Google Ad Grants in 2016: Give and Take

By Tad Miller | Mar 17, 2016
More Articles by Tad

Did you know that non-profit organizations might be eligible for a monthly grant from Google for search ads?  Qualifying non-profits can apply with Google and, if approved, can receive up to $10,000 a month of free search advertising on

However, there are some constraints: a $2 cost-per-click cap on your keyword bids being one of the main constraints that grantees have to deal with every day.  But, over the years that we have been working with grant accounts, that’s been enough to bring an incremental stream of traffic that has made a huge difference for non-profit organizations.

Right now the max bid for Google Grants is $2 per click

Right now, the max bid for Google Grants is $2 per click.

But, a lot has changed in the last year.  Those $2 costs per click aren’t going as far as they used to.

Change No. 1: Minimum First Page Bids Spike

Between the beginning and middle of 2015, Google’s “invisible hand” turned the magical dial and minimum first-page bids for keywords began to rise (a lot). As a result, costs per click went up and the gap between the average cost per click and that $2 was narrowed considerably.

The biggest damage that Google ad grant advertisers immediately noticed was that it cost much more to advertise on their own names, and in some cases, as much as 90% more. A recent report from RKG demonstrated the same:

RKG Brand CPCs Up

Some might say, “Big deal, I already rank No. 1 for my organization’s name organically.” Yes, that will get a lot of traffic, and it may, in fact, be the No. 1 traffic driver for the entire website. But, the reality is that there is incremental traffic and website conversions that come with advertising on your organization’s name that you won’t get without an ad — paid for with your free advertising.

We advertise with exact, phrase and broad match keywords with our Google Grants advertisers. The exact match branded keywords are absolutely up year over year on cost per click but are still well under $2. But, we have several client’s with phrase and broad match versions of their name that have minimum first page bids over the $2 CPC max bid.

Below Minimum First Page Bid

We established years ago that minimum first page bids really are a “carrot and stick” kind of tool to encourage advertisers to increase their bids.  But, it’s entirely possible that Google may be holding back some ad impressions that grant advertisers might be eligible for to advertise on their own names.

Change No. 2: And Now We Are Down to Only 7 Ad Positions

February 17, 2016, is a pretty historical date for Google AdWords advertisers. That’s the date that right-hand side ads died for “highly commercial” queries. A non-profit organization would naturally assume that search queries related to donations or non-profits would not be deemed “commercial.”  But, unfortunately, that is not the case.

Many non-profit grant advertisers were achieving their donation and conversion goals by taking the ad space that Google allowed them on competitive non-branded keyword terms. That frequently meant occupying ad positions eight, nine or ten.  That’s all that the $2 cost per click would allow.

Unfortunately, the elimination of right-hand side ads also meant the elimination of ad positions eight through ten (and sometimes even eleven) on search result pages for those “highly commercial queries.”

The numbers on the track

Just No. 7? That’s all?

The new ad layout of four ads above natural search results and three ads below search results will likely also lead to higher costs per click for page-one advertisers. The majority of clicks will happen with the top-of-page ads (the top for ads). It seems possible that the bottom three ads might get a much lower share of clicks than right-hand side ads did. All of those factors lead to a bottom-up pressure to bid up to maintain or grow click volume. Bottom-up pressure raises the bids on all advertisers. This new layout automatically raises minimum first-page bids by eliminating ad positions eight and up.

What Do Google Ad Grant Advertisers Do Now?

First of all. It’s not the end of the world. If you are advertising with Google Grants, you are still getting free money every month to advertise with. Yes, it might feel like Google gave you your lunch money and just stole it back from you, but the benefits of the grant by far outweigh the new obstacles.

You need to continue to advertise aggressively on your organization name and brand(s). Yes, you won’t be able to do so as economically as you have in the past, but again, IT’S FREE MONEY.

Mo Money. Mo Problems? Maybe.

Mo Money. Mo Problems? Maybe.

For non-branded keywords, the approach is different. Two dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to, and you now have to beat your bidding competition with efficiency. You now have to work on creating and optimizing the best ad copy you can to ramp up your click through rate. In the new world, there are more ad extensions than ever, and ending your first description line of your ad copy with punctuation can extend your ad headline and increase your click through rate. Otherwise, you are going to be living off of page-two clicks, which are mostly non-existent.

Keyword addition is also important to find the keyword options your competitors haven’t thought of utilizing yet. Google won’t show ads for keywords that don’t have any search volume, but if you scour your search query reports for valid keyword choices that have search volume and add those choices, you will likely find new options that you can compete on.

Also consider “going local” if there are relevant search queries in your charitable area. Think: “Child Hunger in Kansas” or “Volunteer Opportunities in Denver.”

Come On Google…

Google is a business, and their job is to make money. The two changes listed above are absolute cash grabs designed to improve their revenues. But, come on, Google has some nerve putting the minimum first-page bid on the name of a non-profit organization with a Google Grant holder above the $2 cost-per-click threshold.

The non-profit search area is far from a commercial intent. Google should keep the right-hand ad slots and ad positions eight and higher on page one of results for search queries for a donation search intent. Google was smart enough to realize the benefits these organizations would receive from their ad clicks, they are also smart enough to know that using only seven ads in the non-profit segment will have a negative impact. They really need to figure out a way to take it easy on the grant holders.

One solution might be raising the maximum cost-per-click threshold for grant holders or eliminating it all together.



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