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The Fundamentals of Paid Search for Nonprofit Organizations

While it's well-known that digital marketing is a large and growing source of commercial traffic volume, it is also a great resource for nonprofits. With the right management and maintenance, our digital marketing efforts can help educate and capture qualified donors and volunteers that would otherwise be difficult to reach. Many of the same techniques that work for commercial paid search carry right over into making the most out of a nonprofit paid search program, but there are also some opportunities that are specific to the nonprofit space. Here's our rundown of the key fundamentals and considerations for a successful nonprofit paid search program:

Choose the Right Keywords and Match Types

Creating a variety of different keywords to capture your audiences throughout the different stages of their online research is vital in developing a healthy paid search program. Think of your company as a Jeopardy answer; what questions could lead users to your site? These keywords can range from vague donation or gift ideas like donate to charities or charitable gifts to very specific causes that you support. Also consider the different options for match types. You may want to use phrase and/or exact match types for keywords which could be related to topics other than your site's offerings to help limit unrelated traffic, while broad match could be used for more specific keywords in order to capture a wider audience from similar queries. While keywords are vital for your ads to show, it is also important that you are obtaining qualified traffic. After evaluating your keywords, you may realize that certain ones spend a lot but see little return. For these terms, you should consider using tighter match types (if the terms aren't already on exact) or updating bids. You should also look through the search queries that are triggering your ads and incorporate negative keywords to better filter traffic for broader match types. If there are some types of donations that you do not and never will offer, such as blood donations at an animal clinic or clothing at an environmental center, adding terms like 'blood' and 'clothing' as negatives for these advertisers may be a good idea.

Create Effective Ad Copy

A keyword helps connect your site with a search query, and compelling ad copy facilitates that connection. One useful element to include in ad copy is your brand's name, which can help to increase click-through rate and decrease average cost-per-click (CPC), as shown in sample data from one RKG advertiser:

Brand in Copy Impact

If you have promotions running, you should also make sure these are spelled out in the text of your ad to make sure searchers are aware of the value of your offering. Finally, it is important to ensure that your text is specific to the search and landing pages so that users know where they will be going before they click. To mislead searchers will only lead to fruitless clicks when users arrive on a page they weren't intending to find themselves on.

Take Users to Relevant Landing Pages

Landing pages can make or break a user’s interaction with your site. If someone searches for a broad donation term, sending them directly to a donation page for a specific cause may be premature and not an ideal user experience. Give some consideration to the keywords and searches users are conducting and send them to the page that best answers their need. If you do not have a page specific to the search, determine if building out a page is a viable option. Alternatively, this may represent another opportunity for a negative or paused keyword, if there is no hope for creating a fitting landing page.

Make Good Use of Search Engine Offerings and Tools

The search engines offer a multitude of product offerings and tools to help you display your ads to the right users in effective ways. Brainstorm ways you can use these and continually check in on new beta versions that you can use. While this may take some creative thinking, it will effectively differentiate you in an increasingly competitive nonprofit market space, as we have seen with our own nonprofit experiences. Helpful tools include:
  • Google has created a grant program for nonprofits in paid search. If your nonprofit qualifies, we have found this to be an additional opportunity for branding or educating users on charities without any spend from the marketing budget.
  • Consider using Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) on Google to target different user segments. You can create user lists to capture different types of donors or site interactions. The two major benefits in using RLSAs are that you can create unique ad text to apply directly to a specific user segment, as well as the ability to establish additional bid valuation layers based on what you know about each segment.
  • Geotargeting is a valuable resource in that it gives advertisers the ability to adjust bids by the value of geographic regions.  Even if you do not have location-specific offerings, you can see how user behavior differs throughout the market and then bid accordingly. Geotargeting also provides unique opportunities to create targeted ad copy and keywords, providing users with an option to donate to a charity with greater local relevance.

Non-Profit Geotargeting

  • Make use of the different ad extensions out there to further enhance your ads. If you have location-based services, try using location extensions or adding call extensions to your mobile ads. You also can use your social media sites as sitelinks to provide users with different ways to interact with your cause. Call-out extensions are similar to sitelinks in that they provide users with more information, but are different in the fact that they are not links. These are great options in providing users with information about your cause and how it is unique from other charities. Finding different types of extensions not only help users gain more insight regarding your cause, but these extensions also can add value to your ads by taking up more space on the search engine results page (SERP). This can lead to big increases in CTR, just as one client saw when adding call extensions to their campaigns:

Call Out Extension Impact

Measuring Success

Finally, like any other initiative, it is important to determine how you want paid search to help your nonprofit program and determine your KPIs, or key performance indicators, before the campaign begins. These can range from driving donations, to growing social media followers, to obtaining email subscribers or volunteers, and simply to educating the public on a specific cause. Once that target is determined, you can then use our tips to help accomplish your goals through paid search. The above techniques will not only help you show ads to an optimal search audience, but they will also help you continually improve upon your paid search programs. The different engine offerings are vast, and nonprofits have a lot of opportunity to capture mind share and further expand their causes with proper campaign management and smart use of the tools at our disposal.
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