For a number of years, Google has generously been running an AdWords program for charities in over 50 countries, giving away up to US$10,000 worth of free in-kind advertisement on Google Adwords per month. The criteria for eligibility are simple enough that it has benefited a large number of not-for-profit organisations – 35,000 to date – and truly made a difference to them and their cause.
Close to home, charity Kiwis for Kiwitm is such a success story. Although they had a loyal following, it was quite narrow and not growing and they were struggling to take things to the next level. They turned to the Ad Grants program in the hope of improving their online presence. Within a month of advertising, the traffic for their national fundraising campaign more than doubled and their website reached a record number of 12,000 visitors. Over the following 7 months, traffic from Google AdWords continued to increase by 25% to represent 80% of site visits.
Whilst the $10,000 per month sounds amazing, there were a number of limitations on grant accounts that did at times make it quite difficult to actually spend 10 big ones in a month. For instance, the accounts were limited such that you could only run search advertising. That means no display banners or remarketing images. On top of that, the search CPCs were capped at $2, so you couldn’t be very aggressive with your bids. Couple this with the fact that charity related search terms are probably all being bid on by grant accounts spending the $2 max bid, you can see how a stalemate would quickly develop.
Google however has listened to the industry and has made several modernising policy updates to Ad Grants effective as of January 1, 2018 which are going to have a profound effect on charities. If these policies aren’t followed, an account will be suspended and ads disabled.
So what do NFPs need to keep in mind with these new updates?
Keyword Spring Cleaning
Some of the changes look sensible enough. For example, not-for-profits (NFP) will no longer be allowed to bid on branded terms unless they own them. Most single-word keywords will no longer be permitted which will encourage more specific and targeted campaigns, and keywords must have a Quality Score higher than 3.
This policy change is clearly an endeavour to clean up keyword selection. It is also easy to understand Google’s move to stop non-paying customers targeting brands that paying customers also bid on just because they have free money to throw at it.
Banning keywords with a Quality Score lower than 3 will certainly make a difference to accounts and will require PPC managers to ensure user experience and relevance is decent.
Another big change to the program is that Google are lifting the $2 bid cap per keyword, provided you use the Maximize Conversions bid strategy. This feature automatically sets bids to get the most conversions for the allowed budget using historical information about a campaign, and calculates an optimal CPC bid for ads each time they are eligible to appear. One obvious caveat of this is that NFPs will need to have conversion tracking in place on their site that provides sufficient conversion volume for the system to optimise towards, this is definitely a best practice regardless.
Google’s new policy also requires changes to account structure.
They must now include geo-targeting, which means that ads will only be shown to searchers in locations relevant to you which, in itself, is a good thing as it reduces waste and improves user experience.
There is a minimum requirement of two ad groups for each campaign, with at least two active ads in each.
Last, NFPs must create at least two sitelink extensions. Sitelinks and associated extensions are often neglected, yet they make a visitor’s journey easier, give your ad more real estate and they will be more likely to click on a link if they see what they are looking for immediately on the search engine page result. While Google requires that the sitelinks be implemented at account level, adding them at campaign level give you more control, and even more so at ad group level.
These are basic best practices so charities should do it anyway and grab this opportunity to up their game!
Change to Click-Through Rate (CTR)
The single change that will affect charities most -and the most controversial- is that they must now maintain a minimum CTR of 5%. Accounts in danger will be notified and ‘educational resources’ will be offered to help them improve. But after two months under this target, the account will be suspended.
Considering that the CTR requirement was 1% before this amendment, it is easy to see how it could be a disaster for many non-profit organisations. In addition, this change is not particularly well advertised unless you really dig into the Terms & Conditions and it is likely that some charities will be in for a shock on March 1st.
For those who are aware of the change, it will still be a challenge to meet the new CTR. With bid capped at $2, NFPs will be outranked on most keywords, and will be left with those targeting informational queries which are more difficult to convert into clicks and as a result CTR will be low.
We suggest NFPs get stuck into writing great ad copy, ensuring their keywords are nice and targeted and they aren’t wasting spend on search terms or locations that aren’t relevant. If you follow this method you should hit 5% without too much trouble.
Google Adwords Express
Google has been under criticism because of the relatively short notice it gave non-profits to implement the change, emailing them 17 days before the change is to take place. Charities are often understaffed and don’t always have the in-house skills to manage their Adwords campaigns – or the budget to outsource it – which means that they run the risk of seeing their campaigns suspended before they had a chance to do anything about it.
Charities who indeed can’t manage their campaigns can however sign up for Adwords Express for Ad Grants which is a lite version of AdWords that offers less features but gets the basics done.
Whichever options charities choose, Google has stressed that the deactivation of an account isn’t irreversible and that not-for-profit organisations can request to be reinstated after they make the required changes.
If you are a charity with an existing Ad Grants account and are concerned about how these changes will affect traffic to your site and would like some advice, we are happy to help. We currently manage several NFP grant accounts and have helped them succeed in their respective missions through AdWords advertising.