A Plain Language Guide to Google Ad Grants for Nonprofits

What is a Google Ad Grant?

A Google Ad Grant is $10,000 in in-kind Google search advertising for eligible nonprofits. That roughly equates to up to $120,000 a year in free search advertising for qualifying nonprofits! This is a powerful digital marketing opportunity that can help your organization gain exposure, boost your fundraising efforts, and connect with people who are interested in your work and are likely to become supporters, volunteers, or donors.

The grant offers account credits for Google Ads–Google’s targeted advertising service. When set up and executed correctly, Google Ads displays ads on their Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) to people who are looking for keywords relevant to the advertiser’s work (as those are the people who would be most interested in the work your organization is doing) and drives them to the advertiser’s website.

Google Ads (formerly known as Google Adwords accounts) offers a variety of advertising products, but the in-search text advertising option is only available with the Google Grant. Text ads on Google are priced using a Pay Per Click (PPC) model using a live auction.

Eligibility Requirements: What Type of Organization Qualifies for a Google Grant?

Before you start your grant application, you first need to make sure that your nonprofit qualifies for the Google Ad Grants Program. Your organization will need a 501c3 certification in order to apply and there are some restrictions on which type of organizations are eligible. A list of the organizations that do not qualify for a Google Grant includes:

  • hospitals;
  • government entities;
  • academic institutions (such as schools, universities, and nonprofits that sell courses or other types of educational services); and
  • ecommerce sites.

Though in general these types of nonprofits do not qualify, there are some gray areas so we encourage you to consult Google directly to see if you qualify for the program.

Site and Content Quality Impacts Google Grant Eligibility and Performance

Qualifying organizations also must have a high quality website. For Google,“high quality” means the site is helpful or provides value to the user and that the site’s content demonstrates high levels of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T).

We’ve found that the more high quality content you have on your site, the better you will be able to fully utilize the $10,000 per month in free advertising.

Keep in mind that Google Ad Grant dollars are allotted in $329 increments on a daily basis. Unused grant dollars do not roll over to the next day so if you don’t use it you lose it.

If your website does not already feature a lot of high quality content, then you may need to focus your attention on creating and publishing high quality pieces on topics you want to drive people to using Google Ads before you begin the application process.

What are the Potential Benefits of a Google Ad Grant?

So what can $10,000 of monthly Google advertising get you?

If your campaigns are well planned and implemented, your free ads will show up in Google Search results for keywords that your focus audiences are looking for that are highly relevant to your organization. When effective, those ads will make an impact on the people who see them.

The three main benefits of Google Advertising are increased traffic, brand awareness, and conversions.

If your campaigns are well strategized and executed, your website can expect to get more clicks from those ads and more people who are searching for topics related to your core expertise and areas of impact (your niche) will see your organization’s branding. Increased conversions, specifically high quality conversions, are not only a benefit of Google Ad Grants, they are a requirement.

What are High-Quality Conversions?

High quality conversions happen when the internet users who see your ad, follow the call to action, and go on to perform an action that shows they are interested in what you are offering:

  • Sign up for your newsletter
  • Make a phone call to your organization
  • Make a donation
  • Fill out a contact form or another online registration
  • Purchase a product, service, or event ticket
  • Download a resource (such as a white paper, guide, or tool)

The conversions that you want will depend on what your needs are as an organization.

The good news is that you can really tailor your conversions to your needs! The bad news is that setting up your conversions properly might require a developer to install conversion tracking on your website and that will come with a cost. There are ways to incorporate Google Tag Manager within your website so that installing conversion tags will be easier. Usually web developers will do this if there are lots of tags to install. Tag Manager works seamlessly with Google Ads so there will be no issues with tag compatibility. For websites that need fewer tags, they can be installed manually. In most cases this still requires at least an hour or two of support from a professional website developer.

Once you get conversion tracking installed on your website your organization will be allowed to bid higher than Google Ad Grant’s baseline bid, which is a $2 Cost Per Click or CPC, by using an automated bidding strategy.

This same conversion tracking work brings another significant benefit in that it enables automated reporting so you can track the effectiveness of your Google Ads and campaigns. That means you could arrange for someone on your team to be automatically emailed the results periodically.

Getting Started: From Validation to Application

Before you can start the application process, your qualifying nonprofit must first seek validation by a third party called TechSoup.

Once your organization is successfully validated, you have the ability to join Google for Nonprofits. Then you can apply for the Google Grant. 

Nonprofits can either go through the application process on their own or they can hire an experienced Google Grants Consultant. Our agency, JB Media, is one example of a service provider with expertise in helping nonprofits navigate the Google Grant application process and answer the application questions. We are happy to answer any questions you have about whether or not hiring a Google Grant consultant is right for your organization. Contact us with your questions.

