About the author
Jason Williams was the first person in the UK to become a Google Ad Grants Certified Professional. He provides Google Ad Grants training and consultancy to nonprofits that would like to achieve a better return on their monthly advertising grant.
What is Google Ad Grants
Google Ad Grants was launched in 2003, it’s a monthly grant of $10,000 to use on Google Ads a form of advertising, also known as pay-per-click (PPC). It's only available to eligible registered charities and has been awarded to over 35,000 nonprofits worldwide.
Policy changes in 2018
On January 1st 2018, Google rolled out a number of important policy updates and then spent most of the year reminding grantees to comply or risk account suspension. The updates included:
Must not bid on single or generic keywords.
Must not have keywords with a Quality Score of 1 or 2.
Must have at least 2 active Ads per Ad Group and 2 active Ad Groups per Campaign.
Must maintain a 5% click-through rate (CTR) each month (at account level).
Must have at least 2 sitelink ad extensions.
Must use specific geo-targeting.
In 2019, I am still contacted by charities, who don’t know how to comply with the new policy. The biggest hurdle for most charities has been raising their click-through-rate (CTR) to over 5%. Before the changes, it was quite common to see an active account with a CTR of 1-2% but now a good performing account can expect a CTR above 10%.
Google implemented these new policy rules to improve the overall quality of the programme and it has worked. The nonprofits which have absorbed the new Google Ad Grants help videos and guides to improve performance are reaping the benefits of increased donations and volunteer sign-ups.
I regularly provide training to charities that want to manage their Google Ad Grant in-house. One of the tools I have put together is a compliance checklist, which you can download for free. It’s a lot quicker to do these checks each month than it is to contact Google because your account has been suspended.
Ads Quality Filter
Another change that came in the later part of the year was the Ads Quality Filter. Quality score is an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords and landing pages. If your ads are of relatively low quality compared to the standards in the country where you're showing your ads, the filter will prevent your ad from appearing.
Since it was only introduced in October, many charities have still not got to grips with this. My rule of thumb is, “if a keyword has a quality score of less than 7, your ad is unlikely to appear.”
Google Ad Grantees need to focus their efforts on achieving higher quality scores. This means creating ads which are highly relevant to the keywords and you are providing visitors with a quality landing page experience which is also relevant to the search terms they used.
Maximise Conversions bidding
When Google rolled out the policy update in 2018, they also announced they were lifting the programme's $2.00 USD bid cap when using Maximise Conversions bidding, as it automatically sets your bids based on performance.
Hopefully, by now, you are using Maximise Conversions bidding or Target CPA bidding, as this will help you compete for a place at the top of the page. Here are two videos from the Google Ad Grants team explaining these important bidding strategies.
Set up valid conversion tracking
Without meaningful conversions set up Maximise Conversions and Target CPA bidding strategies, are not very effective.
The simplest valid conversion to use is Smart Goals. Smart Goals sets a benchmark for what Google believes to be a “best” user to your website. When a visitors interaction is equal to that or better than a “best” user, a conversion will be recorded.
Whilst Smart Goals are the easiest valid conversion tracking to put in place, I would recommend that you push yourself to find ways to track your goals such as donations, volunteer applications and any other meaninful objectives. These will help you determine if you are getting a good return on your Google Ad Grant efforts.
The more meaningful goals you have in place, the more data Google’s Machine Learning has to draw from when deciding whether to raise your Maximise Conversions bid.
Responsive Search Ads (Beta)
At the time of writing the new responsive search ad format is still being tested, so it may not be available to everyone yet but I think it's here to stay, so start using it.
Responsive search ads allow you to write up to 14 headlines and 4 description lines. Your ads still may only show up to three headlines and two descriptions at one time but Google rotates all the options and tries out different combinations of your ad until it hits upon the best copy.
What should your strategy be in 2019?
The policy changes rolled out in 2018 were partly due to total monthly budget spend being cited as a measure of Google Ad Grants success. Just like in your own charity projects, how quickly you spend a $10,000 budget, is no indication of success.
My guess would be that Google conducted programme monitoring and evaluation back in 2017 and the impact of giving away $8 billion in free ads was completely unknown. To rectify this, you’re now required to track meaningful conversions e.g donations, volunteer applications, petition signups and report it all back through conversion tracking.
Steps to achieve conversions (goals):
Decide your goal.
Research which keywords users might search before completing the goal.
Create a page* on your website that focuses on those keywords and the goal.
Track when someone completes your goal.
Create tailored ads that are highly relevant to achieving the goal.
*Learn some fundamental principles of good SEO.
Repeat steps 1-5 for every goal you can think of to support your charitable mission.
Here’s an example to illustrate:
My goal is to get more volunteer applications.
I think people who search for “volunteer with animals” “animal volunteer work” etc are likely to be interested in my volunteer positions.
I create a page on www.mywebsite.com/volunteer-with-animals and make the page headline Volunteer with Animals. I provide all the information the visitor might want to know about volunteering with us and give very clear calls to action about how they should proceed.
I set up tracking to count how many people reach my dedicated thank you page after submitting an application.
I create a set of ads using “Volunteer with Animals” as my headline and a strong call to action such as “Apply Today, Start Tomorrow”, with the hope that it will attract users to click my ads over any other ads showing for the same keywords.
These are just some of my thoughts on the topic. I’d love to read in the comments below, what others think charities should add to their Google Ad Grants strategy for 2019.