January 23, 2018

Don’t lose your Google Ad Grant

What nonprofits need to know about the recent changes

In mid-December, while nonprofits were winding down for the holidays, Google Ad Grant account holders received an email. It announced that the $2 cap on the Maximise Conversions bidding strategy had been lifted. Well, that was a nice Christmas present. But did you read the new terms and conditions?

A whole raft of new rules came into effect on the January 1st of 2018, many of which carry the risk of temporary suspension of your account. Here are some of the new policies:

  • If your account’s click-through rate (CTR) drops below 5% for two consecutive months, it will be temporarily suspended.
  • Single word keywords are banned. There is a short list of exemptions.
  • Keywords must reflect your mission and not be generic.
  • Campaigns must be geo-targeted to relevant audiences. If your nonprofit serves only the people of Seattle, don’t target the whole country.
  • Keywords with a quality score of 1 or 2 are not allowed.
  • Each campaign must have at least two ad groups.
  • Your account needs at least two sitelinks.

There won’t be immediate suspensions. Instead, you’ll be sent warnings and given a date by which to make your account compliant. However, the first notifications are already appearing at the top of some Adwords accounts, so don’t delay too long before making the changes.

Google’s new focus is on quality

In June 2017 the Ad Grants team implemented a quality filter. Many accounts lost impressions, but saw a corresponding rise in CTR. Some, especially those with poorly designed websites, suffered a dramatic drop. There was no announcement, no email sent, and no notifications within Adwords to explain what was happening, leaving nonprofits wondering what they had done wrong.

This time around, account holders were sent an official email, but important new rules were hidden behind links to terms and conditions. Many Grant holders are still unaware that they have to get compliant. Those who know might not understand what they need to do. But the good news is that these changes are an effort by Google to improve the overall quality of nonprofits’ online advertising, and probably a good thing in the long term.

Happily, you no longer need to login at least 30 days, and make an edit every 90 days. Quality, not regularity, is the new focus.

If you use Adwords Express

Relax, these new rules don’t apply to you. The Ad Grants team stated that their aim is not to push nonprofits into using Adwords Express, but it’s a viable option if you don’t have the capacity to run a full Adwords account.

If you have a GrantsPro account

The $40,000 version of Ad Grants, now called Legacy GrantsPro, was closed to new applicants last year and is unlikely to come back.

If your GrantsPro account is deactivated, once reactivated it shouldn’t be downgraded. However, be doubly careful to stay on-mission with your choice of keywords. Some account holders, in order to maximize the bigger budget, padded out their accounts with generic and low CTR keywords.

The 5% solution

The policy likely to most worry account holders is the 5% average CTR rule, which now acts as an indicator of the overall quality of your account. It seems likely that the majority of accounts would currently fail to meet the standard. Fortunately this applies to your account as a whole, not individual campaigns or keywords. You are allowed to fall below 5% for one month, but not two consecutive months. Here are some practical tips:

  • Your first task should be to identify those keywords getting a lot of impressions but a low CTR and delete them. The further your CTR is hovering below 5%, the more keywords you need to cull.
  • Put your best performing keywords into Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGS). That technique can lead to great results, but is time-consuming to implement. Ads in those groups must contain the exact same keyword in the ad text.
  • Is the wording of your ads similar to the keywords that trigger them? If not, you are likely to get a low CTR, and also a low Quality Score which makes it less likely your ads will get shown.
  • Create an ad group tightly focused on your brand, with keywords including the name of your organization. That might seem wasteful since it competes with organic search results, but it will get a high CTR.
  • Don’t throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Build your ad campaigns slowly and carefully; do more research to find out what your target audiences are looking for online; and match the language they use in searches.

It’s time to weed

Are your keywords too generic? For example “ebooks” and “job alerts” would be terrible keywords. because they entirely lack context. Are your keywords focused on your mission? If someone asked you what relevance a particular keyword had to what your organization does, could you justify your choice?

Adwords gives every keyword a Quality Score. If it’s 1 or 2 you must remove it (or you could opt to pause it).

You’re not allowed to use branded names you don’t own. Don’t use competitors’ names to hijack some of their traffic. What’s more problematic is if you’re working in partnership with other organizations or projects and have a legitimate reason to use them as keywords.

Your adverts could get a lot more competitive

Do you struggle to get impressions because your organization works in a competitive field where other advertisers can afford to bid much more? You are no longer limited to the Manual bidding strategy, where you specify a bid amount of $2. You can now use the Maximize Conversions bidding strategy, and the good news is that if Adwords thinks you’re worthy enough, your keywords can automatically bid well above $2. From my personal experience, approximately 8% of keywords bid over $2—enough to make it worthwhile.

The Maximize Conversions strategy is not suitable for campaigns getting few impressions or conversions. So don’t switch yet. First, check that goals are set up properly in Google Analytics. Your Analytics and Adwords accounts need to be linked. Then import those goals into Adwords. Only once you’ve done that, and can see plenty of conversions data for campaigns, should you switch to Maximize Conversions. It’s prudent to switch one campaign’s bidding strategy at a time, reviewing success, before switching the others over.

Help is out there

For advice on how to comply with the new rules, follow the conversations on the Google Advertiser forum. The Ad Grants team have been very helpful, so do post questions. They have given reassurance that if your account gets suspended, they will reactivate it once you’ve fixed the problem, and they’ll help you get back in compliance. And in the new NTEN community forum for digital advertising, you can discuss not just Google Ad Grants, but also advertising programs on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.


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Jason King
I'm a freelancer who works with non-profits in the UK, USA and Australia. I manage Google Ad Grants accounts; do audits; and deliver online training. I'm a Google Ad Grants Certified Professional, and a Google Partner. A co-organizer for NTEN's WordPress online community. I live in Mirepoix in the south of France, but have also lived in London UK and Melbourne Australia. I've attended six NTCs and will be in Portland in March 2018 for my seventh.