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How a Google Ad Grant gives you free advertising for your website

Google Ad Grants are available only to eligible nonprofit organisations. The grant gives you up to $10,000 worth per month (around £7,500) of free advertising in Google searches. It can put your ads prominently in Google's search results, and give a big boost to your website traffic.

You use the Google Ads (previously called Adwords) tool to create your ad campaigns. It takes skill and creativity, as well as a substantial time commitment to run well-performing ad campaigns.


Things you'll need

  • TechSoup Validation Token

Are you eligible?

In England, you must be a charity registered with the Charity Commission or have tax exempt status with HMRC to be eligible. Also:

  • You have to agree to Google’s policies regarding non-discrimination, for example not using religion or sexual orientation as factors in hiring.
  • You must have a live website with substantial content. On that website (the footer is a good place) you should clearly state your charity status.
  • The website must have a security certificate and use HTTPS.
  • You are not allowed to use affiliate marketing such as AdSense on your website. That would include links to shopping services where a percentage goes to your charity. The one exemption is Amazon Smile, which is allowed.
  • Government bodies, School, academic institutions or universities, and health services such as hospitals, may not apply.
  • The primary focus of your websites should not be on selling goods, products or services, but it is ok to use e-commerce on your site.

As of May 2018, addiction and rehab services outside the US will find that although they can get a grant, their ads won't actually be displayed.

As of September 2016 the GrantsPro program, which gave $40,000 per month, stopped accepting applications.


You are eligible, so how do you apply?

There are several steps.

Firstly you must sign up with TechSoup in your own country. Once accepted, they give you a validation token.

Secondly, you apply to Google for Nonprofits using that token.

Thirdly, you follow detailed instructions very carefully to set up a new Adwords account, then enrol in the Google Ad Grants programme. 

At no point should you ever enter billing information, even if prompted to by Adwords. That could be a costly error.

How to check your eligibility and apply for a Google Grant.


Creating your first ad campaigns

You will create your first simple ad campaign after being awarded the grant. That's an ideal time to read all the Ad Grants programme policies. They might seem complex at first, but you really need to be aware of them. The policies were substantially rewritten on 1st January 2018, but several new requirements have been added since then.

Account structure

Adwords accounts can contain multiple campaigns; within each campaign you should have at least two ad groups; within each ad group you need at least two ads but ideally more, and multiple keywords (around 15 is a good number).

Each ad group should be focused on a specific topic and set of keywords. Avoid overlap, and don't duplicated keywords across ad groups. For best results and good quality scores, tightly word your ads so as far as possible they use the keywords that trigger them to be shown.

Your campaigns can only advertise in the search engine results pages (SERP), not within Google’s content network.


You used to only be able to bid $2 per click – which meant some popular keywords would be out of your reach, and you'd need to focus on more niche phrases. But Ad Grant holders can now use a conversion-based bidding strategy (Maximise Conversions is recommended for beginners) that automatically lets you bid way higher; however, you must set up something called conversion tracking first. You are highly recommended to do this in order to stay competitive. Watch this video to find out how.

Choosing keywords

You choose the keywords you want your ads to appear for in Google searches. Keywords must be relevant to your charity's mission and services. With a few exceptions (your own brand, medical conditions, plus a short exemption list) you cannot use single words as keywords.

Writing ads

In a standard ad, you’re are only allowed three short headlines of 30 characters plus two descriptions of 90 characters, so you need to become skilled at writing concise, persuasive short sentences.

However, you are recommended to try a relatively new ad format called a Responsive Search Ad. It lets you write up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions, which Google then shows in random combinations, learning over time which combinations work best.

Create extensions

Extensions appear below your ad as additional information. They help get a good CTR, and are an additional way to get people to notice your ads and click on them.

Ad Grant rules say you must create at least two extensions per campaign, although that could be two extensions at account level because then they get shown on all campaigns.

Site extensions enable you to promote additional pages,

Callout extensions are short snippets of text, ideal for things like your charity reg number, your organisation's tagline, and contextual information.

Structured snippet extensions enable you to add a short list of your services to an ad or campaign.

