Google gives charities a $10k grant per month to use on Google Ads. It’s a generous system which really helps many charities out a lot. However, this ad grant comes with a lot of rules which can make it difficult to make the most out of the money.
I have been successfully running this type of account for different organisations for years. Last year alone I turned this free money into almost half a million pounds in charity donations, on top of hundreds of volunteer, campaign, and fundraising event sign-ups (as well as helping people to find vital information & services, and shops).
So when I received an email from a Hospice volunteer asking for advice I was more than happy to help. Once I started writing, it got out of hand, and.. I wrote a lot. Scroll down and you’ll see – I mean a lot. Jason (not his real name) later told me he found my email invaluable and that he had shared it with people at other charities when they asked for his advice on Google Ads. So I’ve decided to share it with you.
While this advice is slightly specific to local hospices, it is generic enough to be useful for any charity receiving this grant.
[The following has been slightly edited, but is published with permission]
I’ve been reading your Online Advertising Answers column for a while now, and I was wondering if you could help me?
I recently volunteered to help a local hospice with their marketing. They used to have a marketing manager, but they left abruptly without any handover notes and they had been looking for a replacement for quite a while without any success. I was visiting a friend there when I heard they needed help so I stepped in as a volunteer.
They’ve told me that their Google Ad Grant isn’t being managed right now, and could I have a look and give some advice. The problem is that it’s been years since I managed any sort of PPC campaign, and I don’t know anything about the rules around the Google Ad Grant. I’m good with digital in general but I just never got into Google Ads. The ad grant is $10k a month, which is a big marketing budget for such a small charity so I don’t want to waste it.
I’ve had a look at their account and it seems like a total mess. I’m tempted to just tell them to scrap it all and start again. Do you have any advice I could pass on? Should I focus on Keyword Analysis? Should I focus on prioritising certain departments? Please help.
I definitely wouldn’t start again. It’s hard to spend the whole of an ad grant these days (especially for local charities), and it takes time for campaigns to gain traction so a plan of steady improvement rather than a hard reset makes the most sense. The key with Google Ad Grants now is that slow and steady wins the race!
With the new rules, Ad Grants have become a lot less about going broad to find potential website visitors and a lot more about pushing people over the top to actually click their links. By this, I mean that someone who has Googled something and gets a search result from the Hospice will be much more likely to click their link if there is an ad on the search results page as well. It’s a kind of 1+1=3 situation as an ad alone, or an organic search result alone don’t work nearly as well as both together.
Unless they are spending their whole ad grant already (and most charities aren’t), prioritisation doesn’t really matter either. Keyword analysis is important, and they can find which are the best keywords to target by looking up their pages in Google Search Console (which they should have set up presumably). They should also go through the search terms reports (found under keywords in Google Ads) to find new search terms to target, and negative keywords to exclude.
Anyway… below is way too much advice that just poured out of me. Before you get to that though – as for the rules – I have attached [It’s at the bottom of this post] an infographic I made breaking them down, but you can also find them listed directly from Google here. Google also helpfully will send you a dashboard with details of whether or not your account is compliant, so you can use that to work out what to do too.
– Start by advertising everything, and then remove things that aren’t working (see below for more specific advice on account set up). Until you hit the ad grant cap, you don’t need to worry about wasting money.
– Set the max CPC as $2 for any campaign targeting clicks. It’s the maximum amount that Google allows for Ad Grant accounts, and going lower won’t help you (unless you are spending the whole grant). It’s the *maximum* you can spend per click – not the amount you will spend (that will be far lower).
– From what I know about hospices they are quite protective of their catchment areas, so I would highly recommend geo-targeting your main campaigns closely. Instead of choosing areas in Google Ads, however, you should choose radius’ and add 10 miles around each location they operate in. This makes your catchment area into a kinda squidgy bobbly thing instead of actual borders, but it does mean they capture anyone at all who is interested.
– You should use the recommendations tab in Google Ads to make pretty much all the suggested changes (feel free to ignore structured snippets if you like though). They’re not always right, but while you are getting up to speed they will be very useful.
