Is your Google Ad Grant not generating the results you dream about? Is it running, but you have the nagging sense that it could be doing more for you—that $10,000 per month of free ad spend should be making more of an impact for your nonprofit than it is?
Or, do you know you need to build a Google Ad Grant account but you’re not sure where to start?
If so, I wrote this guide for you. I’ve done pay-per-click advertising for over 5 years with a focus on Google Ads, and I built out and headed the pay-per-click branch of my old agency before I left to serve nonprofits. I wrote this guide as an in-depth explainer to help you optimize your Google Ad Grant so you can start putting that $10,000 per month to work for your organization.
In this guide I’ll show you the most important key points to help you optimize (or build!) your account to start flooding your site with visitors, volunteers, and new donations. I’ll cover key principles I’ve learned in over 5 years of running 20+ Google Ads accounts.
1) Set Priorities (and Conversion Actions) For Your Account
This is the most important part of building a Google Ads account: set priorities so that you’re using the $10,000/m of free ad spend to drive actions that directly help your organization.
For most nonprofits, these actions tend to be:
- donate to your cause
- sign up for your mailing list
- sign up as a prospective volunteer
You might have other priorities, but make sure you know what you want your Google Ad spend to do for you and build around that.
Once you have 1-3 key priorities, make sure to set those as your Conversion Actions in Google Ads. If you want to drive donations, set a donation (or at least a visit to the “Donate” page of your site) as a Conversion Action. If you want to drive email sign-ups, set up email form submissions as a Conversion Action.
I recently audited one account that spent $10,000 per month driving people (not their target market) to read blogs. Instead of donations or email sign-ups, their conversion action was: blog reads. This could have been effective if the blogs tied into the organization and the problem it solved, but they didn’t.
It was a real shame: the account was beautifully built in a lot of ways, and had a low average cost-per-click and a very high click-through-rate. Whoever built it got it 90% right. But this one issue cut off its effectiveness at the knees.
Tie your Google Ads account to specific goals that matter to your nonprofit, and you’ll be amazed at what $10,000/m can do for those goals.
2) Setting Up Your Account Structure (TOFU, MOFU and BOFU)
When you’re building your Google Ads account, it’s important to remember that most people aren’t going to see your site for the first time, click through to your donate page, and donate $100/month on their very first visit. Nor are they going to volunteer to sign up with you if this is their first time hearing of you.
Remember, the average customer journey involves 7-13 touchpoints. Someone might Google the problem you’re trying to solve and read one of your blogs, and then leave, and then find another blog, and then see you on Facebook, and then go directly to your homepage, and then see a testimonial from someone you’ve helped, and then see your page about how you’re solving XYZ problem, and then finally decide to donate (or volunteer).
Conversion paths for a nonprofit, with identifying information greyed out. See those people who visited the site directly 5x, then came in from Google, then visited the site directly another 14x? That’s common.
So I’ve found that it’s better to structure your ad account with this in mind. How do you do that?
Top of Funnel (TOFU)
I like to spend a fair amount of my budget on TOFU (top-of-funnel) traffic. What is top of funnel traffic? It’s people who are looking for information about who you are or the problem you’re trying to solve. Let’s say that your charity sponsors children in Africa. “Child poverty in Africa” (a keyword with 260 searches/month) would be a top-of-funnel keyword, because the person is searching for information about a problem. They’re still in learning mode; they’re not ready to take action yet.
What kind of ad and landing page do you show someone who’s searching, “child poverty in Africa?” How about a blog that weaves together human stories and statistics to a) show users what child poverty looks like and b) provide a bigger context for the size of the problem and why it matters so much to address it?
The call to action on this page wouldn’t necessarily be to donate; it might just be, “Sign up for our email newsletter to stay in the know about this essential issue.”
Top of funnel campaigns build awareness and give people a great first introduction to your nonprofit. They’ll start to associate your brand with the problem that you solve, so when they’re ready to donate you’ve already laid the groundwork.
Middle of Funnel (MOFU)
I also like to spend a fair amount of my budget on MOFU (middle of funnel) traffic. Middle of funnel traffic is people who are still looking for information, but are starting to get interested in how to solve the problem. Going with our running example that your charity sponsors children in Africa, “how to prevent child poverty” (50 searches/month) would be a good middle of funnel keyword. The searcher might not be ready to donate yet, but they’re actively looking for information on how to solve the problem.
What kind of ad and landing page do you show someone who’s searching, “how to prevent child poverty?” How about a blog that talks about the ripple effects of prosperity caused by sponsoring a child, and tells the story of a sponsored child from your organization who returned to their home to create jobs and opportunity there?
The call to action on this page might be to visit a page where the user can see lots of children they can sponsor.
Bottom of Funnel (BOFU)
The last place I spend my Google Ad Grant is on BOFU (bottom of funnel) traffic. BOFU traffic is from people ready to take action. They might be searching, “sponsor a child in Africa,” (720 searches/month) in Google.
What do you show these people? How about a landing page with exactly what they’re looking for—a page of children in Africa to sponsor, with a way for them to pull out their credit card and do just that?
