Select Page

How to save money on Google Ad campaigns

Lessons learned and applied from non-profit grant management will help improve the effectiveness of your campaigns

Did you know that Google gives qualifying non-profits $120,000 per year of in-kind advertising with Google Ads? To qualify, you need to jump thru some massive hoops. Keeping the grant is difficult, too.

Google doesn’t just throw $120,000 at anyone. With the grant comes a number of rules, expectations, and responsibilities. The policies in place are meant to “add clarity and raise standards of quality for Google’s free advertising grants.”  You can learn about the grant requirements by, well, Googling “Google Ad Grant.”

Macon Raine currently manages eleven grants for nonprofits of various sizes.

Traditional paid Google Ads are not beholden to the same strict policies that govern Ad Grants. However, there are many lessons that can be learned from the mandatory and frugal operating requirements for non-profit campaigns. These lessons, properly applied, help paid advertisers maximize the impact of their own campaigns.

Most of these lessons are pretty obvious. When these lessons are combined and work together, the real power of frugality as an operating policy shine through.

When in doubt, geotarget

The more specific your ad groups, the better they perform. Simple, huh? AdWords location targeting allows your ads to appear in the geographic locations that you choose: countries, areas within a country, a radius around a location, or location groups.  The better your targeting, the better your campaign performs.

Think small

According to the Google Ad Grant, every campaign should have at least two active ad groups, two text ads, and at least two keywords. The reason for this is simple – with small campaigns, you have the ability to test incremental changes against limited variables. It also gives you the opportunity to use extremely targeted keywords and semantic variants of those keywords in very specific campaigns.

Alignment is everything

The Quality Score is Google’s own rating of the quality and relevance of both keywords, ad copy AND landing page relevance to the keywords and ad. A Quality Score is computed as follows:

Quality Score = Landing Page Experience + Ad Relevance + CTR

Quality scores of 2 or less are not allowed for Ad Grant recipients.  Paid accounts don’t have this restriction…but they should. Did you know your Quality Score is used to determine your cost per click and it is multiplied by your max bid to determine your ad rank in the ad auction process?

Provide options with site link extensions

A site link extension is a link that appears below an ad. Sitelink extensions are effective tools to increase user engagement and provide opportunities for users to experience a wider range of an advertiser’s content. Examples of site link extensions that anticipate a user’s needs are “Upcoming Events” for a cultural organization or “Make an Appointment” for a charitable clinic. On a mobile device, you can sometimes show up to eight site link extensions side-by-side in a carousel format. This allows people viewing your ad to swipe left or right on the carousel to browse your various site links, and if your ad is in the top position, site links will create separate tappable rows, one site link on each line. On the desktop, site link extensions give you the opportunity to take up more screen landscape when your ad appears near the top of the page.  It’s just a good practice to use site link extensions. They are easy to create and can turn a simple ad into an ad that is relevant and full of helpful information. Best of all, they are free.

Maintain a 5% click-through-rate

If a Google Ad Grant does not maintain a cumulative CTR of 5+% for two consecutive months, the account will be suspended. Traditional advertisers don’t have these kinds of restrictions. In fact, the average click-through rate on AdWords paid search ads is about 2%. Why not hold yourself accountable to a higher CTR? When you hold yourself accountable to a maximum  CTR, everyone wins. Here are a number of steps you can take to get a higher CTR:

  • Impressions Filters: Instead of filtering for an impression rate > 100, filter for an impression rate > 75. This will widen the pool of potentially underperforming keywords during the selected calendar month.


  • Pause keywords: Pause  keywords within the newly defined impression rate that also report low engagement (< 2 clicks) and no conversions (<1.00).
  • Clear the filters: Check the average CTR for enabled keywords.


Rinse and repeat until your CTR is at or above 5%: lower the filtered impression rate, pause keywords with low clicks and no conversions, clear filters, and check the average CTR for enabled keywords. If the second round of filters targets an impression rate of > 75, the third might be > 60 or > 50. Eventually, the average CTR for enabled keywords will rise to 5%.

You can also filter keywords for their individual CTR. Instead of setting parameters that filter out clicks < 2, your parameters could look like this:

  • Impression rate: > 100
  • Conversions: < 1.00
  • CTR < 2.50%

Your website experience should be smooth

Google wants nothing more than for its users to click on an ad and have a good experience. Ad destinations must offer unique value to users and be functional, useful, and easy to navigate. For the traditional advertiser, you’re doing yourself a disservice if your website doesn’t accomplish this.

Nonprofits that have crummy websites will usually have their Google Grant suspended. Give your website a once over and look for and fix broken links, make sure it loads quickly and performs as expected.

Pay attention to what’s new:

Make sure you’re keeping up with Adwords changes posted to the Google Adwords blog.

In fact, launched just recently, a new update will address what small businesses struggle with the most — making sense out of Google Ads. Google’s “Smart Campaigns” for small businesses is a new feature that automates campaign ad creation, audience targeting, ad delivery, and in the future— landing page creation. This is a major step forward for businesses trying to grow their customers across Google channels.

Kim Spalding, who leads Small Business Ads at Google, said that two-thirds of small businesses use digital marketing, but face serious challenges when it comes to finding simple answers. Smart Campaigns are designed to work with Google My Business for both ad creation, and soon, landing pages that align with the ad creative will have reporting actually built in.

How effective are Smart Campaigns? Preliminary Google research shows that they are three times more effective at reaching a business’s target audience than AdWords Express campaigns.

Combined with Google’s machine learning algorithms, small businesses now have the ability to automate Adwords management and show ads to the right audiences using behavioral, location, device and other signals—a powerful 1-2 punch.

Increase CTR with better copy

Sounds simple right? One of the best ways to save money on Google AdWords is to write better ads. Differentiate yourself in a way that others can’t, and pair this with a killer offer in the CTA, and watch the performance go up.

Set your operational hours

Make sure your geolocation settings are set to optimal and peak hours, especially if you’re advertising goods or services sold from a physical location.

Create a negative keyword conflicts report

To avoid both conflicting keywords and irrelevant keywords, make sure you use Negative keyword conflict reports. You can automatically identify any potential conflicts between excluded negative keywords and search terms that you’re actually bidding on.

Always be looking for new keywords

Another money-saving tip is to go after brand new keywords that are relevant, long-tail, and represent a new keyword niche. If your keyword research proves accurate, these new long-tail keywords can represent a massive boost in CTR, and can raise Quality Scores and reduce costs.

Mobile first

The growth of mobile search volume has changed how we prioritize. Your approach to device targeting should mirror this pattern. Make sure your device targeting settings is on your priority list of optimization. Furthermore, make sure mobile CPCs, no longer available at bargain prices, accurately reflect the mobile traffic and competition so you’re not overbidding and losing money.

Refine your match types

Use a variety of match types that accurately reflects the search volume, competition, and keyword difficulty. Some search terms will be more competitive than others (read: more expensive) and there may be times when you simply must avoid using certain match types or risk blowing through your budget.

Call-only campaigns

Mass mobile adoption, as you would expect,  has resulted in a record number of calls to businesses (162 billion by 2019). As a response, Google is making sure you’re equipped to take advantage with call extensions and call tracking from the landing page.

Want to hold your Google Ad performance to a higher standard?  

Let us help you deploy some of these Google Grant tactics on your own paid Google Ads account. And, with several productivity updates in Adwords – most notably the ability to makes notes and changes directly within the UI— we can get a glimpse of where you may be falling short and how to right the ship.