As fundraising efforts reached peak frenzy at the end of 2017, Google was making important updates to Google Grants policies. The Ad Grants program allows qualifying nonprofits to advertise on Google AdWords for free with $10,000 per month of ad spend (with plenty of limitations). The program is an excellent way for organizations to build lists, generate relevant traffic, fundraise, and create a powerful presence on the search engine results page.



Google has made clear that this is a quality crackdown. Grants accounts that remain noncompliant for 2 consecutive months risk account cancellation. There’s no question that revisiting your Grants account either to ensure that you’re compliant or to make the necessary changes should be a top priority ASAP. Here’s a brief overview of key changes and a hint or two about how to adapt and stay compliant and keep your Grants account!

  1. 5% Click-Through Rate. Minimum. That’s right, 5% is now the minimum for account-level CTR. Considering the previous average for Grants accounts was 2%, this is a seriously bold move. Plenty of Grants accounts used to operate by a volume-first approach, hoping to take advantage of the entire $10,000 per month in ad spend before paring down for quality. This often involved adding a lot of broad-match keywords that might not be the most relevant option to either ads within the ad group or the landing pages they point to. If your account is currently hitting maximum spend, the good news is that you a have a few options from an optimization perspective.

Your first option is to create a filter for keywords with a CTR below 3%. Creating a label like “Paused for Low CTR” can be helpful- that way, when you run the filter and select all your keywords, you can label them for easy sorting in the future. Once you’ve paused historically low CTR keywords, wait a day or two and see how it affects the overall numbers: CTR and spend. From there, your best bet is to do some real keyword research using Google Webmaster tools (search console) and tools like SpyFu.

If your account is already underspending, you may need to ask yourself whether or not it’s organized for success. Most successful Grants accounts capitalize on high quality web content and almost appear to be reverse engineered from great content pages. The trick to succeeding in the New Grants is to ensure that your quality score is high and that you’re leveraging content that you have about frequently searched content. So what does this look like? Your New Grants account should have multiple campaigns organized by the kind of content they’re linking to. The ad groups could be organized around similar keyword phrasing or match types, that part is up to you. Ad text should be highly relevant to targeted keywords, and both should be related to your landing page content. Something you definitely want to consider is employing broad match modified keywords, then cherry picking high performers out of the Search Terms report and adding them as Phrase Match and Exact Match variants in the appropriate ad group.

  1. Quality Scores: 3 and Up! The good news is that you’ve executed your click-through rate adjustments in order to comply with the 5% mandate, you’ve probably already taken care of this. Basically, Google is requiring that keywords have a quality score of 3 or higher. Quality Score is primarily a measure of relevance and your bid, although it also includes elements about historical CTR. Culling the herd is easy: just create a filter for CTR < 3, create a label for them, and pause them. Over the next week or two you can see whether or not it’s worth removing them entirely. 
  2. One-Word Keywords & Branded Terms: Watch Out. Google doesn’t want you to bid on your competitors or other brands anymore. Although this is a common practice in Google AdWords, the new policies make it clear that nonprofits should not bid on branded terms that they do not own. Additionally, Google mentioned (rather vaguely) that many one-word keywords would be disallowed, but we may need to wait and see how this affects accounts. In the meantime, take a look at the keywords that you’re targeting and pause branded terms you don’t own. You’ll also want to check whether or not you’re relying on one-word keywords for a lot of traffic. Sorting by previous 30 days / Clicks (top-down) within the account-level Keywords report should give you a good idea.
  3. It Takes Two Ad Groups to Tango. New policies also mandate that accounts have 2 or more active ad groups with 2 ads running in each. We certainly hope that this is the case for most Grants accounts. Most effective Grants accounts have more than one campaign, not to mention more than 2 ad groups. Whenever you create a new ad group, it’s best to include 2 ads minimum in order to test ad copy. Revisit your account structure if this isn’t the case- a careful rebuild using resources like WordStream should solve a lot of compliance issues!
  4.  Sitelinks are a Must. Let’s take this a step further. Even though Google is demanding 2 active sitelink extensions per account, Beaconfire RED is going to go further. We’re challenging you to have 2 active Sitelink Extensions and 4 active callout extensions. Ad extensions are great! Chances are you could also be using Call extensions and Structured Snippets (hint: using “Types” and listing the different kinds of donations you accept can work). Ad extensions increase SERP real estate and tend to increase click-through rates!
  5. Where in the World are You Serving Ads? Geo-targeting is also now required at the account level. You may be serving the entire United States, for example, so by all means- target the United States! You still will likely want to layer targeting on top for specific campaigns that might be more relevant to other locations.

“Maximize Conversions” and the $2 Max. CPC

You may have been able to avoid the news that the $2 maximum cost per click / bid has been removed, but probably not. Either way, I’ll give you a moment to do a happy dance. Now that you’ve gotten over it and have returned to reading this post, I’ll continue.

It’s good news. “Maximize Conversions” is a bidding strategy that allows Google to make bids for you in an attempt to maximize the number of conversions that a given campaign will generate. To use this strategy, you should first have conversions running, and be getting at least 15 per week while also hitting your daily budget. If these statements aren’t true about any campaigns that you currently have running, focus on steps 1 – 6, enable conversion tracking, then meet me back here.

If they do, then great! A point of caution: Maximize Conversions doesn’t guarantee you anything. Test this bidding strategy, but don’t rely on it. It’s important that your account remains compliant on all of the aforementioned points, so it’s best to adopt this strategy in phases. If you’re generating a high volume of conversions like key pageviews, email signups, or PDF downloads, this could be huge for you. I suggest taking top converting campaigns and running a one week test. All you need to do is select the campaign, go to “Settings” and change your bidding strategy to “Maximize Conversions.”

If you’re like many other Grants accounts and generate the occasional donation or signup, then you may want to import a few more conversions before testing. If you have a download or key page that you want users to view, tweak your current campaigns (or set up a new campaign) that’s purpose-built to generate frequent conversions. Machine learning is always best when it has a lot of data to work with, so feeding it as many conversions as you can to start with (as long as they’re real and useful to you) should be a priority. Remember that if your Grants account is linked to Google Analytics, importing conversions can be very easy.


Wrapping it Up

These changes are significant, and lots of organizations will likely lose their accounts because of it. Doubling down on resources in order to hold onto Grants is a good idea during the first two months of the year because accountholders that are compliant with new policies will be running great campaigns. 5% click-through rates, high quality scores, ad extensions, and advanced bidding strategies like Maximize Conversions are all signs of Grants prosperity. Don’t forget to take it slow and breathe- you can do this!

Don’t forget to take it slow and breathe—you can do this! And if you need help, give us a ring. 🙂