The Google Ads Grant – what’s new?

The Google Ads Grant is a wonderful free resource available to charities. $10,000 (approx £8,000) per month to spend on Google Ads gives charities the opportunity to appear at the top of Google search results when someone is searching for their cause.

Any legitimate charity will be approved as long as they have a website that is up to scratch. By this, I mean that the website must be secured, load quickly and not contain broken links.

Google Ads – and this potentially game-changing grant – should be a valuable part of the marketing mix for every charity. Currently, over 40,000 charities globally are taking advantage of the grant. But as impressive as this figure is, it remains a small percentage of the total number of charities that could benefit.

There are five core components to a successful Google Ad Grant account: campaigns, ad groups, ads, conversion tracking and finally, a content-rich website.

The fifth component – a content-rich website – is often the key piece of the puzzle which gets neglected or missed when trying to identify poor performance.

Google Ads Grant key requirements

Recently, Google made a number of changes to the way in which charities must set up their Google Ads account and the requirements to adhere to:

  • Maintain a 5% account click through rate (CTR).
  • Keyword quality scores cannot be below 2.
  • There must be at least two active ad groups per campaign.
  • There must be at least two site link ad extensions.
  • The account must have specific geo-targeting.
  • No using single-word keywords, except for those on this list, and no using overly generic words. Another one-word keyword exception is your own branded keywords, but bear in mind that you are forbidden from using competitors’ branded keywords.
  • Automated bidding strategies (like Maximize Conversions or Cost Per Acquisition) can break the $2.00 bid maximum.
  • An account must be logged in at least monthly and have one or more changes implemented every 90 days. If you don’t display active management, Google will suspend your account and you’ll have to request to be reinstated.

Granted, whilst communication via Google with regard to these requirements wasn’t the best, it did force charities and third-party suppliers to clean up their accounts and move towards a more professional approach. Failure to update your Google Ad Grant account led to a suspension and, unsurprisingly, a large percentage of grant accounts received these.

Prioritise automated bidding strategies

Perhaps the most important point to note is automated bidding strategies, which can have a significant positive impact on the success of a Google Ad account.

It allows accounts which were set up for conversions to bid above the $2 click limit. This gives charities the opportunity to appear amongst paid traffic for highly competitive keywords where they had a super relevant piece of website content.

For example, a charity supporting UK hospitals wanted to do more through grants, arts, volunteering and fundraising, funding major redevelopments, research, and medical equipment. They had specific target locations with niche terms and keywords – such as haematology – which, as you can imagine, have very low monthly search volume.

However, the issue was that their ad groups contained generic fundraising keywords in a highly competitive area. It meant that not only were they failing to drive any clicks on their campaigns but they barely registered an impression – which is when the ad is seen by someone.

Upon review, what they did have was an arts page with an abundance of free arts resource content. By setting up conversion for video views they were able to drive clicks  using over $5000 per month because there was so much variation – as a result, they quickly ranked high on the searches.

They were able to redesign these pages to serve the content people were searching for on Google, but also highlight their cause. Once the pandemic hit, their Covid Relief Fund went from £5,000 raised to over a million pounds in donations over a 6-month period, with campaigns driving over 16,967 clicks to the fund page.

A key focus for the Google Ad Grant is using Google’s automated bid strategy. Google Ads pushes more traffic towards higher conversion rates, so charities should prioritise quality over quantity. Rather than focus on how much of the grant you can spend, instead, focus on the quality of the traffic and look to reduce bounce rates (found in Google Analytics). In addition to this, experiment with different calls to action to optimise as you go.

Don’t neglect conversion tracking

Setting up conversion tracking is a must. By using conversion tracking in Google Ads you’ll be able to see and measure the visitor’s journey from the moment they click on your ad to when they complete an action on-site, such as signing up for your newsletter or donating.

Also of note are audience segmentation and remarketing lists for search ads, which have been introduced. One of the biggest drawbacks to the grant is the challenge of competing against paid ads for highly competitive terms.

Here’s another example. A fostering agency wanted to use the grant to drive potential fosterer enquiries. They faced two challenges – fostering search volume was small in comparison to adoption and there is fierce competition against paid ads in the fostering industry.

However, what they did have was years of data on demographics as to who is most likely to sign up to become a fosterer. They could implement this audience so it only appeared to people who fitted the profile and, tied with conversion tracking, they could also identify a drop-off in the sign-up process.

Using this information, they implemented a two-step conversion process (clicking the form and sign-up), which meant Google’s automated algorithm would see a high converting page. The results speak for themselves – over a three-month period, there was four times the amount of clicks, with double the fosterer form submissions.

Because they’d used maximise conversions – and on their page, more conversions were taking place – Google was able to show their ads to an audience which they knew would be highly convertible.

They were also able to leverage the high search volume for adoption keywords. A fostering vs adoption blog meant they could appear for those in the research phase.

Consider dynamic search ads

Dynamic search ads are the most recent development. Google asks for a diverse combination of advert copy that is automatically tailored to the Google search. For arts organisations running multiple shows, this can be a key time saver for generic campaigns.

Another example is a ‘What’s On?’ campaign containing generic geo-targeted keywords of ‘what’s on near me?’. Previously, each time a show ended or began, a manual ad copy update would take place. However, with dynamic search ads, all headline can be added at once and Google will automatically tailor those headlines to the search being made.

Master the basics

The basics remain the same – in other words, there must be two ad groups per campaign (with at least two ads per ad group) and quality keywords in each ad group (ideally more than 15).

Here’s one final example for you. A wildlife charity struggled to spend any more than $1,000 of the grant per month. With so many people searching for wildlife-related terms per month they decided to use Google’s keyword tool to identify search volumes for each of the endangered species they protected. They built separate landing pages with separate ad groups per page and within three months they were spending the full $10,000.

When it comes to Google Ads, the core focus should be quality – does the website have the answer or piece of information that someone is searching for on Google? Then, does the ad best represent the landing page with site links, making it stand out amongst the other listings?

Optimising an ad is important in order to adhere to Google’s requirements – quality score and click-through rate being the two metrics to focus on. A cheat code for click-through rate (CTR) is a strong brand campaign, which should have a CTR of above 20%, bringing up the average of the whole account.

Using Google’s search terms report will identify any keywords that need to be negatived. Negativing keywords can be performed at account level, with the purpose of the exercise being to not appear for any keywords that aren’t relevant to the charity. Broad keywords often mean appearing for searches that aren’t relevant. Negativing the keywords which don’t apply to the website will improve the quality score.

A final thought

So in summary, then, to run a successful Google Ads account, focus on the website content and where calls to actions appear to be added as conversions. Selecting the correct automated bidding strategies at campaign level will give charities the best opportunity to appear top of Google search results for those audiences that aren’t aware of their cause.

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