For years, Google has given qualifying nonprofits a $10,000 monthly allowance to use Google AdWords to market their organization and work. The grants were limited by the amount you were allowed to bid for your ad placements, which made it challenging to compete with actual paid advertisers, but also asked little of the organizations — you were asked to log in and check your account stats every 30 days. This combination of limited potential and minimal input often led organizations to just coast after an initial period of enthusiastic but uninformed tweaking. Ad campaigns languished, bringing in some new visitors but without much purpose.
Starting on January 1, 2018, Google released new guidelines for account maintenance. The changes significantly raised the bar for keeping an AdGrants account active. Organizations now need to maintain a 5% click-through rate (CTR) or their account will be cancelled. This change likely represents a heavy lift for organizations who have been passively managing their account. (Google promises warnings and support resources for under-performing account, not cursory termination.)
At the same time, Google has raised the roof on nonprofit bidding for ad placement, provided that the bidding strategy for those ads is to “maximize conversions.” This involves adding some code (a “tag”) to your website that will tell AdWords when certain goals have been achieved. You could add a tag to the email list signup confirmation page, for instance, to note when you’ve added a new subscriber, or code that indicates when certain interactive features have been used, for example. Then Google will structure your ad bidding around trying to attract those internet browsers most likely to act the way you want them to when they arrive at your site. Many AdWords geeks online have expressed excitement about the potential of this strategy, but I have yet to see much discussion of actual results. That will come over time.
The bottom line is that it is going to take more work to maintain your Google AdGrants account. It can no longer be a fidget spinner that you play with while you’re waiting for that webinar to get to the good part. The message from Google seems to be this: fish or cut bait. Understandably so — they want higher quality ads, and they’re giving nonprofit organizations some space and some new tools to raise their game.
The question to you is whether it makes sense to put in the extra work. It’s easy to say “it’s my AdGrant, and they’re not taking it away,” and then easy to spend a lot of time tweaking and managing, but make sure you take time to think about your end goal, and what that end goal is worth. A 5% click-through rate in and of itself has no value, unless those site visitors are providing value to your organization that justifies the time you’re investing.
If you decide to fish, here are a couple of early steps to increase account performance:
- Review historical performance, and pause ads and keywords that are not producing clicks.
- Sell more of what you’re already selling: if you have a frequently searched program with good name recognition, set up ads around that program, using the program name and variations as keywords. These ads will likely be your best performers. While the ads may be capturing traffic that is already looking for you, you’ll boost your CTR towards your account minimum, and avoid having competitors siphon your traffic with their ads. If you’re like most organizations, you’re not using your full monthly budget anyhow, so there’s no opportunity cost to this strategy.
For more information on all of the changes, here is some additional reading: Beaconfire covered the impact of the changes well, while this ePolitics post gives more strategies for improving your account performance. This article offers more specific strategies for increasing your click through rate.
I’ll follow up later with another post that will talk more about results that I have gotten in the AdWords account that I manage, and any other blog posts that cover how organizations are handling the switch. Please use the comments to let me know about your results and/or other resources.