– You should go through the search terms reports (found under keywords in Google Ads) to find new search terms to target, and negative keywords to exclude. This can greatly improve the quality of your results.
– Make sure to add call extensions (phone numbers) to every ad group it makes sense to, and make sure to add reasonable schedules to them so that people can answer those phones (eg Mon-Fri 10-4).
– Add Callout Extensions to every ad group – you can use your organisation tagline as one, and then more generic call to actions like “Join our event” “Have fun for charity” “Volunteer now” etc and add as appropriate – try have at least 4 per ad group so Google can optimise towards the best ones.
– Add location extensions as appropriate by linking Google Ads to their Google My Business account. Be careful to actively select appropriate locations for each ad group, as often all of them will be activated by default, whereas you should mostly only use your local hospice one (only choose your charity shop ones when advertising their local area, or the shop itself).
– Add Sitelink extensions – you have to do this anyway to follow the rules for Google ad Grants, but make sure you have a good one for each main section of your site. You should review these periodically, and improve the worst performing ones.
– Use Responsive Search Ads to test out different combinations of headlines and descriptions, then turn the best performing combos into actual ads.
– If you test two variations of an ad (which you should constantly do), then make sure to declare a winner at some point – if two ads are virtually the same but one performs better, switch off the other (even if it is doing better than the rest of your ads).
– Try Using Sentence Case On Your Ads. It Really Works (Especially On The Page Path Fields Weirdly).
– Exclamation marks and other ‘odd’ characters (numbers as well as £&!?% etc) all improve performance in most cases. Don’t overuse them, but try and have one per ad at least.
Overall the best advice is that Google Ads perform best when the same words are used as keywords, in the ad, and on the page which the ad is targeted at. So for example, if someone searches for “Donate to my local hospice”, then your ad which comes up should say “Donate to your local hospice” in it, and the page it goes to should also say “Donate to your local hospice” on it.
In practical terms, this means: 1) take the best performing search terms for a page 2) use those words on that page 3) use those words in the ad for that page.
At least every fortnight you should log in and optimise your ad groups (weekly is preferable – on the same day every week too ideally). The best way to do this is simply to keep a spreadsheet of all your live ad groups and update stats weekly (as well as marking when you last made a change to them).
Don’t optimise anything twice in the same month, as you need to give Google time to let it’s algorithm understand what is going on (this means keeping a spreadsheet detailing what has been optimised and when). Also, don’t optimise anything with currently improving performance – you don’t want to mess with success.
Keeping these two rules in mind, the way I work is to look at stats over the past 30 days and each week choose up to 7 ad groups to optimise. I choose ad groups based on the following:
- Worst CTR
- Worst CTR change compared to the month before
- Worst Cost Per Conversion change since the month before
- Longest since last optimised
- Most spent (as it’ll have the highest impact) which is currently doing badly
- One ad group which didn’t spend any money
- The next fundraising event
If you can’t hit all of these categories, don’t worry. The point is to have a healthy account, not to worry too much about individual elements of it.
In terms of what to optimise:
- you can switch off the worst performing ads and add new variations
- you can go through search terms and add the best ones to be targeted (and unrelated ones as negative keywords)
- you can set up a responsive ad, which allows you to have many headlines and descriptions in one ad which are dynamically tested by Google
- you can find out which combinations in your responsive ad worked best, and turn them into ads of their own
- I don’t put much stock in time targeting or device targeting for Ad Grant accounts, but if you look at those reports and see something doing very badly then you can make adjust the bid down
- You can stop the worst-performing extensions
- You can look at all similar ad groups (ie all other shop ad groups) and see what works for them, then replicate it
Here are the things I would recommend by just looking at their site and some brief Googling around your hospice
1. Have a general Donation campaign, which reflects your general messaging. Set up ad groups in here for regular giving, and use it for appeals too. This should target your whole patch. It is vital that you have a goal for completed donations set up in Google Analytics, and that you have imported that goal into Google Ads as a conversion (ideally you’ll have eCommerce set up in Google analytics too).
This is so that you can switch over to a “Maximise Conversions” campaign when possible (once you have had 15 conversions in the past 30 days). Make sure to add negative keywords around donating goods to this campaign.
