AdWords for Non-Profits 2018:
What You Need to Know Part II

Today’s blog post is written by Skye Hughes, Client Administrator, PatronManager. 

In part one of this blog post, we discussed the recent changes Google made to its Non-profit AdWords Ad Grant program, why it made them, and what the implications are for your organization. In this post, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty of the new requirements and what you’ll need to do in order to meet them. Let’s jump right in:

  • The $2 bid cap has been eliminated (this is good news!) Non-profit grant recipients used to be limited to bidding a maximum of $2 per keyword. Although the auction system takes into account quality of the keywords and ads as well as the dollar amount bid, this cap was a significant barrier to winning placement of ads. With the cap eliminated, non-profits are better-equipped to compete.
  • Campaigns have to make use of geo-targeting. So, a theatre in New York will have to market to people in New York, not the whole country.
  • Campaigns have to be mission-based. Every ad and keyword must reflect your primary mission. Using branded keywords from other organizations is no longer permitted (“Pepsi” is off limits for example… unless you are Pepsi), along with generic keywords (“dance” or “theatre”).
  • Keywords must have a quality score of 2 or better. This is Google’s rating for how well each keyword performs, taking into consideration the expected click-through rate (CTR), how relevant the ad is to a user’s search, and the landing page experience. This is another piece of the AdWords auction system. A higher quality score brings your cost-per-click down for that keyword and gives the ad a better position on the page.
    • Mirror keywords, ad copy, and landing page copy to each other.
    • Create small, tightly-themed ad groups.
    • Remove low-quality keywords.
  • Single (one word) keywords are no longer allowed. Despite its rather misleading name, a keyword isn’t limited to one word. A keyword is a string of characters that a user might type into a search bar to find information, also known as a search term. Usually, it’s more of a phrase. For instance, how often do you search for “take-out?” More likely you’d specify what kind of food, your neighborhood (although Google might already know that), etc. Single-word keywords are unlikely to match a user with a relevant ad. You don’t need them.
  • At least two site links are required. Site links allow you to specify link URLs to choose where you’re sending users. If you’re marketing for Shakespeare in the Park, send them to the Shakespeare in the Park ticketing page! It’s rare that you’d send users to your homepage because the goal is for the user to take an action (buy a ticket). You don’t want them to have to click multiple pages deep to find those tickets.
    • Make sure your landing pages are fast, functional, and relevant to the user’s search. Google takes your website content into consideration, so compelling copy on your site is important.
  • Maintain a 5% click-through rate (CTR). CTR is the number of times your ad is clicked on per the number of times it’s shown. It’s the culmination of all your detailed efforts in the elements above. If the 5% minimum isn’t met for two consecutive months, your account will be deactivated. Ok, this sounds scary, I know. But we’ll go into what this means more below.

Now, these new practices are all going to make your AdWords account successful, so what are the cons?

Well for starters, a 5% CTR (click-through rate) can be a tall order. According to a study by Wordstream, industry benchmarks predominately fall well below 5%. Across all industries, average CTR is at 3.17%. They list non-profits at 4.41%, one of the few on the list of 20 above 4% (the others: travel and hospitality, and dating and personal… because it’s not hard to write some compelling copy there). However, the last couple of years have shown that the AdWords industry has grown and competition increased at incredible rates. Only last year, the average CTR reported by Wordstream across all industries was 1.91%.

The end of the $2 keyword bid cap gives non-profits a better chance of keeping up with the competition, but a 5% CTR still may not be realistic for many organizations. An ad with a 2% CTR is generally considered a successful ad, and asking small organizations to deliver more than twice that means many might lose their grant.

Critics of the changes suggest that Google is trying to trim their costs by weeding non-profits out of the grant program. Many non-profits rely on AdWords to drive traffic to their sites, even if they don’t boast consistent stats like those now required.

But let’s take a step back to look at this. The changes to the grant program could propel your AdWords account to be of greater benefit to your organization. If you can meet Google’s standards, you’ll be getting more of the right people to your website who care about your mission, want to come to your shows or museum, and become donors. Some of the ways you might have to adjust your account may be counterintuitive. You may use less of your budget for example (by cutting underperforming keywords and narrowing the themes of your ad groups), but that’s by no means a bad thing. Most non-profits only use a few hundred dollars of their monthly budget. You may have fewer ads that target fewer people, but the ads will lead to more conversions (i.e. ticket sales).

What to do now? If marketing through AdWords is a priority for your organization, using it effectively will require some human investment, much like how you use PatronManager. A powerful tool in the hands of a knowledgeable human is a mighty thing. To help you get there, Google has comprehensive, free training resourcesa YouTube channel, best practice guide, as well as a certification exam. Also, a lot of technology education organizations offer in-person AdWords classes; there might be some in your area. And this is key: be prepared to stay engaged with your account, regularly working on improving your ads and keywords.

Finally, if your AdWords account gets suspended, don’t worry. You can apply to get it back and learn how to make it perform better for the future.

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One response to “AdWords for Non-Profits 2018:
What You Need to Know Part II

  1. The average CTR across the Ad Grants program is above 8% , and has been rising fast since the new rules came in six months earlier. That’s according to the Ad Grants team at Ad Grants Day in London on 1st June 2018.

    And that chimes with what I’ve seen on multiple Ad Grant accounts, with most of them getting better quality results compared to last year.

    I wonder whether the figure of 4.41% that Wordstream gave was based on nonprofits that use Wordstream’s services. In which case, they’re performing well below the average.

    It might appear daunting, but is actually quite easy to get CTR above 5%. Check out the Google Advertiser forum, which has a very helpful forum just for Ad Grants.

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