October 21, 2008
How To

Attention Nonprofits: Tactics, Tips for You to Get, Use No-Cost Search Ads with a Google Grant

SUMMARY: You’re a nonprofit marketer with a limited advertising budget. A Google Grant may be just the thing you need to get a ton of no-cost ads in the biggest search engine in the U.S. – even with some limitations and nuances to watch out for.

Find out how your organization can get its hands on a Google Grant. Includes real-life examples, tips for applying, and ways to squeeze the most out of your no-cost ads.
Grants and donations are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations. They can be used for almost any expense – from events to publishing.

Grants are often expense-specific. A Google Grant gives nonprofit marketers a monthly budget in the search engine’s advertising platform, Google AdWords. The grant may not be as powerful as cash, but don’t underestimate it.

Linda Hahner, Executive Director, Literacy Education Center Network, and her team first received a Google Grant in May 2005 and continue to do so. She wished it was cash initially, but now is very happy with what she receives.

“I thought, at the beginning, I wanted a million dollars. But, as it’s turned out, this has been so much more valuable than a million dollars,” she says.

Hahner is one of five Google Grant recipients interviewed for this article. Every one praised the grant’s impact on increasing awareness and spreading their message at no cost. Their search traffic is up as are clickthroughs and overall traffic. “Awareness, in our sense, directly translates into more traffic,” Hahner says.

Find out how the Google Grants program differs from a traditional AdWords account. Discover who is eligible, follow tips for applying for the grant, and learn how best to establish and run a no-cost campaign to fulfill your organization’s core mission.

What is a Google Grant?

A Google Grant gives a nonprofit organization a free Google AdWords budget ranging from $10,000 to $40,000 a month – essentially awarding them free advertising on the search engine’s results pages.

“The idea is to help nonprofits achieve their goals by informing and connecting with their constituents online,” says Alana Karen, Director of Policy and Grants, Online Sales and Operations, Google.

Since the program’s 2003 inception, Google has awarded grants to more than 4,600 nonprofits in 16 countries and donated nearly $300 million in advertising, Karen says. All recipients receive at least three months of free ads. Google regularly extends the grants. Several marketers we spoke with have been in the program for years.

What the grant does for you

The Google Grant educates searchers about your organization by serving your ads and driving traffic to your site. It’s your job to figure out how that can help your core mission. Every marketer we talked to emphasized that the grant is great at building awareness.

The grant is not intended to directly build donations, sales or subscribers – although those stats might increase as a secondary effect.

“At some point I really had to accept the fact that what this grant does for our organization is help more parents and teachers find us,” Hahner says.

Who is eligible?

Organizations in the U.S. must be registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit according to the Internal Revenue Service to be eligible. Google lists other regions from which it will consider applications (see hotlinks below).

Ineligible organizations:
o Any that are already buying Google AdSense ads
o Religious or political organizations, “including those focused primarily on lobbying for political policy or change,” according to program details.

What are the limitations and requirements?

Recipients are not given as much freedom as regular AdWords customers. Limitations include:

o $1 maximum bid on keywords -- this bid-ceiling prevents marketers from competing for prime ad placement on competitive keywords (such as “car loan” or “insurance”)

o No content network ads – ads will only be shown on Google’s search results pages

o Mission in the copy -- your ads must reflect your organization’s mission

o Only relevant keywords -- your keyword choice must be relevant to your programs and services

o No loans -- ads offering financial products, like credit cards, are not allowed

o No link-heavy landing pages -- ads cannot link to pages that are primarily links to other sites

o Always nonprofit -- 100% of sales and proceeds must support your programs

o Active participation required -- You must use your grant and respond to Google’s emails and surveys

Tips for Applying

The application is simple. Here are requirements and tips to improve your chances of being selected:

Basic information (e.g., contact address and mission statement)

Your organization should “have a strong mission to help the world,” Karen says. Suggested types of organizations include, but are not limited to, science and technology, education, global public health, the environment, youth advocacy and the arts.

Description of how Google AdWords can help your organization

Explain how increased exposure via Google will help your organization fulfill its core mission. Describe what you want to advertise and what you want people to do after clicking your ads. If you just want people to read your content and understand your mission, tell them. Google’s grant team wants to see that you have a basic search strategy to help fulfill your mission.

Examples of potential ads

Make sure your ads do not just sell something. They must reflect the mission of your organization, as well as entice users to click (samples linked below).

-Potential keywords – keep them as relevant to your organization as possible
- Target audience for ads
-Approximate monthly site traffic

Importance of Website design

Google will examine your website while reviewing your application. Aspects, such as poor navigation, third-party ads or a commerce section, will likely hurt your case.

Scott Walker, Marketing Director, Orion Society, and his team, for example, had their first application denied. Google did not supply a reason, but Walker admits that Orion’s website was outdated. After a total site revamp with new architecture, navigation, more content and a clearly stated purpose, their second application was approved, he says.

Getting Started

Once your grant is accepted, Google will help you establish a campaign by suggesting keywords, ad tweaks and helpful tips. The Google team is a great resource. Use it, because it won’t be around for long.

Get an expert, get educated

The first task you should complete after receiving a grant is familiarizing yourself with AdWords. In addition to Google’s tutorials, there are countless online resources (see the links below). You also need someone familiar with the system to manage its ongoing operation.

“You don’t need to pay a whole salary for someone to do this,” says Casey Long, Managing Director, The Chance Theater, who pays a part-time marketer to handle his account.

Several of the marketers we talked to had people on staff with AdWords experience. Others were familiar with setting up and running a basic campaign. AdWords is a large part of online marketing today. Someone in your office should be able to help.