2. Have a general Volunteer campaign which targets your whole patch. As volunteer vacancies change all the time, you should have ad groups targeting each general type of volunteer vacancy (such as fundraising volunteers etc). Ideally, have them lead to a general page for each type which lists all the vacancies of that type on it.
While it is tempting to advertise each volunteer vacancy individually, it can be a huge pain to manage, and the results are generally not worth the effort. If you have volunteer vacancies that you always need filled (such as shop volunteers), then having ad groups for those specific ones is a reasonable idea, however.
You can also test out dynamically inserting terms into generic ads for volunteering ads, but again this is more of a pain than it is worth mostly (and risky for a Hospice).
3. Have a general fundraising campaign which you can advertise fundraising events on. Generally, these sorts of ad groups only really get going about two weeks before the event starts, so don’t set them up too much before then as if an ad group gets bad results for too long Google will just stop showing it. This campaign will take up the most of your time, and won’t always have great results, so just having a general fundraising campaign is a reasonable compromise.
Top Tip: You can set end dates on ad groups by ticking the box next to it, clicking edit, then selecting “create an automated rule”, then choosing to pause the ad group on a certain date. Make sure to set that date during the workday before the event if someone has to be there to sign people up to it. Adding end dates like this makes running ads for fundraising events much less of a pain as you don’t have to switch them off manually (and thereby run ads which lead nowhere until you get back in the office).
4. Set up locally targeted campaigns for each location where your shops are. A campaign needs to have at least two ad groups in it, so at least have one advertising the shop, and one advertising volunteering in the shop. If you have local fundraising events, these local campaigns are appropriate for them too! If any of these areas are good for donations, then again, set up a local campaign in here.
Just by adding in the name of a location to an ad, you can greatly improve results. You should make sure to link your Google My Business account to your Google Ads account too, so you can use location extensions for each shop (these are very effective). You can also have ad groups asking for donations of goods within these campaigns.
5. Set up a Lottery campaign if you have a charity lottery – to do this you’ll need to get permission to do so from Google. You can read about it here but basically you just need to fill in this form.
This is a campaign you can advertise nationally, and will potentially be your best performing campaign (Gamblers click on ads more than anybody). Again, you need to make sure you are tracking lottery sign-ups in Google Analytics as a goal, and you need to import that Goal into Google Ads as a conversion, so you can switch over to Maximise Conversions campaign as soon as possible.
6. Set up an eBay Shop campaign (if you have an eBay shop)– again you can advertise this nationally. It won’t necessarily perform that well, as it’s an odd proposition, but if you find a good niche then it can be a solid campaign.
7. Have a Brand campaign. Again use Google Search Console to find the words people use to find the homepage of your site and target those keywords (and also use those words in your ads). You should also use Google Search Console to find your best-performing pages on Google Search, and advertise those pages within this Brand campaign too.
If your Hospice provides a lot of helpful information too, then you can have ad groups targeting your most informative pages. I know that Hospices often have to work hard to get past preconceptions about what they do, so simple ads targeting these pages can be very helpful.
8. Have a Jobs campaign. This is just because jobs campaigns perform the best, and as long as you have one running it will drag your CTR up over 5% easily, meaning you don’t have to worry about that ad grant rule at the very least.
9. Have a Get Help campaign to advertise to potential patients. Use Google Search Console to find what search terms are used to find your get help pages, and then use them when advertising your pages. In a lot of ways, this is your most important campaign and is the best candidate for SKAGS (Single Keyword Ad Groups). It’s a whole thing, but basically it means having one keyword with ads around it (if you do this, Google some best practises as it’s more complicated than it sounds).
I hope all this helps! Sorry to be so wordy, but this is most of how to be a Google Ad Grant manager in a nutshell. Let me know how you get on.
PS One final tip – you can’t overspend so don’t worry about that (you are not even allowed to have a payment method attached to the account – so you can never be billed). Google will cap your account automatically. This means that you should set the budgets of your campaigns very high, and then bring them down only when you are spending your full ad grant and want to direct funds in a specific direction.