If you sell things, note that there are several extensions for things like prices, promotions etc. And if you are a locally based charity and have a Google My Business account, you can add the Location extension.

Keep an eye on quality

You need to maintain a Click Through Rate (CTR) of at least 5% for the account as a whole. If it drops below 5% for two consecutive months, your account may be temporarily suspended until you improve it. The average across the Ad Grants programme is about 10%, so this is definitely attainable.

You are not allowed to have keywords scoring only 1 or 2 for Quality Score. That can lead to suspension, so follow the Ad Grants team's advice in this video and set up an automated rule to pause low quality keywords. Some Adwords managers would recommend you go further, and aim to have no keywords scoring below 5. The higher your average QS in an ad group, the more likely your ads get shown.


What results can you get with an Ad Grant?

Most grantees use only a small proportion of the $329 daily budget. The smaller, more local, or more niche your charity, the less you should expect to use. Large organisations are more likely to spend the full budget, but it takes work. You should focus on measurable results and conversions, not spend, as a measure of success.

The experience of Arthritis Research UK

The charity was looking for a way to increase:

  1. traffic to their website
  2. website conversions, including registrations, number of people sharing their stories and donations

On average each month, the Ad Grant led to: 

  • 25,000 new users
  • 30 Arthritis Research UK registrations
  • 15 data captures – this is where a user leaves a story about how Arthritis has affected their life
  • Multiple donations

As well as an Ad Grant, charities can also have a paid Adwords account

The account was such a success that Arthritis Research UK decided to budget some of their own money into a new Google Ads account focused on the Google Display Network (GDN). Display advertising is not available to Google Grant holders, and allows you to use image banners and click-to-play video ads to target users.

Paying users can also use a very valuable technique called remarketing. That enables you to show ads only to people who've previously visited your website. It's ideal for targeting potential volunteers and donors. 


Can your grant be suspended or taken away?

It doesn't get taken away, except on very rare occasions (such as fraud).

But your account can be suspended if you violate Ad Grant policies. Fortunately, suspensions are only temporary and within a week of fixing any problems, it should be back up and running again.

If your account is suspended contact Adwords on 1-866-246-6453 to find out what needs to be done. You can also ask for help on the official Google Advertiser forums which has a dedicated and busy Ad Grants section, which is monitored by the Ad Grants team. The forum often gives more accurate information than the Adwords phone support.

Mid-monthly emails are sent to accounts that are in danger of suspension, giving you about two weeks to fix any problems, and specifying which of seven areas you are not in compliance with. If you receive one, act on it immediately.

The old rule about logging in every 30 days has been removed, replaced with a new focus on maintaining a good quality account.


How to measure how successful your advertising campaigns are

The Google Grant is definitely worth applying for. It really helps to have an agency which has complete knowledge of what can and can’t be done with grant money, to make sure you’re using it efficiently and to help with the process.

The amount of the budget being spent shouldn’t be used as a success metric, and nor should the number of clicks you get to your website.

Click Through Rate (CTR) is a better guide to how well your ads work. It's simply the percentage of times that an ad shown in Google's search results gets clicked on. The minimum allowed for your account as a whole is 5% but the average across the Ad Grants programme as a whole is above 8%, so aim higher.

But the best way to evaluate the success of your ads is called conversion tracking. New Ad Grant accounts must set up conversion tracking within three months; older accounts are highly recommended to do so.

In essence, you track what people do on your website once they get there: do they submit an online form; click on an email or telephone link; or perform some other action that constitutes a success (a goal met) for your organisation?

Watch the Ad Grants team's video on the topic of conversion tracking

Further information

One of the best ways to learn about Ad Grants, whether you're a beginner or improving your knowledge, is to watch the recordings of their livestreams on YouTube.

The Google Ad Grants Community is a helpful place to ask for advice.

There is an official directory of Ad Grants Certified Professionals, who have been approved by the Ad Grants team.

Nick Beck, Managing Director of Tug (a digital media agency), contributed to this guide.

Jason King, an Ad Grants Certified Professional and Platinum Product Expert on the Google Ad Grants Community, updated this guide.


    Page last edited May 29, 2019 History

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