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Google Grants Program: Impact of Recent Changes and Best Practices

For those of you unfamiliar with the Google Grants program, it’s a donation initiative from Google that provides 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations with up to $10,000 a month to use through the AdWords platform. This allows organizations that may not be able to afford SEM to increase their visibility through online advertising, without directly spending internal funds. Interested organizations must participate in the Google for Nonprofits program, maintain a current 501(c)(3) status and have a working website to link to advertisements. Organizations that meet those requirements can apply here.

Changes to Google Grants

As of January 2013, there were several restrictions on the Google Grants program, mainly pertaining to budgeting and capping spend. The maximum cost-per-click (CPC) for keywords was originally $1.00 and daily spend was capped at $330 a day. On January 28th, Google increased the maximum keyword CPC from $1.00 to $2.00 while keeping the daily budget at $330/day (here’s the current list of program guidelines). This gave non-profit advertisers the ability to enter more auctions and achieve greater visibility in their existing auctions. Upon reading further details on the changes, however, many advertisers became worried about the overall impact to their Google Grants program’s effectiveness. Google made an additional change that, regardless of the max CPC established by a Google Grants client, paying AdWords advertisers would serve above the Google Grants advertisers. That is to say, a Grant advertiser with a bid of $2.00 would still serve below a paying advertiser with a bid of $0.50. The likelihood of a for-profit advertiser’s keywords overlapping with a non-profit advertiser’s is not extremely high but still could occur in an auction.

Early Results

It’s been over a month since these changes took effect and I stand by my initial reaction that the Google Grants program is still a very worthwhile advertising channel for non-profit organizations.  Below are impression, cost and click trends throughout the month of January and into February for an AdWords program managed by RKG. As you can see from the graph, there’s a definite volumetric increase in all three metrics following the January 28th change. This was, for the most part, expected with an increase in max CPC. In the case of this particular account, budget caps were not being hit in the account so max CPCs were increased to the maximum keyword CPC allowed by Google. Another key question was what the impact to average position would be. Would ads just fall to lower positions because of the change to how for-profit and non-profit advertisers display on the search results page? We did in fact, notice a change in average position. After the change in max CPC the average position fell from 2.5 to 3.6. This change is certainly significant but not one that has had a negative impact on volume. This change in position is most likely a result of the increase in the number of impressions in the account from having a higher CPC and being eligible for more auctions. More information about average position can be found here.

RKG's Best Practices for Maximizing Non-Profit Program Effectiveness

When Google notified advertisers of the change to the Grants program, they included some suggestions for ways to optimize budget use. These tips ranged from keyword creation to proper account organization. After working with the enhancements for over a month now, we’ve come up with a few optimization tips of our own. Target Keyword Creation Building new keywords is always a great way to increase impressions and, hopefully in turn, ad clicks in an account. That being said, building new keywords that directly target an asset of importance to the non-profit is key to achieving great results on a budget. For example, if an organization is looking to boost volunteer efforts, concentrating keyword creation on volunteer sign up pages would be the right move. Create Effective Negatives Once new keywords have been added there may come a time when the budget is being maximized, but not as efficiently as possible. In this case, negative creation is an easy way to free up extra budget space by decreasing traffic to the site that comes through broad-matched search queries with low conversion rates. This decrease in unqualified traffic will result in less spend on those queries and free up some additional space in the budget. Reduce Bids on Low Performing Keywords Just like with commercial paid search programs, another basic way to increase efficiency is to decrease the max CPC of keywords that are low converting. By doing this, the keywords in the account that are high-converting can use the added budget space to display more often throughout the day. Examine Campaign Delivery Method If budgets are being hit early in the day on an accelerated delivery schedule, it could be advantageous to switch to the standard delivery schedule and have ads show evenly throughout the day. This may reveal some trends in user activity throughout the day that weren’t evident on the accelerated delivery schedule. These trends can then be capitalized on by choosing to display ads only during the highest performing time of the day. All in all, I would say that the changes that Google made to the grants program have had a positive impact based upon the data we’ve gathered so far. The increase in max CPC has allowed for advertisers to show ads in more auctions and garner more exposure than before. The change in the competitive structure of the auction between non-profit and for-profit advertisers has not had a significant effect that we’ve seen and should allow Google to effectively serve the interests of both groups.
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