How to take advantage of Google Ad Grants as a small nonprofit

Let’s talk about something nonprofits know very well: Grants! More specifically, let’s talk about something a lot of nonprofits don’t know about, or maybe don’t know how to manage: Google Ad Grants. 

Google Ad Grants are a grant offered by Google through their Google for Nonprofits program (If you’re not already familiar, get familiar here) which gives $10,000 real, actual dollars to nonprofits in Google Ads spend. It may sound too good to be true but I assure you, it is too good and it is true. This grant allows you to spend up to $10,000 a month to get your nonprofit’s website in front of people who are looking for information, services, or products that you offer. Not only can Google Ads help you reach a highly relevant audience, but can help people find your website in instances they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and allows you to access search data that you cannot get otherwise. Did we mention this costs you nothing?

It feels like a no brainer, but a lot of nonprofits are missing out on this opportunity by simply not taking advantage of it. This may have to do with some misconceptions around the platform, a lack of understanding, or intimidation by the rules, all of which we are here to dispel so you can get straight to free advertising.

Before we start, we want to empower small nonprofits by saying you can do this on your own. You do not need to be a Google Ads expert to run a successful Ad Grant account. Whether you choose to partner with a local marketing agency, freelancer, or use your own internal marketing person, you can get this done. All it takes is an understanding of the rules and a commitment to managing the Ad Grant account. If you feel ready to tackle the process (and you should!) then please read on. 

How to Prepare for Google Ad Grants

If you haven’t done it already, you need to first apply for a Google for Nonprofits account, which is super easy to do. Just fill out the short application which requires you to verify your nonprofit status. (Note that academic, healthcare, and governmental institutions are ineligible). You’ll need your EIN, physical address, and online contact information to apply. After a few days and a verification, you’re ready to activate your Google Ad Grant account! 

The next step is to make sure your website is ready to be Ad-Grant-approved. Your website will be verified during the Google for Nonprofits application process, and once it is, you need to make sure your website adheres to a few key requirements from Google. These requirements won’t be an issue if you’ve taken the time to ensure you have a user-friendly and up-to-date website. Some of the requirements include:

  1. Having a clear description of your organization, mission and activities with substantial content, calls-to-action, and clear navigation
  2. Having unique content
  3. Your website must load quickly, not contain broken links, and be HTTPS secured (also known as an SSL certificate)
  4. Limited commercial activity (sales should not be the primary objective of your site and you may not sell goods and services unless they support your mission)
  5. Limited ads on your website (including NO AdSense)

If you’re not sure if your website meets these criteria, set up your Google Ad grants account anyway – Google will let you know if anything is found to be out of compliance and you will have the opportunity to fix it and try again without being penalized. 

After you are approved through Google For Nonprofits, choose to activate Google Ads, and follow the guides to create your Google Ads account. More details can be found here under Part 1 – Step 1.

The last two steps required before your account is activated are to complete a quick pre-qualification survey (about 10 minutes) and complete Ad Grants training followed by a quiz (also about 10 minutes for the training video and quiz). 

As long as all goes well, you should be approved within a few days by email. Then, you’re ready to start building your account!

Building a Successful Google Ad Grants Account

If you’re not already versed in Google Ads, this may be a good place to bring in some specialized help. Otherwise, you can start small and still be successful with your Ad Grant. 

At a high level, your Ad Grant account is broken into 4 main components, all of which play a role in the success of your account: 

  1. Campaigns
  2. Ad groups (within each campaign)
  3. Keywords (within each ad group)
  4. Ads and Ad Extensions (within each ad group)

There are endless resources available with a quick search to help you understand the best organization for your account, like this one from Google. In order to get started, you will need to set up one campaign, 2 ad groups within that campaign, at least one keyword per ad group, 2 ads per ad group, and 2 sitelink ad extensions per ad group. 

Google-Ads account structure diagram

Image source: support.google.com

To figure out where to start, first make sure you have (at least) one good landing page on your site that you want to send people to. A good landing page will have robust content, including the terms you hope people are using to find your organization or its services. If your organization is an animal shelter, you might have a page on your site discussion pet adoptions. We’ll use this example to start. 

Once you’ve identified a service/event/product and page on your site that you want to send people to, the next step is to figure out which keywords you want to bid on and show ads for. (I think this is the most fun part, but I really like data). Google Ads has a tool built in to help you figure out what these keywords should be, called Keyword Planner, which you can access from the tools menu in your account. Once in the Planner, click “Discover new keywords” and get searching! Start with terms that you know (or assume) people would use to find this page on your website, and then keep branching out based on the data the Planner gives you. In our example, we might start with some keywords like “adopt a dog” and “cats for adoption near me.” The more keywords you add, the more data and additional keyword ideas you will receive. Download these keywords in a spreadsheet, keep a list of the best ones on your trusty notepad, or check the boxes next to the keywords to import them directly into your account.