How Does This All Tie Together?
First, with TOFU and MOFU campaigns you’re building brand awareness and user engagement before you ask for the donation. That way when people are looking for a charity to donate to, they’re more likely to remember you. That’s often far more effective than just asking people for a donation on their first visit to your website.
Second, you’re meeting people where they are. If they’re in “gather information” mode, you’re giving them information. If they’re ready to take action, you give them the opportunity to.
Third, you can use retargeting to tie all three types of campaigns together if you want. You can use a TOFU campaign to build brand awareness, and retarget to only those people to show them your MOFU content. Then retarget to only people who have seen your MOFU content to show them your BOFU content. This can take a large target market and brand awareness to do well, but it’s one way of nurturing your leads all the way through the donor journey.
3) Picking Keywords
Keywords are the foundation of your Google Ads account, because they dictate which searchers you’re getting in front of and when. If you want to get in front of people searching for a child in Africa to sponsor, then, “sponsor a child in Africa” is a great keyword.
It’s important to think about the user intent behind each keyword, and choose different buckets of keywords for your TOFU/MOFU/BOFU campaigns. Someone searching for, “sponsor a child in Africa” isn’t looking for information, so that shouldn’t be a TOFU keyword. By contrast, “how does poverty impact child development” (90 searches/month) could be a great TOFU keyword because it gives you more opportunity to talk about the problem (child poverty) and how imperative the problem is to fix.
Once you’ve chosen your keywords, what match type should you choose? Google has a great rundown of the three match types (Broad, Phrase, and Exact) here, but essentially: Broad match has the loosest matches, and Exact match has the tightest.
I like Phrase match as a default. Broad match can burn your budget on keywords that are only tangentially relevant, and Exact match often doesn’t capture all of the different variations for how people search in Google.
If your keyword is, “sponsor a child in Africa,” then making the keyword Broad match means you might show for barely-related search queries like, “books on helping kids in Africa.” Exact match, on the other hand, would miss search queries like, “how much does it cost to sponsor a child in Africa?” Phrase match offers a happy medium.
Adding Negative Keywords
Once your account is live, make sure to check every week or two for irrelevant queries that are showing up for your keywords, using the Search Queries report:
The Search Query report shows all the queries your ads are showing for, so you can find the irrelevant ones and add them as negative keywords. Identifying information has been removed.
Once you find an irrelevant query that your ads are showing up for, add the irrelevant part as a negative keyword. For instance, if your ads are showing for the query, “sponsor a child in Haiti” (110 searches/month) and your organization doesn’t work in Haiti, then you can add “Haiti” as a negative keyword.
This is especially important if your nonprofit is local. For instance, I used to work with a bariatric surgeon who was in Denver and one of our keywords was, “bariatric surgery.” Even though our geography was restricted to Denver, we still saw search queries like, “bariatric surgery Texas.” Making “Texas” a negative keyword fixed that issue.
4) Writing Ads
When it comes to writing ads for your Google Ad Grant, you have two choices: Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) and Responsive Search Ads (RSAs). Here’s the breakdown:
ETAs vs RSAs
- ETAs: include up to 3 headlines and 2 descriptions. You write the headings, descriptions, and the path (the visible URL, which doesn’t need to exactly match your landing page URL) and Google shows the ads just the way you write them. Pretty traditional.
- RSAs: You write up to 15 headlines and up to 4 descriptions, plus the path; and Google’s AI will mix and match different headline/description combinations to find the ones that generate the best click through rate.
I used to distrust RSAs, but I’ve actually seen good results with them lately. Google’s AI is very smart, and getting smarter. And Google heavily encourages you to use them. I haven’t seen hard evidence of this, but I suspect that they discount some of your clicks on RSAs to encourage you to keep using them, because you using RSAs is good for Google (more opportunity for them to test/refine their AI).
I recommend for each ad group that you include 1 RSA and 2-3 ETAs.
Writing Headlines & Descriptions
How do you write your headlines and descriptions? Here are some tips:
1) Match your ad to the user intent and the landing page. If your user is searching, “sponsor a child in Africa,” then one of your headlines should be about sponsoring a child in Africa. Make it clear to the user that your ad matches what they’re searching for.
1a) Your ad should very clearly match your landing page. Users care a lot about ad—>landing page continuity. Why? It’s easier to see with an example from the corporate sector. Let’s say that an ad offers “Free Shipping,” so the user clicks it, but when they get to the landing page there’s no mention of free shipping. At best they’re going to be confused; at worst they’re going to suspect (and perhaps rightly so) a bait-and-switch where the ad included misleading copy to make them click.
If you mention something in your ad (for example, that someone can sponsor a child for $1/day), then make sure to include that same benefit in your landing page to minimize user confusion and build trust.
2) Use selling points from your other successful marketing campaigns. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. If you know from your email marketing that subject lines like, “Fund a child’s education,” generate clicks from readers who turn into donors, then use that same copy as a headline in your search ads.
