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Google Grants changes: What NGOs need to know

Jacob Kvetny

Google’s Grants program helps non-government organisations (NGOs) and charities with free PPC budgets on Google and currently works with more than 35,000 organisations. NGOs that get accepted into Google’s Grants program receive $10,000+ per month, which is a significant amount of ad spend for any advertiser.

In Q1 2018, Google made some major changes to how their ad Grants program works. These alterations are framed to “add clarity and raise standards of quality for Google’s free advertising Grants” which, though great for users, might very well leave the unprepared charities in the dark. Not much has been communicated on this from Google, so here is everything you need to know to ensure that your NGO can maintain its Grants account from Google.

Some of the main changes include the account structure:

  • All advertisers need to maintain a click through rate (CTR) above 5%
  • There cannot be any single non-branded keyword; branded keywords that aren’t affiliated with the organisation (for example, you can’t bid on competitor brand names), or to have very generic and broad keywords, such as “free e-movies” or “best pizza”.
  • It is required to use geo-targeting, meaning that you can only target the country where the organisation is based.
  • Keywords in the account must be relevant to the organisation’s programs and services and be specific enough to provide a good experience for the user.
  • Keywords must have a Quality Score above 2, and accounts must feature at least two active ad groups which contain related keywords and two active text ads, as well as a minimum of two sitelink extensions.

Google state that failure to comply with any of these terms will result in automatic suspension of a Grants account.

Historically, Google has made it notoriously difficult to spend the total amount due to a $2 cost per click (CPC) bid cap for Grants accounts. This is one of the key changes, as Google has now revoked the $2 cap, provided you’re willing to build campaigns which are optimising to maximise conversions. This is a function allowing Google to automatically set bids to maximise conversion volume. Before, it was difficult to be competitive with the limits this $2 cap brought. However, for many Grant accounts, it’s not possible to use a conversion strategy, as the volume of conversions is too low.

Another key restriction for a Grants account is that if another advertiser is bidding on the same keyword, but from a paid (non-Grant) account, they will automatically show above the Grant’s account advertiser. Most NGOs therefore also have a paid account for their brand terms, to avoid the risk of losing valuable traffic to competitors bidding on their brand terms, and to cover competitive generic keywords, where Grants accounts won’t be able to win against a paid advertiser account.

This bid-cap change, therefore, won’t be applicable for many advertisers, unless they rethink their strategy and likely their account structures.

All Response Media viewpoint
As an agency, managing several charities with Grant accounts, these changes were well-received. In terms of the account structure and requirements, this is not an issue, as what Google is requesting is according to best-practice (as a minimum) and all ARM accounts are already aligned to this.

Due to the difficulty to max out the budget, the bid cap change was the most interesting change, as it would allow the charities to maximise visibility and utilise more of the free available budget from Google. However, the removal of the cap comes with a caveat and requirement to rethink account structure. One alternative is to move previously paid account campaigns over to the Grant accounts, to have enough conversions to utilise the conversions strategy, which is required by Google. However, many charities also use their Grant accounts for promotional and branding campaigns as well as other projects, rather than purely acquisition and conversion activity. They were therefore not interested in losing that activity or to have to run it from their paid accounts. An account restructure between the paid and Grants accounts was not feasible, especially moving high conversion driving campaigns from the paid accounts, due to the risk of losing to other paid advertisers. There was a need to find a way to work around this.

As we use clever third-party bid-management tools at ARM, we thought to test setting up a bid-strategy, getting the system to track clicks as conversions and thereby those Grants accounts that would usually be seen as having low conversions, would be able to utilise the conversion strategy, and bid higher than the $2 max bid.

This strategy has now been rolled out across all ARM managed NGOs and as a result, we are now able to maximise the Grants account budgets and keep the structure, both being able to promote acquisition campaigns and branding campaigns, and not having to lose any traffic or conversions from either account.