The old goal with the Google Ad Grant was to get as close to maxing your spend as possible. While you still want to make sure you’re still using the money as efficiently as possible, it’s important to note that Google Ads is pushing Grant recipients towards more than just driving a high quantity of traffic to your website, but driving a high-quality traffic — aka, traffic that will convert.
These conversions could be signing up to your org’s newsletter or donating to your cause. Ultimately, Google wants you to take advantage of more bidding strategies like Target CPA, Maximize Conversions, and Enhanced CPC and optimize for conversions. You can use this as an opportunity to test different bidding options other than the default Manual CPC to see what drives the most goal conversions with your audience. Depending on the results, these tests could help your team to re-think your digital advertising strategy, and which calls-to-action are most effective at driving a visitor down your funnel of engagement.
Best Practice #2: Have Conversion Tracking Set Up
With Google’s push to prioritize conversions over traffic, it’s more important than ever to make sure you set up (and optimize!) Google Ads conversion tracking. Once you have goals configured in Google Analytics, it only takes a few steps to import them as conversions and start tracking in Google Ads. From there, you’ll be able to know which ads are driving the most users to sign up for your monthly newsletter and what type of messaging drives the most donations.
Of course, you’ll always want to refer to Google Analytics for a more granular look at how users are behaving on specific pages, but having conversion tracking set up in Google Ads gives you a high-level view on how different campaigns are leading to different actions on-site. If you’re just looking to dip your toes in the water, you can set up Google Ads-specific goals and events directly within the platform, although it’s a best practice link it with Google Analytics to get a more holistic view of your user’s online journey.
Best Practice #3: Experiment with Match Types
In our experience working with the Google Ad Grant, we think keyword match types are under-appreciated. While differentiating them can get a little confusing, taking the time to incorporate them in your account will bring in higher quality traffic. All keywords are automatically labeled as broad match, which can help you reach a wider audience. However, with that wider audience is the potential for irrelevant users coming to your site. If you’re trying to drive people to sign up to become organ donors, and you have the broad match keyword “how to donate organs,” your ad could potentially show up for a the query “how to sell organs,” which you wouldn’t want.
Enter: Match types! These allow you to essentially tell Google exactly when you want your ad to show up for a given keyword. By using brackets around your [keyword], you’ll be saying you only want your ads to show when those exact words are typed in that exact order. There’s also happy mediums between broad and exact, like broad match modifier and phrase. In the example above, you’d probably want to make use of phrase match around “donate organs.” Don’t be afraid to use negative keywords and enter certain terms that should never trigger one of your ads. As always, testing out different match types and seeing how they perform is the best way to determine what works best for your org.
Best Practice #4: Use the Keyword Insertion Tool
Another general best practice we’ve seen around keywords this year relates to writing ad copy. For your next A/B test, try out keyword insertion. It’s a feature that dynamically pulls in a user’s search term and inserts it into the headline of your ad, making it hyper-relevant and increasing the chances that the searcher will click on it, which will help you maintain the Grant by keeping up an account-wide CTR of greater than 5%.
In the example above, Google would pull in the user’s search query as the first headline. If for some reason it couldn’t, it would just use “Giving Tuesday Stats & Facts.”
We’ve seen this method increase click-through-rate for our clients and outperform all other ad variations if done strategically. But a word to the wise: Make sure your keyword list is cleaned up to ensure your ad won’t trigger for any funky or unrelated searches. Be cautious here if you’re bidding on competitor branded keywords, as Google might insert their name into the ad, making for a very confusing user experience.
Best Practice #5: Take Advantage of Automated Rules
Ever since Google made policy updates to the Google Ad Grant at the beginning of 2018, it can feel like a lot of added pressure to keep an eye on the minor requirements. By setting up an automated rule in Google Ads to automatically pause any keyword whos quality scores drops to a 2 or lower can help prevent sudden account suspension. To create this automate rule:
- Sign into your Google Ads account and click on the Tools icon in the top nav bar.
- Bulk Actions → Rules
- Click on the “+” icon and select Keyword Rules
- You can then choose to pause keywords and apply the condition that we’re bringing quality score is </= 2.
- Name your new automated rule and hit ‘Save”
No more daily checking to weed out low quality keywords! You also have the option to receive emails every time the rules run, or only when there are changes or errors. If you’re finding that your keywords are constantly being paused, try some of these methods to find fresh ones.
Best Practice #6: Always Be Testing
Testing ads, that is. Since the new year, Google has upped the number of recommended ads per ad group from 2 to 3. It’s not a requirement, but it’s definitely a best practice as it gives you the opportunity to experiment with not only messaging, but also any new features that Google rolls out. For example, they recently launched an expanded text ad format, which includes an optional 3rd headline and 2nd description. More text = more real estate on the search engine results page (SERP). We’ve been testing this format out with some of our clients and, in most cases, the expanded text ad outperforms all other variations in terms of impressions and click-through-rate.
Want all of this Google Ad Grant management info in one place? Check out our Google Ads optimization checklist, created specifically with nonprofits in mind.