The 2018 Google Grants Changes (Part I): What Do They Mean for You?

In Analytics, Digital, Marketing & Ministry by Daniel Clotfelter

In early December, you may have received an email from Google about upcoming changes to Google Grants. The tone of the email was glowing, and said in effect: “Good news!  We’re lifting the $2 bid cap if you use Maximize Conversions. Also, we changed some policies, which will go into effect on January 1, 2018. Okay, thanks, bye!”

That email was…misleading, to say the least. The Maximize Conversions change first appeared in beta over the summer and we’ve done a lot of testing with it. We learned something critical, and wanted to share it with you: The Maximize Conversions change only gives an advantage to nonprofits sophisticated enough to put in solid conversion tracking. This change is significant and could put a lot of accounts in jeopardy.

Ultimately, Google is trying to push Grants users to focus more on driving valuable conversions than increasing spend at any cost. That isn’t a bad thing, but the transition may be painful for a lot of users. 

If your organization is part of the Google Grants program, it’s really important that you understand these new changes and what they mean for you. (For the ministries we are managing, we’re all over this and you don’t have to worry.)

The Maximize Conversions Change

First, let’s talk about Google’s announcement that they will lift the $2 bid limit for accounts using Maximize Conversions. The fine print here is that Maximize Conversions is an automated bidding strategy, which means if you use Maximize Conversions, you relinquish all control of bids to Google. If Google thinks that bidding above $2 will lead to more conversions, Google might do so. But it could also very well bid below $2, meaning you would have been better off bidding manually at $2.

Your best shot at getting the most out of this change is to implement more advanced conversion tracking, which would include many different conversion events on your website (donations, email sign-up, volunteer request, etc.). This gives the system more data inputs to optimize towards and may increase your chances of Google bidding above the $2 level for your keywords. With a strong conversion strategy and a good manager, your chances of benefiting from the change is much higher.

The Policy Changes

Now for the policy changes. The overall theme of the new policy is: Google wants Grants users 1) to increase the quality of their campaigns, and 2) to focus more on driving valuable conversions (versus maximizing the number of clicks with their given budget).

If that’s already your mentality, then you probably don’t have much to worry about. However, most Grants users have been incentivized for years to prioritize clicks and spend. (For example, the only way to get Grants Pro when it was available was to hit a spend limit.)  

Here’s a checklist to help you make sense of these policy changes and learn if your account is at risk.

  1. Do you target any branded keywords you do not own? (For example, competitor names.)
  2. Do you have any single-word keywords?
  3. Are your keywords “overly generic”? (Examples include: “free videos”, “download e-book”, “help today”, “donate nonprofit”, “download now”.)
  4. Do any of your keywords have a quality score of 2 or under?
  5. Are you targeting any domains Google hasn’t specifically given you permission to target? (If so, you’ll need to add an additional website domain(s) to your Google Ad Grants.)
  6. Are you targeting “All Countries and Locations” for any of your campaigns?
  7. Do any of your ad groups have only one ad?
  8. Have you set up less than two sitelinks on your account?
  9. In the last two months, was your click-through rate (CTR) less than 5 percent?
  10. Have you forgotten to fill out the annual Google Grants survey?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, Google may suspend your account without warning. You should take this seriously—we’ve seen this happen, and getting suspensions lifted can be a slow and unpredictable process.

Stay tuned!

In the coming weeks we’ll share more information, including strategies to minimize your risks, as well as how to make the most of the Maximize Conversions change. And of course, our certified Google partners are always more than happy to discuss these changes with you.