7 Mistakes to Avoid When Using Your Google Ad Grant

What is the Google Ad Grants program?

Google Ad Grants is an amazing program in which Google provides non profit organizations with $10,000 a month is free Adwords search ads. To apply for the grant you need to be a registered 501C3 non profit (that’s in the USA. Non Profits registered in other countries need to check for their requirements) and not be a school or hospital. Once you get your grant you set up your Adwords, create a campaign, add keywords, create some ads and you’re good to go.

There are just a few restrictions:

1. Your ads can only appear on Google search results pages, which is where billions of searches a day occur.

Your ads will not appear on Google’s Display Network, which include millions of partner websites that display Adwords on their pages.

2. Your maximum bid for an ad click is capped at $2 per click.

Here’s what that means:

Google Adwords operates as an auction. Each keyword is bid upon to arrive at a cost per click (CPC). The greater the competition for a particular keyword the higher the CPC for that keyword. Google then uses an algorithm to determine which ad to display and how much a click on that ad will cost. As long as the keywords you choose have a CPC of less than $2, your ads will display until you hit your maximum daily budget of $329. Once you hit your daily budget your ads will stop running until the next day.

3. Your ads will display below paid ads you are competing with.

Google Ad Grants gives non profits the opportunity to drive thousands of monthly visitors to their websites for free. Unfortunately, most non profits that have the grant waste it. Statistics indicate that the majority of non profits using the grant only manage to spend under $400 of the $10,000 monthly budget. That’s almost criminal!

Here are some common mistakes that non profits make which results in them drastically underusing their ad grant budget:


1. Broad Keywords

As mentioned above, your free Google ads will display below paid ads. If you’re using competitive keywords being bid upon by companies paying for ads, there a good chance that your ads will rarely, if ever, be displayed. That’s because Google search results pages have limited real estate, and whatever is available is going to advertisers paying with real dollars, not grant money.

For example, if your non profit distributes food to the poor and you choose to target the keyword “food”, there’s not a chance that your ads will be shown since you’ll be competing with everything from food conglomerates to restaurant chains to recipe sites.

If you added the word “charity” to your keyword (food charity), you’re ad would still probably not display since the average bid for that keyword, according to the Adwords keyword planner tool, is $3.98, which is above your $2 limit. It’s still possible for Google to show your ad because the Google algorithm takes into account other factors in calculating its quality score, by which it decides what ads to display. But you chances of beating out the competition are slim at best.

On the other hand you could use the keyword phrase “food distribution charity”, which would definitely get your ad displayed, but since the search volume is extremely small you probably wouldn’t get many clicks.

You could instead use the keyword phrase “soup kitchen”, which has an estimated cost of $1.98 and a robust 33,000 average monthly searches.

Bottom line: you need to target keywords that are narrow enough to not put you in direct competition with paid players, but that have a decent amount of monthly searches. 

2. Irrelevant Traffic

While using up your $10,000 monthly budget is great, you want the traffic your driving back to your website to be relevant. To accomplish that, your target keywords must be relevant to your organization’s mission or cause.

For example, let’s say you have a non profit that helps protect a rare type of tree in Yosemite National Park  (I have no idea is that even makes sense). If you target “Yosemite National Park” the name of the tree, you might get your ad to display since the competition is pretty low and the average CPC is just $1.15. There are also almost 250,000 estimated monthly search.


google ad grants


Sounds great, right? Not exactly. Most people searching for Yosemite National Park are probably looking for all sorts of information relating to visiting the park, camping, wildlife, history. Depending on how specific your ad copy is, you’ll get lots of click throughs by people not interested in your cause particular cause just because your ad has popped up on their search page and they might not have taken the time to closely read your ad copy. So they see your ad, click on it, and then realize your website has nothing to do with what they’re looking for, other than it’s related to Yosemite.

Driving irrelevant to your site by using keywords that are too general is a waste of your grant. You might be getting the clicks, but you aren’t benefitting from them because the people doing the clicking aren’t interested in your particular project or cause.

