How do I get the most from a Google AdWords Grant? 

By Jessica Boatright & Kathleen Covington, Alliance Theatre

 “How do I get the most from a Google AdWords Grant?” 

This is an actual question I typed into Google (where else?) a couple of years ago. At the Alliance Theatre, we had applied for and received a Google Ad Grant, which meant we had up to $10,000 per month in “credit” toward Google AdWords campaigns that was ours to use. The problem was, we were hardly using it at all.

Before we go further, let’s explain what a Google Ad Grant is. 

Google Ad Grants work just like Google AdWords online advertising, by displaying your message to people who are searching for nonprofits like yours. For the Alliance, an Ad Grant had the potential to boost our results in Google searches for things like “Atlanta theaters”, “summer camps” or “acting classes.”

And the best thing about Google Ad Grants is that If you're a qualifying 501c3 organization (and as a member of the Audience Building Roundtable, you are!), you can receive $10,000 in in-kind AdWords advertising every month.

But back to the problem. We had a Google Ad Grant, but weren’t getting the most (or much at all) for the money. We had created a few AdWords campaigns, but we managed them like Ron Popeil in those infomercials for the Showtime BBQ Rotisserie—“Set it and forget it.”

It wasn’t that we were doing a lot that was wrong…there was just a lot that we weren’t doing at all. For example, we weren’t: 

  • Integrating paid search into our digital strategy
  • Using AdWords to learn about our audience
  • A/B testing and optimizing ads regularly
  • Tracking conversions to sales

Mr. Popeil might be a TV marketing genius (he made spray-on hair a multi-million dollar business after all!), but we needed a different kind of expertise.

In the fall of 2016, the Alliance received a $10,000 grant from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation through the Audience Building Roundtable to help us reach and convert online ticket buyers. We hired MogoARTS Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in the arts, to analyze our Google AdWords campaign and help us use it more effectively. 

MogoARTS helped us think of Google as a “net” to draw potential buyers to our website—it’s a tool to drive visits and conversions.

Paid search advertising appears alongside organic results. You select and “bid” on keywords to help target your ads to people searching for related terms. You can also choose to show your ads at certain times of day, and specify a location and language.

(In fact, Google made two changes earlier this year that help Google Grant recipients target their ads more effectively. More on that later.) 

The first part of the process was setting the strategy, and getting the campaign off the ground took time. 

MogoARTS took over our AdWords account and built three separate campaigns to support full “funnel” engagement. Full funnel engagement means attracting audiences at different stages of the customer journey, for example, those who want to see a play but don’t know the Alliance Theatre may search for “plays in Atlanta”—as opposed to someone searching for “Alliance Theatre musicals.”

These campaigns targeted three different searching audiences: 

  • Non-brand
  • Brand 
  • Shows, Education/Classes/Camps

With MogoARTS’s guidance, we implemented keyword match optimizations, and A/B testing of 2 ads per ad group. (A/B testing is an easy form of audience research—create two ads for the same “product” with slightly different headers, calls to action, etc. and see which one works best.)  

We worked together to bid on relevant terms and set up our website to capture the data, track conversions and remarket through other channels. (Helpful guidance on how to do this is listed in the RESOURCES below.)

Twelve months into our work, we saw our usage of the available advertising grant increase by 46%, and even better, our clicks to conversions were up 28%-- by tracking clicks to conversions to sales on our website, we were able to attribute $102,000 in sales revenue to the Google campaign alone.

And we learned some surprising things along the way. 

  1. Most people in the United States, where the Alliance Theatre is located, don’t spell “theatre” with an “re” on the end. Keyword selection is … well, key. Use the AdWords keyword tool to help you select search terms that will be relevant to your audience.
  2. Consider who you aren’t. Negative matches can exclude results from your searches that lead to irrelevant results. 
  3. You don’t have to spend the whole $10K each month to be successful. You are looking for the most relevant results, the results most likely to capture and convert interested consumers. 
  4. Start slowly. Try Google Express as opposed to the Google Classic version of the AdWords tool. 

In January 2018, Google made some updates to their AdWords policy to help weed out advertisers who were not closely managing their Google Grant accounts and causing issues with irrelevant ads showing up in the search results pages. 

Two of these changes are especially important for Google AdWords recipients:

  1. Google now requiresgeotargeting of campaigns—this can actually be helpful to regional nonprofit arts organizations targeting local audiences
  2. Google lifted the $2 bid cap when campaigns use 'maximize conversions bid strategy' which enables Grant participants to win higher ad positions in competitive auction environments.

Other changes include:

  • All Grants are required to achieve a minimum 5% CTR.
  • Non-profits cannot buy branded keywords they don’t own.
  • Keywords must have quality scores of 2 or higher.
  • Campaigns must have at least two ad groups with at least two ads running in each.
  • Accounts also must have at least two sitelink extensions active.
  • Most single-word keywords are prohibited, the idea being non-profits should choose well-targeted keywords.

Managing a Google AdWords campaign can feel overwhelming, but there are a lot of resources out there to help you get started, along with many colleagues in the Audience Building Roundtable who can share their tips and best practices with you. 

Applying for a Google Ad Grant: Applying for Google Grant
Best practices in Google AdWords: Google AdWords Best Practices
AdWords Policy: Google AdWords Policy
Digital Campaign Management: MogoArts Marketing

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