Google Ad Grants changes for NFPs: Here’s how to get ahead of the competition

The Google Grants program, which offers eligible NFPs (Not For Profits) a $10,000 (USD) free advertising spend on AdWords, has recently updated its policies – raising the requirements to maintain Google Grand funding.

This has been an eye-opener for many NFPs, who are now at risk of losing their $120,000/Year in Google Grants funding – and even having their accounts deactivated.  

What are the changes?

  1. Google Ad Grant accounts must now maintain a minimum click-through rate (CTR) of 5% at the account level, or else risk account deactivation.  Failing to meet the 5% CTR for one-month results in a warning, but failing for two months in a row will result in instant deactivation.
  2. Bidding on single word keywords (in most cases) is now prohibited.
    If your campaigns heavily relied on single word keywords in the past, their performance will likely suffer.  Single words like ‘donation’ or ‘charity’ don’t actually give much of an idea of what a user wants. While terms like this used to be used to cast a broad net to attract visitors, Google doesn’t want this – they want to lead users to exactly what they’re looking for.  Of course, the point is to stop people from bidding on irrelevant keywords – if your organisation’s name is a single word, fear not, that won’t be penalised.
  3. All campaigns must now have a minimum of 2 ad groups with at least 2 live ads.
    This has always been good practice, but now Google is enforcing it.  This is a great incentive to improve the relevance of your ads, if you haven’t already met this criteria.
  4. All Campaigns must now include geotargeting.
    This isn’t all bad news, but is just about enforcing good practice.  In forcing NFPs to target by location, Google is trying to encourage NFPs to focus on getting more relevant clicks.
  5. All keywords must keep keyword quality scores above 2.
    This isn’t a huge imposition, however.  With an ad score this low, it’s likely that these ads wouldn’t be showing up in the first place.  As long as you’re filling out all the needed sections of your AdWords ads, and as long as you’re not trying to rank for another brand’s audience, you’ll almost definitely be in the clear.
  6. It’ll now be more difficult to bid for branded keywords other than your own.
    A lot of NFPs used their excess budget to bid on competing brand’s names, in order to catch their competitors audience.  Because Google wants to bring people to the sites they’re looking for as effectively as possible, this’ll no longer be a viable strategy.

However, the good news is that your account won’t be reviewed until it is 90 days old, so if you’ve just started using AdWords, you’ve got more time to respond.

Why the changes?

As with most of the changes Google makes, these ones are geared to improve the overall experience for users – leading people to more useful ads which they actually want to see.  This means they’ll be less likely to be shown irrelevant ads, and will reward NFPs looking to find their most relevant audience (as opposed to taking a more scattergun approach).

In Google’s words, the changes are “to add clarity and raise standards of quality” for the free advertising grants.  But for NFPs, it raises two important questions.

  1. How can I make sure my NFP survives these changes?
    And a rarer question
  2. How can I use these changes to get ahead of the competition?


How to survive the changes

If you’re looking purely to stop your account from being deactivated, here are some tips that’ll help.

  1. Pause your ad groups which are resulting in CTRs of far less than 5%.  
    In many campaigns, there are certain ad groups which perform far better than others. Pausing your poorest performing keywords and ad groups should help to drastically raise your average CTR.
  2. Delete useless, broad keywords, and avoid bidding on non-relevant keywords.
    Until now, many NFPs have used a scattergun approach, trying to reach people to whom their ads might not actually be immediately relevant.  Google is explicitly trying to discourage that right now – because they want to bring people to the causes they’re actually interested in. Removing low quality, overly broad keywords will help you to raise your CTR.  The upside of this is that it’s going to be easier to get interested and relevant parties to come to you! But more on that later.
  3. Update your Ads!
    If your ads are terrible, it doesn’t matter how good your keywords are – even if people see your ads, no one will click on them! To raise your CTR, check your ad copy to ensure that it’s relevant to your audience and the target destination page.  Make sure your ads are up to date with Google’s best practice guidelines and make sure all fields and headlines are filled out. Google penalises ads which don’t have these, and people won’t click on ads which look unprofessional.
  4. Make sure you’ve met all listed criteria.

Make sure you’ve done the bare minimum!  With Google’s new changes, nothing will work unless you’ve got your baseline sorted.  Check that you’ve got sitelink extensions, check that your campaigns have geotargeting turned on, and check that each campaign has at least two ad groups with two ads.  Now’s a good time to get your campaigns up to date!


How to thrive from the changes

Wind puts out candles, but energises fire. While this might be a bit of a shakeup for you, remember, your competitors have been shaken up too.  When there are big changes like this, there’s huge opportunity to adapt and get ahead of the competition. Here’s how.

  1. Take advantage of the ‘Maximise Conversion’ bid strategy

Along with these changes, Google has removed the $2 bid limit for NFP accounts who use the ‘maximise conversion’ bid strategy.  This means that smart NFPs will be able to bid drastically more on certain keywords to keep that #1 ad position. If you’re a company who gets regular enough conversions and good enough data, try out the ‘maximise conversion’ bid strategy.  Google will use it’s machine learning algorithms to show your ads to the people who are most likely to convert while ignoring the $2 bid limit – cheekily letting you outbid competitors who aren’t using this strategy.


  1. Create tightly themed ad groups – with specialised ads to match.  

While Google is penalising broad, general ad campaigns, this means their new rules are going to give a huge preference to purposeful, specialised keywords and ad groups.  If you can redo your campaigns to take advantage of this, you’ll be playing Google’s game – and you’ll be rewarded for it with higher ad ranking and better clicks.


  1. Boost your keywords over competitors with better site design

Google’s new rules mean that the only NFP ads that will remain will be relevant, up to date, high rated ads.  Though you’ll have less competition from unrelated ads, it’s likely that your relevant competitors will have better ads now.  That means, if you want to be set apart, you’ll need to use some special tricks. In addition to having great ads, if you can align your keywords with content on your website, they’ll get an extra boost.  If you refresh your website and have unique landing pages which match your search campaigns, they’ll pay dividends. This doesn’t need to be a big job, especially with the right agency.


Support is available!

Of course, these are just a few quick and easy hacks you can take – there’s much more you can do.  However, many NFPs don’t have the time, or knowledge to optimally take advantage of this situation.

If you’re a Not For Profit or Ad Grant recipient that needs support, reach out, and we can get our SEOO’s (ask about our extra “O”) to enhance your clicks in no time.