Things to keep in mind when doing your keyword research and adding keywords to your ad groups:

  1. No one-word keywords are allowed in an Ad Grants account
  2. Keywords should be relevant to the content on your site, otherwise you may be penalized
  3. Put only like-keywords into each ad group; in our pet adoption example, we’d likely want to create one group for dog adoption keywords and another for cat adoption keywords
  4. Try to keep your keyword list as minimal as possible for each ad group
    1. As long as you’re using broad match or broad match modified match types you do not need to include all variations of your keyword that you can think of. The keyword cat adoption could trigger ads for search queries including cat adoptions, cats to adopt, adopt a cat, cat adoptions near me, etc.
      1. If you want to refine your keywords to not allow such variety, try phrase or exact match types instead.

Now, the last step is writing ads and ad extensions! Ads are the content that users see when they input a search that matches one of your selected keywords. Ads show up at the top and/or bottom of relevant search result pages on Google. You will be using text ads in your Google Ad Grant account (as opposed to display ads, video ads, etc.). Google has a simple guide for writing successful text ads, but the most important thing to remember is to keep them relevant, both for Google and your website users. The headlines should contain one or more of your keywords, and the descriptions should support those headlines and give users a good idea of the page they will be landing on, the service you’re offering, a call-to-action, and why you are relevant to their search. You will need to write 2 distinct ads for each ad group you set up.

In addition to the two ads, you need to set up 2 sitelink ad extensions. These are extensions of your ad that may or may not show along with your main ad, and should link to other relevant pages on your site. In our pet adoption example, the dog adoption ad group will have 2+ ads talking all about dog adoption services at our shelter, but the sitelink extensions could include links to our homepage, our contact page, and/or cat adoptions. Sitelinks do not need to match your keywords.

Now, you’re all set up for success! A few other things to consider before you launch your campaign(s) and start utilizing that free Google money…

Some particulars

Google doesn’t give out free money without some rules. But they aren’t too hard to follow – we covered most of them already! The rules for compliance are listed here, but we’ll summarize them for you as well:

  1. No single-word keywords
  2. No overly generic keywords (make sure the intent of the search is clear)
  3. No keywords with a low quality score of 1 or 2 – but you can quickly set up an automated rule to take care of this
  4. Maintain an account average click-through rate (CTR) of 5% each month
    1. Easily achieved if your keywords and landing page are relevant and…
    2. Be sure to set up a campaign for your brand name! 
  5. Valid conversion tracking is set up 

Conversion tracking can scare some people off, but don’t let it! Setting up conversions in Google Analytics or Google Ads is fairly simple. Conversions (also known as Goals in Analytics) could be form submissions, button clicks, or views of a key page on your site. Your conversion rates do not need to be high, but you need to at least have them. If you cannot think of a good conversion on your site, you can always set up a duration or pages/session Goal (i.e. someone stayed on the site for more than 4 minutes or viewed more than 4 pages counts as a conversion).

And some myths

You do not need to spend $10,000 to keep your grant. You don’t even need to spend $100 per month. Read: there is no minimum spend you must maintain. And although there is no minimum, don’t expect to spend all $10,000. It’s very difficult to do and takes a lot of time. Be happy with anything you’re able to accomplish and don’t stress if you can’t hit the $10,000/mo mark. Sometimes it’s just impossible if you’re a smaller or local non-profit!

If you fall briefly out of compliance, your account will (most likely) not be shut off. You have time to make corrections, so be sure you’re monitoring your account regularly and meeting that 5% CTR and a minimum of 3 Quality Score.

You don’t (necessarily) need to pay someone to help you set up and manage Ad Grants. Paying an outside company may make this project unfeasible for small nonprofits, so while outside help might expedite the process and give you value you can’t access on your own, you can do this on your own, too. 

You do not need to have any specific conversion rate to remain compliant. While you should still aim to include relevant and meaningful conversions, you won’t ever be penalized for them (but you do need to have them).

TL;DR

Alright, I know that was a lot of information. If you didn’t read the whole thing or you want a recap, I’m here for you. 

What I want nonprofits to know is that Google Ad grants exists and it is an invaluable addition to your marketing quiver that you need to be taking advantage of. While the setup may be a little tedious, you do not need to be a digital marketing expert to make it happen. And once you’ve set the account up and have some campaigns running, the hard part is over and you get to reap the benefits indefinitely (like every month indefinitely, at a max of $10,000 in value indefinitely). While there are rules to follow, you won’t run into issues if you have laid a solid foundation with your website and your keywords.

Equipped with this information, we encourage you to go do what nonprofits do best and go use that grant money! 

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