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How to Secure a Google Ad Grant for your 501c3

By Alissa Stahl

Google Ad Grants are an invaluable resource non-profit organizations should be utilizing to promote their website, drive donations, recruit volunteers, amplify their message and so much more. Imagine getting $10,000 of FREE money every month to advertise your 501c3, it sounds like the dream doesn’t it?

However, before you start envisioning yourself rolling in piles of money, it’s important to know that while, yes, 501c3 non-profit organizations are eligible to receive a Google Ad Grant for up to $10,000 free dollars in ad spend per month, Google doesn’t part with their money freely. 

You’re going to have to jump through some flaming hoops with the application process if you want to be successful using it for your nonprofit.

What is a Google Ad Grant?

Quite simply, Google Ad Grants provide the opportunity for eligible non-profit organizations to receive up to $10,000 in free monthly ad spend on Google’s search within their Google Ads accounts. All a nonprofit needs to do is join Google for Nonprofits, meet the eligibility requirements, get approved through the prequalification process, and then follow all program policies.

Is your non-profit eligible for a Google Ad Grant?

If you are an IRS registered 501c3 with a functional website, but not a hospital, medical group, school, university, academy, child care center, or government entity or organization, then you are likely eligible for a the google Ad Grants program (Click here to find out if you meet eligibility requirements). Once you’ve been approved, you can start creating your account!

How to Create Your Grants Account

When creating your Grants account, it’s critical to remember NOT to enter your billing information. The moment you submit your credit card, you’re no longer a Grants account holder.

Google will also try to walk you through a full campaign set up replete with responsive search ads. Exit out of this process in the user interface (UI) and enter brainstorm mode instead; doing so will give you time to carefully consider how you want to structure your account.

How Does Google Ads Grants Work?

While Google makes it look easy to be successful with an Ads Grant, there is some fine print within Google’s policies to be considered when setting up your account. Let’s explore some of the Google Ad Grant rules:

  • The account can only run text ads in search campaigns.
  • Image ads are not allowed, which means remarketing is off the table.
  • The account has a $2 Cost per Click (CPC) bid limit. (However it is possible to circumnavigate this by using automated bidding such as maximize conversions, target Cost per Acquisition (tCPA) or target Return on Advertising Spend (tROAS).
  • Your account must maintain a 5% CTR for two consecutive months. Failure to meet this can result in temporary account deactivation
  • Paid ads in the account have priority over grants accounts when ads are served. Keep this in mind when doing your keyword research.
  • No single keywords allowed (there are exceptions).

Google Ad Grants ‘rule of twos’

When structuring your campaigns, ad groups, and keywords, keep in mind Google Grant’s “rule of two’s” to achieve optimal success:

  • Campaigns must have at least two ad groups
  • Ad groups must have at least two ads
  • Account must have at least two sitelink extensions
  • No single keywords permitted (brand terms are an exception)
  • Keywords have a max bid of $2
  • Keywords must not have a Quality Score less than a 3 (no 1’s or 2’s). You can circumnavigate this rule by using automated bidding such as maximized conversions, target Cost per Acquisition (tCPA) or target Return on Advertising Spend (tROAS).

Protip: Set an automated rule to pause keywords that have a Quality Score of 1 or 2.

Four Ways to Succeed with Google Ad Grants for Nonprofits

Harnessing the power of PPC advertising using Google Ad Grants is no different than advertising for any for-profit business. Just like a for-profit’s paid advertising campaign, in order for your Google Ad Grant account to be successful you need to lay out a cohesive digital marketing strategy.

1. Keyword Research Best Practices for Google Ad Grants

Keyword research is the foundation of any and all paid media campaigns. Without understanding how users arrive at your site, how are you supposed to target them with ads?

Identify which keywords that would lead users to your 501c3

First, think about your goals. What is your 501c3 trying to achieve? 

Brainstorm a list of topics that are important to your organization, such as the issues you’re trying to solve and the communities and physical neighborhoods you serve.

Having clear goals will help you determine which pages of your site you want to drive traffic. 

For example, the homepage can be great for a brand overall, but a specific page about how to sign up for your next volunteer event can drive more email sign ups. Knowing which pages you want to use as landing pages will help you structure your campaigns and ad groups.

Don’t bother trying to go after short tail keywords like “donation” or “charities;” while these one-word keywords are technically allowed as single keyword exceptions, they’re highly competitive and lack intent. 

