The Google Grants program can be a proving ground for paid search campaigns. Project Hope wanted to maximize its Google Grant efficiency, so the organization launched a four-phase Google Grant campaign culminating in a paid campaign to put into practice what they’d learned with the free Google Grants program.
The campaign took started in 2009, before Google made substantial changes to the Grants program in 2013. Last year, Google raised the bidding limit from $1 to $2 per keyword for Google Grants users. Google Grants advertisers are no longer eligible for the top position in the search results. “They brought down one feature and brought up another,” said Erich Fasnacht, strategy lead at Project Hope’s agency Kosovo-Addis in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Google Grants also got rid of its Pro program, where nonprofits could get up to $40,000 per month in credit. The limit is now $10,000, but organizations like Project Hope were Pro members were grandfathered into the new system.
Fasnacht presented a session on Google Grants and search engine marketing at the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation’s 2014 Washington Nonprofit Conference.
Phase One for Project Hope was a pilot program, and the goal was growth. “One simple ad plus 10 keywords — with search terms that relate to Project Hope and its mission — equals results,” said Fasnacht. Project Hope received 1.2 million impressions, with 6,000 clicks, in nine months. The click through rate was 0.59 percent and its cost in real dollars would have been $3,660, so the cost per click was about 60 cents.
Phase Two focused on the consistent use, including using the AdWords keyword tool to develop effective keywords. For phase Three, Project Hope upgraded to Google Grants Pro, and phase four took the lessons learned in the first three phases and implemented them into a paid campaign.
“You learn a lot when managing and optimizing Google Grants,” said Fasnacht. “You learn which terms work best, what kind of landing pages work best, cost per click, branded ads. Google Grants is an amazing training ground.”
Fasnacht had some advice for the audience. Quality score is important, he said, though how important as to Google’s ranking algorithms he did not know. Ads with click through rates greater than 1 percent have high quality scores. According to Fasnacht, bidding the most for a search term doesn’t mean your ad will claim the top spot. “You get a high score for a good ad that people click on. That’s how you make it to the top, not buying your way there,” he said. “It’s pretty common for the highest bid amount to show up lower due to lower quality scores.”
Email capture is the most effective call to action for search engine marketing, Fasnacht found. But whatever your goal is, make it obvious. “If you have a landing page, people are moving through it so quickly,” he said. “Have a big, obvious goal like a ‘donate now’ button or an ‘enter email address’ field.”
For Project Hope, branded keywords worked better than more general keywords, and they’re usually cheaper to bid on as well. Branded keywords are “a key driver of new traffic because people are looking for them,” said Fasnacht. “They’re getting mail pieces and they recognize the organization.”
For smaller, unbranded organizations, follow an issue and create a branded campaign around it. Fasnacht another of his clients, a smaller, unbranded nonprofit about gay rights, was in the midst of a campaign leveraging the Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia and University of Missouri football player Michael Sam coming out as gay.