Grant accounts are a powerful tool for not-for-profits (NFPs) to leverage Google search traffic and bring relevant, engaged people to your website. Until 2018, Google gave grantees $10,000 (USD) per month in ad spend with the only real limitation being a $2 bid limit on all keywords. That means grantees were able to bid on pretty much any keywords they chose, regardless of relevance to their organisation/mission.
At the start of 2018, Google introduced a set of new policies which massively changed the way NFPs can use their grant accounts. Google’s intention with the new policies were to make sure grantees were only bidding on relevant keywords, to avoid a poor user experience. The most significant changes were the fact that you were no longer able to bid on highly generic or single word keywords, and that the $2 bid limit was lifted as long as you have enabled the automated ‘maximise conversions’ bidding strategy.
Enabling Google’s ‘Maximise Conversions’ bidding strategy, allows you to tap into the power of Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) system which optimises keyword bids with the goal of increasing the number of conversions. Essentially Google is aiming to make sure grant account advertisers are serving the right ads to the right people at the right time. They are able to do this by looking at the searchers previous history and their intent at that specific point.
Google evaluates keyword relevance using a metric called Quality Score. Now more than ever before, quality score is extremely important in generating real results from your grant account. In this post, I’ll talk about how the ad auction works particularly for grant accounts, and how to get the best results from your grant account by focusing on quality score.
The Ad Auction – How it Works
The Google Ads auction can be a blurry area for a lot of advertisers, and when you add factors like automated bidding and grant accounts verses paid accounts, it can become even more confusing.
For most agencies this is a hot topic for discussion. To clarify this once and for all, Reef reached out to Google directly. Basically, grant account ads are eligible to appear in any auction where there is space, however, paid ads will always be shown above grant account ads.
So that mean’s your grant account ads can only be shown in position 1 if there are no other paid advertisers competing in the same auction.
While this poses challenges for grant account users to get their ads seen in those top positions, there are actions you can take to make sure you are getting as much reach as possible from your grant account.
The Importance Of Quality Score
Keeping in mind that paid accounts always trump grant accounts in the ad auction, it is absolutely crucial that your grant account campaigns are optimised towards keyword quality score to give yourself the best chance at generating reach.
Quality scores are assigned to keywords with a score of 1-10 (10 being the highest quality) and is subject to change every time the ad enters the auction. Not only will Google suspend your account if your keywords drop below 3, but you’ll find that keywords with quality scores below 6 are not going to get very much reach.
Keywords that have low quality scores of 3-5 often have a search impression share of <10%. That means that out of every 10 times someone searches for your keyword, your ad shows only once (at best).
So how do you increase your quality score?
That’s where it becomes tricky. Quality score is based off of three factors
- Ad Relevance
- Expected Click-Through-Rate
- Landing Page Experience
The factor in which you have the most control is ad relevance and making sure the keyword is in the ad is key to this. In order to do that, I highly recommend using the SKAG structure (single keyword Ad Group), which gives you the most control over keyword relevance. This often proves to be an easy win for improving your quality score to the levels it needs to be.
Expected CTR is calculated based heavily on historical data, so when you first launch a new keyword – you might notice lower quality scores. It will take time to generate enough data to get this where it needs to be, so it’s important to keep in mind that it will take time for keywords to generate traction in grant accounts.
Landing Page Experience
Landing page experience is based off historical data of how users engage with the landing page after clicking on the ad. Google is always looking to improve the user experience, which means sending users to pages that best match their search query, so if they aren’t engaging with your landing page, Google will penalise you by reducing your quality score resulting in very limited reach for your ads.
- Build your campaigns using the SKAG structure, and tailor the ads in each ad group to contain the keyword
- Launch new keywords with plenty of time to generate historical data before you expect to see results
- Always make sure you are sending users to a relevant landing page (for each keyword) with an opportunity for them to engage/convert
- Audit your keyword quality scores on a weekly basis and continuously work to improve them by adjusting ad copy, trialling different landing pages, and removing keywords which are non-compliant to avoid suspension
- Add/change content on your website to include keywords within the landing pages and make sure it is easy for users to engage with the page
Technology & Feature Developments In Grant Accounts
Machine learning is now firmly integrated in Google Ads Grant accounts. In 2018 we implemented automated bidding strategies as well as Dynamic Search Ads which proved to be powerful features to increase conversions through grant accounts.
In 2019 we can expect further improvements by implementing Google’s smart creatives, Responsive Search Ads. Early results look strong – but we will definitely continue to monitor their effects.
- Setup your conversion tracking thoughtfully to ensure the system will optimise towards goals that matter to you, I also suggest use non last-click attribution to make sure keywords are all getting credit for their contribution
- Switch on the ‘Maximise Conversions’ bidding strategy for all of your grant account campaigns
- Run responsive search ads alongside regular expanded text ads (NB: this feature is in beta so you may need to reach out to Google to find out if you are eligible)
The 2018 Policy Update – What We’ve Noticed One Year On
In 2018, we made a few changes to the way we build and optimise grant account as a result of the new policies. After reviewing performance, and comparing to 2017 (pre-policy update), we noticed a few trends across almost all grant accounts.
- Grant accounts generated less traffic in 2018 compared to 2017 as a result of pausing highly generic and lower quality keywords.
- Many grant accounts maintained or increased conversions in 2018 compared to 2017 despite reduced traffic. Top performing keywords are still delivering well and in some cases better as a result of Google’s improved machine learning capabilities
- Click-Through-Rates and conversion rates have improved across almost all grant accounts in 2018 compared to 2017. This is an indication that overall relevance has improved and we are showing ads to the right people, with the right message, and sending them to the right landing pages.
While it now requires a higher degree of thinking and attention to detail to manage grant accounts effectively – we continue to experience great results from grant accounts compared to last year.
Grant accounts are a useful tool but have certain limitations – in order to fully take advantage of the paid search landscape, it is really important to use a paid account alongside your grant account, and carefully distribute keywords between the accounts based on how competitive they are and how valuable they are to your organisation.
For example, if you have keywords in your grant account which are generating conversions, but only have <10% impression share, you can move them into a paid account with confidence and scale up your conversions!
If you’re looking to increase donations/conversions, you might limit your growth from using search alone. It’s important to consider all stages of the customer value journey, and utilise Display, YouTube, and social media campaigns with strategic audience targeting, content, and call to actions to achieve your KPIs and goals.
Your grant account definitely plays a part in the overall mix, but if you want to achieve significant growth, you should consider utilising other channels compared to using the grant account alone.
Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about your Google Ad Grant account or anything mentioned in this post.