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The Nonprofit Digital Marketer: 5 Tips for Managing and Optimising Your Google Adwords Grant

By May 4, 2018

The Nonprofit Digital Marketer:

By Jean O’Brien, Founder of Digital Charity Lab, and Head of Digital & Content at Barnardos Ireland.

I will confess to being slightly evangelical about Google Grant Adwords: in my experience, they’re one of the most effective digital marketing channels for charities. The Grant, which is worth up to US$10,000 per month, is an astonishing resource from Google. Many charities struggle to use it, but Adwords are neither as daunting or as time-consuming as they seem. I have some tips to share from my own work with Google Adwords, that I hope will be useful to you.

1. Google Ads are more like road signs than billboards

The way many ads communicate their message is similar to a billboard. They put a message out, letting people know that a product or service exists, and hope that it connects with at least a few of the people who see it. They have high reach but low relevance. The billboard that is advertising sausages has no way of excluding vegetarians and can’t avoid paying to show their ad to people who’ll never buy the product.

Google Ads are different. They only appear when someone is searching for a related term, and a person with a different interest will never see them. The reach is smaller, but they’re highly relevant. It’s very powerful to be able to show someone an ad just at the precise moment that they’re thinking about you. So think of each of your Google Ads as a road sign, that’s helpfully pointing someone to a destination they’re already travelling towards. Like road signs, your Google Ads need to be clear and accurate, or they’ll send someone in the wrong direction.

2. The absolute best way to use your Adwords Grant? Highly targeted and specific ads

Don’t set up ads targeting vague keywords like ‘support a charity’ or ‘donate online’. In reality, people don’t search Google and randomly donate to the first charity that comes up; they instead search for the specific cause or organisation that they want to support.  The absolute best way to use your Google Grant Adwords account is to target highly specific keywords related to your brand, your cause and your projects (which can include your services, your events, and your campaigns).  

Don’t worry about getting loads of traffic: aim for quality over quantity. 100 relevant visitors are more valuable than thousands who are in the wrong place.  

Also, don’t stress about trying to spend the entire Google Grant monthly budget. In the past, organisations have tried to do this to qualify for the larger ‘Grants Pro’ budget, but that has now been discontinued by Google. Again, aim for quality over quantity. It’s not about spending a lot of money every month, it’s about getting a strong click-through rate (CTR) and sending relevant visitors to your site.

3. Start with a plan. Spend some time figuring out what you can promote, and then prioritise the different items

You probably have a lot of things on your charity’s website that you could promote on Google Ads. A handy way to establish what you should do is to group your activities in these three goal categories, which are listed in order of priority:

  1. Revenue (donations, ticket sales, products in your online shop)
  2. Lead generation (anywhere you can capture an email address, such as email signup page, petitions, content marketing pages)
  3. Site traffic (informational pages on your site, such as content about your cause)

Revenue should be your first priority for ads, as this can bring a real cash return on your time investment. Once you’ve listed all your activities, and identified which of the goal categories they belong to, you can start prioritising and setting up the Adwords campaigns that are most likely to bring in income.

4. Use the Keyword Planner tool to get into searchers’ heads

Once you’ve listed your ideas for your Adwords campaigns, the next and most important step is to do your keyword research for each. Google Ads are there to serve searchers: so if no-one’s searching for your project, you can’t run Google Ads for it. It’s as simple as that.  

Use the Keyword Planner tool in the Adwords interface: it’s nifty. It will allow you to enter a topic and see:

  • The array of search terms people are using to find the topic
  • How many searches there are per month
  • What the search behaviour is like in different countries

You can use the results in the Keyword Planner to start identifying the keywords that you’re going to use in your Adwords campaigns.  

Another great benefit of the Keyword Planner is that it gives you an insight into the phrases that people actually use. For example, when doing some keyword research for a charity that rescues dogs, I found people often searched with the word ‘puppy’ instead of ‘dog’. A small but useful insight that helped me better write and target the ads.  

5. Know and follow Google’s new rules

Google implemented a heap of new rules for Google Grant accounts towards the end of 2017. They set a minimum average CTR of 5%, and added a lot of new conditions that must be met if accounts are to be kept, such as having a minimum of two Ad Groups in each Campaign, and a minimum of two ads in each Ad Group. The rules caused and are continuing to cause consternation, but they’re not as scary as they sound.

I see them as a bit of tough love from Google, who are no doubt very aware that many charities signed up for the Google Grant, but then didn’t ever really figure it out or resource it properly. If you give yourself a few hours and a cup of strong coffee, you can optimise your account quite easily. Digital Charity Lab has a free checklist that you can go through to ensure that your account is compliant.


Guest Author: Jean has almost a decade of experience working in digital and communications within the nonprofit sector. She set up the Irish Charity Web group in 2011 to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing between Irish charities and founded Irish Charity Lab (now Digital Charity Lab) in 2014.