The Google Ad Grants Programme has always been something of a mixed blessing for nonprofit organisations. On the one hand, a monthly grant of $10,000 to be spent on Google Ads is highly generous and is essentially free advertising. As anyone who has used Google’s Ad Grant in the past will know, however, this generosity is caveated by the $2 keyword bid cap, making it virtually impossible for charities to spend anything other than a small percentage of the grant. Indeed, it is often the case that non-profit advertisers have to dip into their own advertising budget to advertise effectively on Google Search.
The good news is that this is no longer the case, with Google removing the CPC (Cost Per Click) bid entirely. As we shall see, however, this change comes with a new caveat which may prevent nonprofit organisations from making full use of the $10,000 grant.
What is the Google Ad Grant?
Before we delve into the latest policy changes, let’s take a closer look at the Google Ads Grant Program.
Google’s Ad Grant Program allows registered charities to advertise on the Google Search Network entirely free of charge. Qualifying nonprofits are awarded a monthly grant of $10,000 to their AdWords account be used to promote their charity in Google Search. To qualify for this generous grant, potential grantees must go through an application process to validate their charity status. The grant can then be used to promote the charity, to recruit volunteers, attract donations, and to raise awareness of upcoming initiatives.
No More Max CPC Bids
As we touched on in the introduction, the most significant change made by Google in respect to the charity grant is the removal of the $2 max CPC bid. In a stroke, this removes the restriction which had made the grant virtually unusable for anything other than brand advertising.
Previously, the CPC cap meant that charity advertisers were unable to bid on relevant keywords. For example, a quick search shows that keywords such as ‘charity volunteering’ (£2.90), ‘charity walk’ (£2.41) and ‘charity event’ (£2.31), are comfortably above the $2 limit.
Now, that’s no longer the case, and charities can freely bid on the above keywords without the cap using Google’s smart bidding strategies. These bidding strategies use machine learning to automatically place bids based on data collected by the campaign, and advertisers can decide what they would like to achieve from their Google AdWords campaigns. These strategies include ‘Maximise clicks’ and ‘Target CPA’ (Cost Per Acquisition) to help users get the most out of their campaigns without necessarily having to set CPC bids.
However, before you go out and place bids on hundreds of different keywords, there’s one major drawback to the latest changes to the Grant policy.
The caveat to the removal of the CPC cap is that Google has imposed an account-wide minimum CTR (Click Through Rate) of 5%. This means that any account which falls below the 5% average CPC threshold for two consecutive months will have its grant account cancelled.
It’s a scary thought, and a dig deeper into average CTRs suggests that this a significant restriction for charities wanting to advertise on Google Search. A study by PPC experts WordStream found that the average CTR of Google text ads across all industries is just 1.91%. While Google claims that the average CTR for nonprofits is 8%, the fact is that charities are going to have to either work very hard, or be very cautious, to avoid having their Google Ad Grant Account revoked. In many cases, this may require the services of a dedicated digital agency, or the employment of marketing specialist, something beyond the means of many charities.
As we will see in the next section, Google have implemented other changes which should foster a strong CTR for most charities, but it’s difficult to escape the feeling that in the latest update what they have given with one hand, they have taken with the other.
Google has made some further stipulations to ensure Google ad grants accounts follow general best practices. These stipulations also ensure that grant money is generally spent bidding on relevant keywords, which should help to maintain a relatively healthy CTR.
First off, you need to make sure you’re using geo-targeting in your campaigns. This is a fairly obvious precondition designed to ensure the account bids only on keywords in relevant locations.
Your Google Ads account must also consist of at least two active ad groups, both of which should contain related keywords as well as two ads.
The final requirement is that your account must include at least two site link extensions. Sitelink extensions are one of the most widely used Google Ad extensions, and allow you to add additional links to your website within the same ad.
Keyword Bid Changes
Google has also introduced some changes to keyword bidding in search advertising which appear to be designed to ensure grant money is spent only on keywords relevant to the account.
According to Google, the keywords you choose to bid on “must reflect your organization’s primary mission, be relevant to your nonprofit’s programs and services, and be specific enough to provide a good experience for the user seeing your ads.”
To comply with this guidance, advertisers in the Google Grant program must avoid competitor keyword targeting (bidding on brand terms that you don’t own); single, non-branded keywords; and keywords that can be considered highly broad and generic. Finally, your keywords must have a quality score of 3 or higher, which again helps to ensure that the keywords you bid on are relevant to your account.
Clearly, the removal of the CPC cap is great news for advertisers. However, the introduction of the 5% CTR threshold presents a serious headache for non-profit organisation advertisers which did not exist before. Previously, advertisers were clearly restricted by the CPC cap, now the restriction is more indirect, but the consequences for breaching the restrictions are much more serious. Ultimately, charities who are able to dedicate time to the maintenance and optimisation of their grant accounts will find the latest changes to be very much in their favour, allowing them to build tightly focussed ad groups which utilise a far greater proportion of the charity grant than was previously possible.
For non-profits who lack those resources, however, they may find the new restrictions and caveats too complicated to navigate successfully, and may unwittingly find themselves in breach of the 5% CTR threshold.
For help with the management and optimisation of your Google Charity Grant, contact online advertising specialists Clark St. James on 01603 343477 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our digital marketing team delivers a scalable return on investment across the major search and social media advertising channels.