7 Steps to Maximize Your Google Ads Grant

by | May 20, 2020

If you handle digital marketing for a non-profit organization, then you should be as giddy as a kid on the last day of school before summer break to see $10,000 every month for Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords).


Oh, and if you haven’t been approved for a grant yet – then connect with us to learn how or check out the application process details including TechSoup.

For many smaller organizations, this is their primary marketing resource, yet too many non-profits squander this incredible gift.  After all, if you don’t spend the budget, it’s simply lost opportunity as there is no “rollover” of the budget.

No Rollover of Budget

Due to the restrictions of the Google Search Grant, it’s not always easy to get all you can out of the PPC budget, and it can be even harder to get results in the form of new donors, email subscribers, or volunteers.

But don’t fret, I’m going to share with you some of the tried-and-true best practices we’ve used at Upgrow to squeeze every click and conversion out of the grant.  Our agency has managed over $1M of grant funds within the last 2 years and in that time we’ve learned a lot, so let’s dig into it!

Know the Google Ad Grant Advertising Restrictions

Grant accounts must follow certain advertiser policies that a standard account does not. Violations will result in your ads being paused or even the termination of your grant if ignored for consecutive months, so do not ignore these!

  • Maintain a 5% account CTR (click-through rate)
  • Keyword Quality Scores cannot be below 2
  • At least 2 active ad groups per campaign
  • At least 2 sitelink ad extensions
  • Account must have specific geo-targeting
  • Max CPC cannot be higher than $2
  • Only search ads (no display or video ads) are permitted

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the strategies and learn how you can get results with these requirements and limitations in place.

Utilize Broader Keywords

I’m not just talking about broad-match, but if you find spending the full $10K monthly is difficult then widening your keyword list may be necessary.

As an example, one of our clients is the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.  They sell tickets for performances that are, for the most part, in San Francisco.  That means their Google Ads should be focused on the local Bay Area region.  Spending $10K each month on an SF geo-targeted ad campaign would be close to, if not, impossible if we only used highly target keywords.

For this reason, we use broadly related terms like “live music”, “shows tonight”, or “gay activities”.  The conversion rates to ticket buyers on these terms are typically lower, but if we don’t expand our list then the budget just goes away at the end of the month.  Make sense?

So building out a robust keyword list and also using more broad terms than normal is usually necessary when managing a grant account.

Marketing Landing Pages are Key to Higher Qualities and Conversions

Far too many Google grant non-profits point all of the traffic to the homepage or just a few pages on the website.  This is a mistake.

Users are entering your site from a wide range of keywords, and the homepage will not be relevant to all of them.  If your landing page isn’t relevant, the user bounces and your quality score dips.

For this reason, creating high-converting landing pages is an excellent idea not only to lift the quality score, but also to turn more searchers into subscribers and donors.

For example, here is a landing page we created for our client, The Impact Fund around MLK Day for “social justice” keywords.  It’s a clean, simple page that leads to an email subscription call-to-action so that our email program can nurture them into donors and supporters.

Be sure to maximize conversions with marketing landing pages. Want help planning and creating them? Let’s chat.

Conversion Bidding Overrides the $2 Max CPC

The biggest hurdle with the Google Ad Grants program is the $2 max bid limitation.  It’s quite a low bid for competitive terms.  However, by setting some campaigns to maximize conversions bidding you can get around this while still following Google Adwords Account rules for the grant.

Our standard practice is to create two versions of every campaign so that we have a Max CPC version and a Maximize Conversion version to fully cover both.

Track All Conversions

To properly take advantage of conversion-based bidding, you, of course, need to have conversion tracking set up.  You would want it regardless so you can optimize properly, and be sure you are tracking all actions you consider valuable.

Conversions to track may include:

  • Email subscriptions
  • Donations
  • Content downloads
  • Video views
  • Social media follows
  • Volunteer signups
  • Contact form submissions

Ideally, you will set up the Google Ads conversion pixel through Google Tag Manager but you can also import goals from Google Analytics.  Check out this video if you aren’t sure how to add Google Tag Manager and event-based conversion tracking.

Ragtag's Website

Filter Traffic with Negative Keywords, Target Audiences, and Placement Targeting

This is especially important if you are reaching the $10,000 monthly limit and need to free up an inefficient budget. Overall, it helps with improving performance and boosting the quality score for any Google Ad Grant account.

Adding in negative keywords reduces irrelevant traffic which boosts your CTR, CVR, and reduces bounce rates.

An example of how we used negative match keywords when setting up Google Ad Grants account for DXE, an animal rights organization.  While the term “animal rights group” is a fantastic keyword. It has the potential to broad match to an irrelevant search like “legal rights group” or even “group of animals photo”. A broad match can be quite broad indeed. Adding the negative term “-legal” or “-photo” can block these when you need to turn on a broad match to get more volume. Routinely check your search terms report to see which broad matched queries are showing up, then negative match the irrelevant ones.

Launch a Second Non-Grant Account

While you will have to fund the second account, it still has the ability to be a highly positive ROI strategy.  At a minimum, running display retargeting in a separate account is a good idea to keep in front of your past donors and site visitors.  This allows you to run Gmail Ads, YouTube Ads, and any non-paid search Google placements.

BONUS – Utilize a Single-Keyword Ad Group Model

Now, this is a bit more advanced, it’s an account structure we like beyond grant accounts, and it has additional benefits when it comes to managing the grant account restrictions.  If you aren’t familiar with SKAG’s, check out this post. Essentially it is the practice of creating tightly themed keyword groups so the ad and landing page are extremely relevant to high search terms.

As you use broader terms to spend the full budget, including single-word keywords becomes increasingly important to meet quality score requirements.


The Google Ad Grant is a huge gift for non-profit organizations, but to fully reap the benefits of it, you need to actively manage the grant account.  Following these grant-specific best practices will get you a lot closer to a high-performing account. This then leads to more awareness and support, increased donorship, sponsorship opportunities, and more.

And if you need a fully-managed Google Ads Grant service, we offer discounted management at just $1,500 to build, scale and optimize all aspects of your account. Book a call now to learn more and get a free account audit.

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Ryder Meehan

Ryder Meehan

Ryder has been on a 16-year journey to master digital marketing from every aspect. His resume includes Razorfish, Slighshot, Fossil, Samsung Mobile and Tatcha before launching Upgrow. Ryder is the acting CEO, heading business development and account services. He has been featured as a digital marketing leader on Forbes, PRNews, Business.com, Workamajig, Databox, Fit Small Biz and other outlets.

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