Instead, find long tailed keywords that address the different types of user intent that would lead someone seeking your services to your site.

What don’t you want to be found for?

While you build out a list of keywords that will help users find your website, its critical to also think of keywords you don’t want to trigger your ads. 

One way of preventing your nonprofit’s ads from appearing in front of the wrong audience is by using strategic negative keywords. Negative keyword lists can cut costs, improve traffic “flow” to your ads, and simultaneously improve click-through-rate (CTR).

For example, if you’re recruiting volunteers for a backpack drive for kids, you might be brainstorming volunteer related keywords like, “volunteer opportunities for kids”.  You don’t, however, want your ad to show for “volunteer opportunities animal shelter.”  

Using negative keywords related to animal shelter volunteering (dogs, cats, animals, pet shelter, etc.) will prevent your ad from appearing in search results for the wrong types of queries.

After your account has launched, you’ll need to perform search query audits on a regular basis to ensure your ads are showing when and where it’s most relevant.

2. The Importance of Landing Pages in your Google Ad Grant Campaign

It’s understandable to think of your website as your baby; something you feel protective of, something you’re biased towards.

Your baby might be pretty, but is it made of the stuff that will help it survive in the hard, cruel world?

You can brainstorm keywords and write crafty ads all day, but a bad or irrelevant landing page can be the nail in the coffin to your campaigns and access to all that glorious free ad spend.

Take a hard look at your landing pages and ask yourself: Does my copy contain relevant keywords? Do I have a strong CTA providing an easy and clear path to conversion actions? Think about whether your landing pages are mobile friendly, or possibly too slow to load?

If you can’t look objectionably at your baby, seek out a third party for expert advice for crucial landing page optimizations.

3. Create Compelling Ad Copy and Test It

Once you’ve found the perfect keywords, analyzed and optimized your landing pages, it’s time to connect the two together with persuasive ad copy. 

How do you make your ads stand out against all the others? The answer is more than just plugging in keywords.

We recommend setting up at least two expanded text ads and one responsive search ad. Within that framework, create an ad test that, for example, includes an emotional trigger in one ad and problem solving in another.

Using data you can identify which ad users prefer, and then use that insight to test the winner against an ad that describes the benefits or creates a sense a scarcity.

The secret to success is testing, and lots of it. Once you figure out what works best, don’t stop testing after that.

4. Conversion Tracking: Select a Meaningful Action

When selecting which conversion metrics to track with your Google Ad Grants account you have to avoid the “obvious” choice, because it may not play by Google’s rules.

It’s tempting to use an intent signal like a conversion action (i.e.tracking users who visited a page) because it will produce a high conversion rate. However, Google Ad Grants doesn’t allow page visions to be tracked as a conversion action. 

Instead, think about what you want visitors to do on your site, and create a compelling call-to-action to encourage them to take this action. 

If you want newsletter sign-ups, what is the user going to get from signing up? If you want users to complete a form, what are you going to do with their information? Be actionable, make your conversions meaningful.

  • Smart Goal:  Use if you do not have a thank you page. The system will help determine the most valuable visits as conversions (for example, counting a conversion when someone visits your site that falls in the top 5% best quality traffic by using intent signals such as session duration, pages per session, location). Not recommended.
  • Phone calls
  • Conversion Window Recommendation: Set the conversion window to its maximum 90 days
  • Attribution Models Best Practice: Use Position-based attribution.

Be sure to also track other meaningful actions on your website that aren’t conversion actions per-se (video views, button clicks, and PDF downloads). Google Tag Manager can help you tag your website to record these actions as “events” in Google Analytics.

Google Ad Grants Next Steps…

There is, of course, so much more to setting up, launching, and managing an effective Grants account. 

You need to consider your audiences, locations, day parting, demographics, and which devices are most likely to convert. Did you also know you can run a paid account concurrently with Grants? It’s true there is a lot to initially consider, and then some.

If you’re brand new to PPC and the world of Google Ads, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and make mistakes. Just remember that there have been thousands of nonprofits that have successfully applied for and deployed Google Grants to promote their missions.

If you find yourself wearing too many hats in your organization and need a helping hand, the team at Digital Third Coast helps non-profits, just like yours, utilize Google Grants to make a measurable difference. 

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