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May 21, 2018 BY Tara Morrow , former Mighty Citizen Marketing

Ad Grants Policy Updates

Google Ad Grants is a in-kind program that awards $10,000 monthly online advertising dollars to qualifying 501(c)(3) organizations to use on the Google AdWords advertising platform. In January 2018, Google made several policy changes that will affect how these organizations run their accounts.

Now a few months in, here’s an overview of the changes Google is now enforcing in its program:

  • All ads and keywords within your AdWords campaign must reflect your organization’s mission, and nonprofits can no longer buy “branded” keywords that they don’t already own.
  • You can no longer bid on branded terms that aren’t affiliated with your own brand. For example, if your organization recruits volunteers to help senior citizens, you can’t bid on ‘Volunteer at Meals on Wheels’ to attract more ad clicks when your organization isn’t affiliated with the Meals on Wheels organization.
  • Each ad group and ad must be relevant to your nonprofit’s programs and services. (And they should be specific enough to provide a good experience for the user seeing your ads.)

Getting Approved by Google

Your organization’s website must be approved by Ad Grants—which means Google can review your website to ensure your organization is meeting these new policies.

When reviewing your website, Google will consider a number of factors:

  • Your site must have a description of your organization and mission, and your organization can’t charge for any services offered.
  • Your website must describe how donations are used—e.g., disclosing an Annual Report.
  • Commercial activity must not be the main purpose of your website:
    • Advertising on your organization’s website must be relevant to your mission and not be obtrusive to users.
    • Your website may not host Google AdSense ads or affiliate advertising links.  (However, if you’re required to link to an AdSense account to receive payments for the Android market, you’re eligible if you don’t display AdSense ads.)

Keyword Score

Keywords must have quality scores of 3 or higher. Google wants to be sure you’re offering the best content to users.

Keyword quality score is affected by many things:

Google wants to be sure you’re offering the best content to users.
  • The click-through rate (CTR) of the keyword and its matched ad.
  • Relevance of the keyword to its Ad Group.
  • Landing page quality. (Are you sending people to a page that discusses the topic in detail with a clear call-to-action?)
  • Relevance of your ad text.

Account structure is key to keeping your keyword score at 3 or higher.

Ensuring that your ad groups contain highly relevant targeted keywords, along with ads that contain the keyword and have a strong call-to-action, will help immensely. For example, instead of having an ad group for “volunteer services,” break down your ad groups even further by type of volunteer project—such as “office volunteer services” or “yard work volunteer services.”

The more targeted your ad groups, the more relevant your ad will be to users.


Campaigns must have at least two ad groups—with at least two ads running in each. This is to ensure that you’re breaking your keywords and ads into highly targeted ad groups that will be more relevant to the user as discussed above.

Accounts must have at least two sitelink extensions active. Ad sitelinks are a feature in AdWords that offers you additional links to pages on your site aside from the destination landing page in your ad.

In the below image, “Donate”, “News”, “Enews Signup”, and “Get Involved” are all sitelinks.

Sitelinks let you direct users to multiple pages on your site … without paying a premium for multiple ads.  And sitelinks can boost your click-through rate (and, subsequently, your Quality Score) while offering users a refined experience.


Adwords accounts must have geotargeting. Geographic targeting—or geotargeting—allows you to choose where to place your ads based on zip code, place of interest, city, state, countries, and more.

Use geotargeting. It’s powerful. It lets you use your Adwords budget more strategically by displaying your ad only to users in the locations you select. And thus, you get more detailed insights into your demographics—allowing you to adjust your location-based ad bidding.

Keyword Guidelines

Most single-word keywords are prohibited—the idea being that nonprofits should choose well-targeted keywords.

Keywords such as “volunteer” are highly competitive and vague. Google wants to see that you’re targeting specific opportunities and services that will result in highly relevant ads for searchers.

Because of these new restrictions, nonprofits need to choose better targeted keywords when setting up their campaigns. Make sure the keywords you choose accurately reflect your nonprofit’s mission in order for them to be approved. Use AdWords’ Keyword Planner to do keyword research, and don’t be afraid to use phrases for keywords.

Note: Some keywords are excluded from the keyword restriction. For more information on the keyword restriction list check out Google’s support document.

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Click-through Rate

All Ad Grants AdWords accounts must maintain a 5% click-through rate (CTR) each month at the account level; not at the individual keyword level.  

Note: Accounts will not be reviewed for this requirement until 90 days after account launch.

Getting to a 5% CTR can seem like a daunting task, but it is necessary to maintain your grant. Your keyword Quality Scores have the greatest impact on your click-through rate.

To make a quick impact, pause or delete keywords that are pulling your CTR down. To do this, filter all enabled keywords that have high impressions with either zero to minimal clicks with the past 30 day date range and pause all keywords that meet this description. Then you can go back and decide if they should be moved into a more targeted ad group or deleted for poor performance.

Now, clear your filter for all enabled keywords. Scroll until you see your overall account average at the enabled keyword level.

No More Spending Cap

The $2 cap on AdWords smart bidding is eliminated.

This update will remove the $2 bid cap when using Google’s Maximize Conversions bidding strategy. The $2 maximum keyword bid still applies to all other bidding methods (like Target CPA, Enhanced CPC, maximize clicks, and manual CPC).

To use the Maximize Conversions bidding strategy, you must set up conversion tracking on your website (see our Google Ad Grants Guide for instructions).

Google’s Ad Grants updates are meant to help improve the overall performance of Ad Grant accounts so that 501(c)(3)s are able to better expose their missions and promote action from their audience. As you learn and explore the 2018 Google Ad Grant policies, you’ll find that the new requirements give you the opportunity to take your Ad Grant account to the next level and enhance your brand awareness and website KPIs like never before.


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