Google Grant accounts are getting a significant makeover for the new year, including changes to bid policies, restrictions around structure, and new performance standards for click-through rate and quality score. Not complying with all the new rules could result in account suspension.
Photo: example of a campaign funded by Google Grants
Since their inception, Google Grant accounts have been an effective means for nonprofits to reach their audience without spending their own dollars. However, Google recently announced several changes that will provide more bidding flexibility while also requiring a more thorough approach to ad management. These changes fall into three main categories: bidding, quality, and management.
At a glance, here are the new Google Grant updates:
- If using Maximize Conversions bid policy, there is no $2 bid cap
- Branded keywords not owned by the nonprofit are not allowed
- All keywords must have a quality score of 2 or higher
- Most single-word and overly generic keywords are now prohibited
- Campaigns must have at least 2 ad groups with at least 2 ads running in each
- There must be at least 2 sitelinks active per account
- Geo-targeting must be used
- Accounts must maintain a 5% click-through rate (CTR) every month
Google Grant Bidding Policy Updates
No $2 bid ceiling for campaigns using Maximize Conversion bid policy
What is this: To ensure grant accounts did not compete too heavily with paid accounts from a bid perspective, they have always had a $2 bid cap. However, in mid-December Google lifted that restriction for campaigns using the bid policy of Maximize Conversions.
What does this mean: Google will now allow bids higher than $2, but the kicker here is that Google controls exactly how much higher. Start by slowly testing few campaigns, first ensuring it aligns with overall goals. Be aware, though, as Google starts optimizing towards conversions, overall traffic and spend may decrease.
Quality Control + Relevancy Updates for Google Grant Accounts
Nonprofits cannot bid on brand keywords they do not own
What is this: Grant accounts are now not allowed to bid on brand terms they do not own, such as keywords that contain YouTube, competitors’ names, or other organizations.
What does this mean: This change is part of Google’s efforts to ensure all ad messaging is closely related to every search query. If your account is targeting such keywords, they will need to be paused and potentially moved into a paid AdWords account if possible.
All keywords must have a quality score of 2 or higher
What is this: Quality score is calculated using a logarithmic scale, ranging from 1-10 with ten being the highest. All active keywords must achieve at least a 2; if not, they are in danger of being disapproved. If too many keywords are flagged, the entire account may be suspended.
What does this mean: The increased focus on quality score and purpose of this update is to ensure that users receive the best experience when searching on Google. There are three main components that go into calculating quality score – expected CTR, ad relevance, and landing page experience. Quality score is re-evaluated every time the keyword is eligible to show, meaning scores can change over time and should be actively monitored.
Most single-word keywords are now prohibited for Nonprofits to bid on
What is this: In Google’s effort to make sure all keywords in grant accounts reflect the organization’s primary mission, they are now prohibiting most single-word keywords. Along with that, overly generic keywords such as “free videos,” “e-books,” “easy yoga,” and “job alert” are also not allowed.
What does this mean: If your account targets keywords that fall into either of those buckets, they should be paused. Too many keywords getting flagged could also result in an account suspension. However, not all is lost: be sure to mine the search query report for relevant, long tail keywords to add in on an ongoing basis.
Google Grant Management+ Structural Updates
All Campaigns must have at least 2 ad groups with 2 ads each
What is this: Having a sound structure has always been especially important for grant accounts due to the bid cap. One way Google is putting even more emphasis on this is by requiring all campaigns to have at least 2 ad groups with a minimum of 2 ads each.
What does this mean: If your account is currently not abiding by this new rule, there is certainly opportunity for keyword research and/or breaking out keywords into more tightly themed ad groups. Additionally, having multiple versions of ad copy is key to learning what messaging best resonates with your audience.
There is a minimum requirement of 2 sitelinks per account
What is this: Sitelinks are clickable links that Google will often show alongside your text ad. They are meant to be helpful links to additional, relevant pages across your site. Requiring a minimum of 2 per account is a low barrier that most accounts likely already have in place.
What does this mean: Sitelinks are an important ad extension that have positive impacts on CTR and CPCs; every grant account should take full advantage of them. While having 2 sitelinks at the account level is the minimum requirement, they can be even more valuable when adding 3-6 at the ad group level.
Each campaign must have Geo-TArgeting in place
What is this: To ensure grant ads are showing in locations relevant to each nonprofit, Google is requiring geo-targeting for all grant campaigns.
What does this mean: This new rule is also one most accounts already abide by, but if not, restricting targeting to more relevant locations will likely help focus dollars to where they are most effective. All geo-targeting should be reviewed and limited to relevant locations.
A 5% CTR across the account must be maintained each month
What is this: Google is putting the first performance-based rule in place for nonprofits, now requiring all accounts to maintain a CTR of 5% or above every month. If this new restriction is not met for 2 consecutive months, your account will be cancelled.
What does this mean: This is the update with the largest implications for nonprofits; not only will this take more active management, but also more expertise on how to improve CTR. Continually updating and testing ad copy, along with adding negative keywords will become increasingly important to maintaining this new standard.
What Marketers Need to Know about the 2018 Google Grant Updates
Even with these additional hoops to jump through, Google Grant accounts still offer an effective way for nonprofits to reach audiences that are actively searching for their services. While the bidding update adds a layer of flexibility, the other quality and performance rules put in place will require more active management. If your account does get suspended for any one of the new rules, all hope is not lost. You may request accounts to be reinstated after making the necessary adjustments to bring it back into compliance.
With these updates, Google is continuing its quest to put consumers first, and doing everything possible to create the most optimal user experience possible. While this may shake up the grant world at first, over time it should *hopefully* lead to overall improvements in performance.