Google Ad Extensions
When it comes to Google Ad Extensions (Instalink has a great list of the 17 different types here): use them. Use as many as you can without repeating yourself or saying things that aren’t true.
Why? First off, the extensions make your ads larger. More real estate means users are more likely to click on your ads versus a different nonprofit’s. That can even lower your cost-per-click by improving your ads’ Quality Score, meaning you can reach even more people with your Google Ad Grant.
One of the benefits of sitelinks, an ad extension that Google offers, is that your ads can be giant. This is all one ad.
Second, ad extensions let you showcase more benefits of your nonprofit. I’ve used sitelinks to showcase new initiatives of my clients, for instance. I’ve also used callouts to highlight some of the work a client has done (ex. Working in XYZ countries), or an achievement of theirs (ex. Endorsed by XYZ celebrity or organization).
5) Landing Pages
Picking a landing page is a lot like writing an ad. Think about the user’s intent and offer users a landing page that gives them what they’re looking for. If their keyword is, “sponsor girl child,” (40 searches/month) then show them a landing page with girls they can sponsor. If their keyword is, “benefits of sponsoring a child” (50 searches/month) then show them a landing page with copy, images, and stories explaining the impact they can make by sponsoring a child.
This landing page, from Children of the Nations, tells a powerful story to convey the benefits of sponsoring a child.
In most cases, you can pick an existing landing page on your site rather than having to create a new one from scratch.
The one thing a successful landing page needs is a clear call to action. Whether it’s asking users to sign up for your newsletter, donate, volunteer, or something else, give them a clear next step so that they’re more likely to take the actions that matter to your nonprofit.
Finally, just like with ads, I encourage you to piggyback on other successful marketing campaigns. If one email marketing campaign generates lots of donations by sending email users to a specific landing page, then leverage that same page for Google Ads. I created a lead-gen campaign for a staffing agency with an 8-10% conversion rate, just by using landing pages with copy and benefits that the client already knew worked well.
Remember, it’s not about reinventing the wheel; it’s about identifying what resonates with your target market and doubling down on what works.
Conclusion: Ongoing Optimization
Even once you’ve built (or tweaked) your account and your new ads/keywords/landing pages/etc are live, you’ll want to monitor and optimize your account on a regular basis. I go into most of my ad accounts every week (sometimes more often). I look at what’s working, look at what’s not working and how to fix it, and keep my eye on the account overall so that I keep Google Ads working its hardest for my clients.
There are a few big reasons to optimize your account on an ongoing basis:
1) Data will out
I’ve had what I thought were amazing ideas for new ads/keywords/etc, but when I plugged them into Google Ads the data didn’t bear them out. The kinds of people I wanted weren’t clicking, or the wrong kinds of people were. By keeping your eye on the account every week, you can rapidly identify what’s not working and cut it (or tweak it) so that you’re not throwing good money after bad.
At the same time, I’ve had ideas I thought were so-so that turned into amazing results. After attending SMX Advanced (an international search engine marketing conference) a couple of years ago, I tried a new idea for an assisted living account that I wasn’t quite sure about. It generated a flood of leads, and I was able to reroute the account to double down on this strategy once we saw it worked. The more shots you take, the more shots you’ll hit.
2) The World Changes
When Coronavirus hit, every PPC account I or my network was watching saw huge changes. Big spending dropped off as people tried to save money. Elective surgeries were back-burnered. Demand for virtual events skyrocketed, and demand for in-person events cratered.
The world changes, and the international situation changes (as any charity with operations in Afghanistan knows intimately). That change can present new challenges and opportunities as you try to bring awareness to your cause.
By staying active in your Google Ads account every week, you can adapt rapidly to a changing world.
3) The Charitable Landscape Changes
Other nonprofits in your space are constantly innovating, and trying out new Google Ad Grants strategies and tactics. That can have a big impact on your own account. A keyword that brought in low-cost donations last month might double in cost this month.
By keeping an eye on fluctuations like your cost per click and click through rate, and on what other nonprofits in your space are doing, you can adapt agilely and make any necessary changes.
Working With An Expert vs DIY-Ing
I’ve been doing pay-per-click for 5 years and loved (almost) every minute of it.
If this is sounding like a lot of work, then I’ll be honest…it is. It’s important, but optimizing $10,000 per month of ad spend to bring in a flood of donations, newsletter sign-ups, and volunteers is not a one-hour job.
If you want to do it yourself, then I sincerely hope this blog helps. If you still have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.
If you don’t have the internal resources or expertise to optimize your Google Ad Grant and just want someone to take it off your plate, I’ve worked with Google Ads for over 5 years. I’ve managed dozens of clients and they’ve been pretty thrilled. If you’d like me to take a look at your Google Ad Grant account, I’d be happy to:
- do a complimentary audit & strategy session
- talk to you about YOUR goals for the account and what you’d like to achieve (be it more monthly donations, more newsletter sign-ups, more one-time donors, or something else)
- build out a plan to optimize the ad account to meet those goals
Feel free to email me at email@example.com, or get in touch here.