Having said that, if you have spent the time to optimize your keywords and ads and are doing everything right but you’re still only getting a handful of clicks, you might want to go a bit broader and widen the net, as long as you monitor your account to make sure that you are not blowing your entire daily budget on irrelevant traffic.

The only time I’d advise not to go broad and increase clicks from irrelevant traffic is if you’re trying to build an email list of subscribers. If you get a lot of subscribers that really aren’t interested in your topic or cause (but just subscribed because your box popped up in front of their face and they weren’t thinking — which happens a lot), your open rate will suffer.

3. Poor Ad Copy

The right kind of ad copy will help drive traffic by persuading people to click on the ad. It will also help filter out irrelevant traffic. But writing the “right kind” for ads takes thought and skill. You want to make sure your ads contain the keywords you are targeting, while making the copy interesting enough to the reader to get him or her to click on your link.

Writing poor ad copy will result in very few clicks, even though your ad might be displayed thousands of times a day. When Google sees that your ad isn’t getting clicks, it will automatically drop its quality score and start displaying it less, or not at all.

4. Just One Ad

Even if you’ve done your best to write a solid ad, if you stop there and just keep that one ad, you’ll be hurting your Adwords effectiveness. Google lets you write as many ads as you like and then test them for you to determine which one performs the best. Then it displays the best performing ads and ignores the others.

No matter how great your ad copywriting skills are, there’s no way for you to know exactly which of your ads will perform best without actually tested them. Google does the testing for you, but you need to provide more than one ad to let the testing happen.

5. Poor Targeting

Adwords gives you the ability to target your ads to be served in specific locations, at specific times and on specific types of devices. For example, if your non profit is US based with activities focused exclusively in the US, you might want to set your account to display your ads exclusively in the US. If you don’t set your location, you might end wasting your entire budget on clicks from places like India, China, Nigeria etc. The same applies to if your non profit is targeting a specific geographical location with the US.

Setting the proper timing can also play a factor in the kind of traffic you drive to your site. Depending on your situation, you might know that your target audience is active only during the day. In that case you want your ads to display only during the day and not at night.

Same goes for devices. If you know your audience primarily uses computers and not smartphones, or if your website isn’t optimized for mobile, you should target your ads to display only on computers and not on mobile devices.

6. Landing Page

Your landing page is the web page that you link to in your ad. It could be a sign up page, donate page, or event page. For many non profits it’s their home page.

Your landing page needs to be relevant and related to your ads. If it isn’t, two things could happen:

  1. Your Google Ad Quality score will suffer, making your ads less competitive.
  2. People coming to your landing page after clicking on your ad with take one look and immediately bounce (leave the page). Google will take notice of this and potentially lower your ad quality score and display your ads less.

Driving people to a crappy landing page is a waste of your grant. More importantly, it’s probably hurting your organization and should be addressed asap.

7. Set to Autopilot

Once you’ve set up your campaign, chosen your keywords, and written your ads, you’re not done. Non profits that simply leave their Adwords Grant campaign to function on auto pilot and making a big mistake.

No matter how accurately you think you’ve optimized your account, there’s no way you really know how it will work out without seeing the results. As you see the results of your campaign, you can make ongoing chances to optimize. You’ll most likely need to delete keywords that turn out to be too broad and add more new or more focused ones. You also might need to tweak your ads or write new ones, or change your targeting settings.

Managing and optimizing your Google Adwords account is an ongoing project. You might not need to check on the account every day, but you should definitely be checking at least once a week and making necessary updates and adjustments.

In Conclusion

The Google Ads Grant can be the gift you’ve been waiting for to help you boost your non profit’s profile and cause without costing you a penny. It can help you drive thousands of new monthly visitors to your website. But you need to avoid the mistakes discussed in this post to take full advantage of the grant. The last thing you want to do is to waste a $10k monthly opportunity.

If you have questions about getting or effectively using your Google Ad Grant, contact us through the form below or give us a call.