Select initial keywords: 5 Tips

Most marketers said the $1 bid limit proposed a challenge, but was not a burden. It kept them from blowing their money on expensive words and persuaded them to bid on a wider range of niche keywords which drive more targeted traffic.

Tip #1. Start small

Keep your campaigns basic when starting out. Bid on your industry’s and your mission’s general keywords. Point ads to your homepage and some content. The idea is to get familiar with the program. You can expand your campaigns and sharpen your targeting later. You do not need to spend every dollar of your first month’s budget.

Tip #2. Avoid broad buzz words

The $1 bid ceiling will prevent you from having well-positioned ads for competitive keywords. The Orion Society, for example, is focused mostly on environmental issues, but is not likely to chase popular phrases, such as “climate change” or “green,” because they’re too expensive, Walker says. So, focus on the cheaper niche words that your audience would use.

Tip #3. Create ads that attract clicks and explain your business

Google wants your ads to identify your organization’s mission clearly; also, these ads will have to convince users to click on them. That’s a delicate balance. Google’s reps will give you useful suggestions when you’re getting started. This is where a good copywriter is invaluable.

Tip #4. Prepare your site

Your website is going to receive an influx of traffic after your AdWords account is active. Make sure the pages receiving traffic:
-Give users the information they searched for (match keywords and landing pages)
-Have a clean design
-Are free of ads

Also, encourage repeat traffic by offering incentives, such as frequently updated content, an email newsletter, and deep archives.

Tip #5. Be patient with Google

Google awards grants every quarter. Its reps handle multiple accounts. They can get busy when a new wave of grants is awarded. One marketer who received the grant during the program’s infancy said his team “didn’t receive as much guidance as they had hoped for,” but managed to get up and running.

The responsibility to establish and maintain your AdWords account is largely yours. The more you learn about effective AdWords marketing, the less dependent you’ll be on a Google rep, and the faster you can start reaping the grant’s benefits.

Maintaining and Tweaking Your Campaign

You can squeeze a lot of power from AdWords by tweaking your keyword selection, ad copy and landing pages. Walker, for example, is getting double the search traffic, 20% more overall traffic and more email newsletter subscriptions since receiving the grant, he says. Hahner has almost doubled her number of site impressions, received over a half-million clicks and is maintaining a 2.37% clickthrough rate, she says.

Here are a few ways marketers are getting more from their grants:

o Make a campaign for everything

“[The $1 limit] encouraged me to be more creative about how we build our campaign and how many words we bid on,” says Jonathan Josephson, Literary Director, The Chance Theater, who manages the theater’s AdWords campaign. “We’ve been able to create campaigns for every single facet of what we do at the Chance.”

Raise awareness about every part of your organization. Create ads and bid on keywords to promote every event, topic, employee, project, Web page and piece of content you can. Dig deep.

o Shift weight around

Some of your campaigns should direct traffic to your general information. When you have a new project launch, you can shift emphasis from your general-topic keywords to promote the new project. Once the launch is complete, you can reactivate the general-information ads.

For example, Lawrence MacDonald, Director of Communications and Policy, Center for Global Development, and his team shifted a larger portion of their grant to promote the launching of a new site focused on carbon emissions. They later returned the focus of the keywords and ads to CGD’s main website and information, he says.

o Tweak and experiment

The initial campaign you set up with your Google rep will drive more traffic to your site. But, as you learn more about AdWords and discover better ways to use it, you’ll find that simple tweaks can really improve performance.

Hahner, for example, had prior experience with AdWords. “The first year we were getting [about] a 1% clickthrough rate… I went in and I switched a couple words around, a couple phrases, and then we jumped up to 2.7% and we’ve held that for two years,” she says.

o Use matching phrases and negative keywords

Phrase match, exact match and negative keywords can help you better target your search ads. So, if you can’t bid on a term as broad as “hunger,” you might be able to bid on “American hunger.” This can help drive down your bid prices and exclude your ads from irrelevant searches. (See links below for definitions)

Should you use an Agency?

Most of the marketers we spoke with were either not search marketing experts or did not have time to fully optimize their campaigns. Instead, they asked a staff member with experience or hired a part-timer or an agency.

Whether or not an agency is necessary will depend on your situation. If your grant is huge, you know little about search marketing, and you’re jammed for time, you might want to consider farming out the task. MacDonald is using an agency. “We’ve gotten a lot more mileage out of the grant than we would have otherwise,” he says.

If you’re really strapped for time, you might not be able to spend all, or even half, of your monthly allotted budget. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table. An agency should be able to unlock the rest of those funds. It’s up to you (and the agency’s price) to decide if the additional exposure is worth the investment.

“The fact that these AdWords have a market value which is established, which the private sector is currently paying, suggests that it’s probably worth it to invest in getting someone to help you maximize [your account],” MacDonald says.

*Tip#1: Consider pro bono agencies*

An agency may be willing to set up and run your account out of the kindness of its heart – and for PR opportunities. MacDonald’s agency is running CGD’s AdWords account pro bono.

Look for agencies that:
- Have shown previous interest in working pro bono
- You have previous experience with
- Have an active PR department
- Share your organization’s values and goals

*Tip #2: Stay involved*

The Google reps and your agency contacts do not know your organization as well as you do. Keep an eye on any ad copy and keywords they generate to make sure they’re in line with your mission and goals. You don’t want to be misrepresented on the Web.

Useful links related to this article:

How to Get the Most Out of Google AdWords

501(c)3 Nonprofit Organization Fact Sheet

Google Grants

Google Grants Program Guidelines: With Ad Samples

Google: Eligible International Regions

Google AdWords

Google: Keyword Matching Options

Center for Global Development

Reprise Media: Handling CGD’s AdWords account pro bono

The Chance Theater

Literacy Center Education Network

The Orion Society

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