Starting Research and Strategy Once You Are Approved

Once your organization is approved for the Google Grant, you can then begin to develop a Google Ads strategy. First you’ll need to identify which keywords will be used for your campaigns and make a plan for how the budget will be spent.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

  • Google Ad Grant ads are text-based only. Graphics or videos cannot and will not be included in your ad campaign.
  • Your Google Ads won’t show up on other websites, they will only appear to users on the Google Search platform.
  • You have to keep your website in good working order.
  • There are some strict restrictions (we’ll talk about those later).

Requirements

To use your Grant dollars, you’ll need to plan for Google Ad campaigns, ad groups, and ads. You’ll need to:

  • Determine which keywords you want to focus on.
    • Note: you can’t target any single word or overly broad keywords. It is tempting to go broad, but Google strictly enforces their restriction on going too broad.
    • Also, keep in mind that you can’t target branded keywords you don’t own, i.e., “Toyota Corolla.”
  • Create two ad groups per campaign.
  • Create two ads per ad group.

Conversion tracking must be installed on your website before any of your campaigns will be approved by Google.

Keyword Quality Score

Your keywords must achieve a quality score of three or higher. We’ll give you more information on quality scores in a later section. Just know that in order to meet this requirement you’ll need to monitor the quality score vigilantly because if you do go below three, Google will pause your account.

Click Through Rate (CTR)

This is the big one: you will need to achieve a 5% click through rate (CTR). Achieving a 5% CTR, or better, will not necessarily be easy. Keep in mind that the industry standard click through rate for Google Ads accounts is about 3%.

Achieving a 5% or better click through rate will require active monitoring of your account. Though 5% is not easy to hit, it is possible, especially if you have help from an expert. Many of JB Media’s Google Ad accounts that we run achieve 10% or more click through rate. Now these are high quality accounts–and that’s exactly what Google demands. They want any account that qualifies for a Google Ad Grant to be as high quality as possible because they are sending you free traffic.

Structuring Campaigns

Keyword Selection

The first step towards building your Google Ad Campaign strategy is keyword research, luckily Google’s Keyword Planner is a free tool to use, and it’s awesome!

Begin by looking to see what search terms your website is already ranking for “organically” especially if you have invested time and resources into Search Engine Optimization (SEO). “Organic” search traffic refers to site visitors who found their way to your website, not from advertising, but from non-branded search engine results. Non-branded means the searchers were not looking for the name of your organization, they were searching for information about something related to your work and a piece of content you have published on your website came up on the search engine results page and they clicked on it.

Certain keywords that are very relevant to your organization and your audiences will be incredibly difficult to rank for through SEO. Those keywords present a clear opportunity for success with Google Ads.

Let’s say you run a nonprofit art museum. There’s no way you’re going to quickly achieve top organic rankings in Google’s search engine results for the keyword “art museum.” That’s an incredibly difficult keyword to rank for because there are a lot of competitors who have invested a lot of time and resources in SEO efforts to achieve and maintain high rankings for that keyword.

So what your nonprofit could do is take the keyword “art museum” and target it using your Google Ad Grant account. Then you can use your SEO efforts to help build your organic rankings on more niche keywords that make sense for your organization, your mission, your services, and your target audience.

You will have the budget because that baseline $2 CPC is pretty good. Once you initiate the conversion strategy of maximized conversions, Google Grant allows you to go above $2. We’ve seen CPCs have upwards of $20 on a Google Grant.

The best way to evaluate keywords in Google Ads auction is to use free tools like the Keyword Planner. It’s very important that the keywords you bid on match the ad copy and the landing pages you’re targeting.

Quality Scores

The quality score is based on Google’s analysis of your website, the landing page, as well as your ads and your targeted keywords. The more that you keep your keywords tied to their ad groups, the higher the quality score.

You can always enable the quality score column in your Google ads account. Then when you’re in the keyword section of the accounts, you will see the quality score if your ads have already started showing. You won’t see a quality score until after your ads are displayed).

Once Google Ads gets a sense of the quality of the keywords, the platform will then apply a quality score to your keywords.

You definitely want to keep your keywords tied to their ad groups, in part to help maintain a high quality score.

You don’t want to repeat the same keyword in other ad groups because, in essence, you’ll be competing against yourself. And then that just drives up your own CPC.

Geotargeting

In general, with Google ads you’re able to get highly focused with your targeting.

Geographic targeting is especially important with the Google Ad Grant, because you cannot target places outside of the territory you serve. If you are a regional organization, you’re going to need to focus your targeting efforts only on the region you operate in.

Device Targeting

You can also target specific types of devices. So if you’re finding more success with mobile, you can put more emphasis on mobile devices. Alternatively, if you find that desktop computers are where most of your conversions are coming from, then you can target desktop devices over mobile.

Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are incredibly important for you to pay attention to as you are structuring and maintaining your campaigns. You will need to monitor the search terms that lead users to click on your ads. If you’re seeing that certain words that are not related to your business are triggering your ad then that is a good place to add a negative keyword. By doing that you are going to reduce the amount of irrelevant clicks, which will free up more of your budget to advertise to the right people.

Radius Targeting

Radius targeting is one of the best ways to target your audiences. Instead of manually entering every county or city or zip code where you want to have your Google ads shown, you can establish a radius around the geographic epicenter of your work. That simply means that people who are physically located within a 27 mile radius or 40 mile radius from a specific location would be targeted to be shown your ad. This can be a much quicker and more effective method of geographic targeting.

You can also exclude geographic locations. Let’s say your organization serves a region on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, but your services are only eligible for North Carolina residents. You can still use radius targeting to reach people in your region, while excluding those who are not. Your ads will not show in the excluded geographic locations.

To exclude geographic locations, you’ll need to go to the settings of your campaign and designate the excluded region. When you click on your geo-location options pay close attention. Google has a default setting for people who show intent, and it is usually better to only select foro people who are physically located in the area you are geo-targeting. Just because Google makes a default recommendation does not always mean it is the right choice for you.

We advise that you use this technique to exclude geographic locations that are not relevant to your organization. It means that only people who are physically located inside your designated geographic region are going to see the ad. If you only serve North Carolina and someone Hawaii can start talking about like, Oh, you know, towards them in North Carolina or, you know, or whatever it is your nonprofit offers, you know, they will then be showing interest in, could potentially be seeing your ads.

And those may not be qualified clicks because they’re from another geographic location that is outside of the territory you serve or is otherwise not useful to you. So it’s really good to get in the habit of going through your settings, thinking of your targeting and adjusting to ensure you are focusing your advertising efforts only on the people you most need and want to attract.

Mobile Campaigns vs Desktop Campaigns

When you need lead generating phone calls, in the case of non-profit organizations that rely on phone calls more than any other method of contact, you can and should set up ad campaigns that are only delivered to smartphones. In these ads your phone number will appear on the ad and users can call you by simply tapping on your number.

In your Google Ads settings you can exclude ads designed for mobile devices to be delivered to desktop computers and tablets. This means that only Smartphone users will see your ad. If they want to call you directly from the ad, the user can just tap the phone number on the ad and it starts dialing.

Bidding

Google Ads has default bidding settings that automatically selects for “maximize clicks.” More often than not, a nonprofit with a Google Ad Grant should change that to “maximize conversions.”

With either the manual clicks or maximize clicks settings you are capped at $2 CPC. Maximizing conversions gets rid of that cap so there is no limit to the cost per click of the keywords you can bid on. Removing that cap by maximizing conversions allows you to compete on more highly sought after, and potentially valuable, keywords.

Monitor Results and Optimize Your Account on an Ongoing Basis

Once your ad campaigns are launched, you will need to pay close attention to your results. Google Analytics will provide data that will show you what is working. When you notice which search terms are leading to positive trends for your ads, you can then build new ad groups and new ads around those search terms to get more positive results.

That is optimization.

Continually optimizing your ads will increase the quality score and lower your CPC.

Responsive Search Ads

Responsive search ads are user specific ads that Google will create for you based on information that you provide to Google. So when an internet user matching certain criteria searches for a certain keyword, Google will take a list of ingredients that you’ve given them to create the best ad for that user.

In our view, this is one of the best of Google Ads’ recent innovations. We recommend you put one of these in every single ad group that you’re running.

How to Create Responsive Search Ads

To produce responsive search ads, you will need to provide fifteen different headlines and four body paragraphs for the descriptions.

We recommend using important keywords in all the headlines. You can use different calls to action and messaging in the body.

Google uses AI and machine learning to custom select the best combination to deliver to a specific user. The ad servers work their magic to help deliver you the best click impression and click through rate possible. We have seen these perform very well across countless campaigns and many clients.

Google gives you a score based on how well you have created these responsive ads. Try to fill out everything they ask for in order to get the best combinations. It might take time and effort to achieve excellent scores, but it’s worth it. Use your responsive search engine and you will notice a huge uptake in your conversions and clicks.

Have Questions That Aren’t Answered Here?

If you need help applying for or managing your Google Ad Grants Account, please reach out to us to see if we can be of assistance.

JB Media’s Google Ad Grant experts have helped hundreds of nonprofits successfully navigate the application process for Google Ad Grants and maximize the use of their Google Ad campaigns to reach new audiences and achieve their goals for growth.

If you are looking for answers to your questions about Google Ad Grants, or if you would like to share a few tips for how you have used this program to help drive growth within your own nonprofit organization, we would love to hear from you.