Insights for Destination & Leisure Marketers

Tackling the Changes to Google Ad Grants for Non-Profits

January 29 | Posted by: | Media Strategy, Paid Search

How to Keep Your Campaigns Active & Effective Despite This Update

Effective January 1, 2018, Google made some significant changes to the policy requirements for their Google Ad Grants for Non-Profits program. Some of these changes may seem overwhelming – specifically for smaller non-profits. So let’s take a look at the most serious of these changes. Once you understand what the changes imply, you can take steps to ensure your account stays active and effective.

Branded, Single-Word, and Generic Keywords

According to the new policy, the following keywords will no longer be permitted by the program:

  • Branded words that you don’t own like “YouTube” or “Google” or names of newspapers or other organizations.
  • Single-word keywords (excluding your own branded words, recognized medical conditions, and a small number of exception keywords published here).
  • Overly generic keywords like “free videos”, “e-books”, “today’s news”, “easy yoga”, “download games”, “job alert”, names of places, names of historical events/people.


If you are using any keywords that fit these categories, pause them. Typically, this shouldn’t have a huge negative impact on the performance of your campaigns. Branded keywords unaffiliated with your non-profit, single-word keywords, and generic keywords tend to have low clickthrough rates. They have a higher average cost per click and poor conversion rates anyway. In fact, pausing them could actually improve the performance of your campaigns. It will free up some daily budget for more relevant searches instead. What’s more, pausing them will help keep you compliant with some of the other new policy changes (which we’ll get to a little later).

Maybe you’re not sure if some of your keywords fall into these categories. If so, reach out to your Google AdWords Account Manager or call AdWords Support and ask; they’ll be more than happy to help you.


Google states that “Ad Grants accounts must have specific geo-targeting to show ads in locations relevant to your nonprofit.” In other words, you should have some form of location targeting setting for your Ad Grants campaign besides “all countries and territories.” If you don’t currently have a geo-targeted location setting, you should do it now. How? Run a dimensions report based on Geographic or User Location views to find where you’re seeing the highest quality traffic come from, and where you’re not. Setting a geo-target this way can potentially improve the performance of your entire campaign by focusing on the most valuable locations. Added plus: it will keep you in compliance as well.

5% CTR and Quality Score

For most non-profits, these are the Google Ad Grants policy changes may be the most challenging. Google states “All Ad Grants AdWords accounts must maintain a 5% clickthrough rate (CTR) each month.” It also states that “Keywords with a Quality Score of 2 or less” are not permitted. Tackling these changes will require a little digging into your account metrics, making some changes, and keeping a regular eye on performance.

Improving Your Quality Scores

First off, run a keyword level report with quality score visible to find any keywords that fall below the allowed threshold. Keywords with a quality score of 1 or 2 should be paused to be compliant. There’s a good chance these terms weren’t contributing a significant amount, so pausing them shouldn’t have a negative impact. In most cases, there shouldn’t be too many of them. However, if the majority of your keywords are falling below this threshold, you have a larger problem on your hands.

Quality score is determined by 3 factors: expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance, and landing page experience. Fixing this means making sure your keywords, text ads, and landing pages are all relevant to your non-profit. Google wants the searcher to find what they’re looking for on the paid search ads that show up with their searches. To make that happen will take some work. Run search term reports to find the keywords that bring in traffic, then make sure you’re bidding on them. Try some new ad copy to make your ads are as relevant to the searches and your non-profit as possible. And make sure the landing pages associated with these ads work properly, load quickly, are mobile-friendly, and are related to the keywords for which they show up.

Improving your CTR (Clickthrough Rate)

Maintaining an average monthly clickthrough rate of above 5% can be a challenge for some non-profits. And improving it is going to require making some decisions on the keywords you want your ads to show for. While CTR can be dependent upon your ad text and position, the type of keywords you’re bidding on have the most impact.

CTR is a simple calculation of clicks divided by impressions. This metric explains how often a searcher clicks on your ads vs how often they are shown in search results. And to Google, it shows whether or not searchers think your ad is relevant to their queries.

But what if you are facing a potential account closure because of low clickthrough rate?  The quickest way to improve your CTR is to pause any keywords that receive very high impressions and very low clicks. Run a keyword report and see which of your actively running keywords fall into this category. Then, pause as many of them as you can until your CTR calculation rises above 5%. Eliminating these keywords from your campaign may end up working out for the best in the long run. These keywords were likely very general, expensive, and less relevant to your non-profit than those that have higher CTRs. Pausing them will free up your budget for more effective keywords in your arsenal. This, in turn, will push your Google Ad Grants campaigns to perform better. And better performance will bring in higher quality leads and donations more often.

No doubt, these Google Ad Grants for Non-Profits policy changes can create a challenge for strapped non-profits already busy with their daily tasks. But they offer the opportunity to improve your campaign’s performance and make your visitors happier and more likely to become members, donators or volunteers. And that’s going to help your non-profit in the long run.