If you’re a small nonprofit with limited time, looking for a quick strategy for online engagement, Google AdWords or the Google AdWords grant is not a great place to start. I’ve thought this for a few years now, but it really started solidifying in my mind over the last few weeks. There actually are a number of reasons why this is probably the case. Here are at least 5 reasons you should consider not making Google AdWords part of your strategy if you are a small nonprofit.
If you remember nothing else, this is by far the largest and most important point I want to make. So many people I run into are looking for a silver bullet, that one thing they can do to rocket their audience engagement forward with very little effort. Let me tell you right now, that doesn’t exist. And if it did, AdWords wouldn’t be it.
I can’t tell you how many organizations I have talked to who are disappointed and confused about why their Google AdWords grant isn’t delivering a better payoff for them. Taking one look at their Google Analytics is a quick way to see why this is. If your bounce rate is over 70 percent and your traffic sources show Paid Advertising driving more that 65 percent of your traffic, you’re not doing something right.
Google AdWords is a tool to amplify your message. This means that your messaging (online platforms) has to be on point and doing well organically (without advertising) before it merits adding fuel to the fire. You’re much better off looking at your messaging, user flows, and audience engagement and really taking the time to make sure that is on point before ever thinking about trying to drive additional traffic to your online platforms. If you have a bad website that doesn’t tell a clear story and doesn’t offer any value to your audience, why would you want to drive a lot of extra traffic to it?
Start with a full review of your platform and make sure your story is clear and engaging, and your user flows are specific and clear. Then build a content plan and begin creating original content on your site. Then create a social media and email marketing strategy for the content on your website. Once all of that is optimized and working well and generating lots of organic traffic and engagement … then and only then should you consider whether amplifying your message is right for your organization.
Google AdWords is not an easy thing to set up correctly. There are a lot of things you need to think about before getting to the place of amplifying your message by driving traffic to it (see above). You first need to make sure you have appropriate landing pages setup, then you have to do market and competitor research to make sure your ad keywords are properly targeted and that you’re targeting keywords that are low enough competition to be worth going after. This is especially true for Google AdWords grant, where your max bid allowed is $2. Finally you need to create ad copy and images that are clear, to the point, and matched to your keywords and landing pages. For a typical small ad campaign there are around 100 variations of text and image ads that need to be created. Finally you need to target, schedule, and test your ad campaigns to make sure they are effective and being effectively targeted.
We manage Google AdWords campaigns for larger clients, and we typically spend 50-200 hours just doing all the prep and setup to launch a Google AdWords campaign. Suddenly the AdWords grant doesn’t look so free after all. There are a lot of things that are simpler that will get better results for less effort if you’re small and just starting out.
It’s Not Worth the Effort
There are a number of reasons why the Google AdWords Grant in particular is not worth the effort. One glaring reason is that the free advertising that is offered through the Google AdWords Grant is very limited in its scope. For example, you can only bid up to $2 per click for keywords. We aren’t all that into Google AdWords as an agency, but we still manage about $50k of AdWords campaigns every month. Even relatively low-competition keywords are in the $2.50 CPC range, and high-competition keywords can be $20-$25 per click. Don’t think you’re going to be competing with the healthcare sector, for instance, on hot keywords in your industry.
Unless you already have a well-oiled marketing machine with a well-maintained platform and know that you can make use of niche, low-competition keywords to reach your audience, it probably isn’t worth the effort to launch a Google AdWords campaign. Start with some easier, quicker payoff steps. (See end of article)
It’s Too Easy
This is said a little tongue in cheek. The idea of the Google AdWords Grant can feel so sexy and so easy. After all, it’s free traffic for your website, right? What is there to lose? As outlined above, while it may seem easy and free as a concept, there are a lot of steps you should take in order to really make it work for your organization. If you haven’t looked at your messaging, your platforms, your userflows, your content marketing plan, and your online engagement, you probably aren’t going to see a benefit from the Google AdWords Grant, and it certainly isn’t the place to start.
Whether you are new to building online engagement or have an established and proven strategy, Google AdWords or the Google AdWords Grant shouldn’t be your primary strategy. There are a lot of reasons why this is, but a simple way of thinking about it is that creating traffic and engagement with Google AdWords is like renting your traffic. As soon as that ad spend goes away, so does your traffic. As soon as competition for that keyword jumps above $2 CPC, your traffic goes away. If your ad spend stays the same, your traffic will stay exactly the same or decline slightly. There is no payoff that increases with time. This is in sharp contrast to an organic traffic strategy where you’re building engagement with valuable, original content and creating an audience of fans of your brand. This is investing in something you own: your website. This strategy organically grows your audience over time. And with the right strategy, you can actually compete for those really high-value keywords by showing up in organic results for those keywords. This is way better than trying to compete using paid results as your only strategy.
Start Here Instead
The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do that cost you nothing but your time and effort, and will give you great results and quickly.
Optimize Your Messaging and Website
We’ve written a bunch of helpful articles about analyzing your online platforms (typically your website) and optimizing them to reach your audience and engage them. These questions can help you think about what you should prioritize on your website.
1. Who is your online audience?
This may not be the same as your overall audience, your offline audience, or your email audience. Who engages with you online specifically?
2. Of your online audiences, which one is lowest commitment?
Often when you think about people who interact with your website, there is a low-commitment audience that may not know who you are or feel a sense of connection or obligation to your organization. What is the 5-second message they need to see/hear to become engaged with your brand? Lead with that on your home page.
3. What does your About page say about your organization?
A lot of organizations don’t realize that a single, clear “about us” page is the second most visited page on your website. This is true across the spectrum of the nonprofit industry. People are looking for a simple, clear message about who you are, why they should care, and why they should support you. Don’t clutter this area with a gazillion submenus or use the About page as a dumping ground for every possible piece of data about your organization, its financials, and anything else you can think of. Your audience is begging to be sold on your organization—give them what they want.
4. Do you have a content marketing plan?
Consistency is 1000 percent key when it comes to content marketing. You have to be clear, original, and repetitive in order to succeed with an organic content marketing strategy. You should be posting something new to your website, news feed, or blog at least once a week. Also, don’t be random. If a robot like Google is trying to figure out who you are and what you’re all about and you feed them random information, you’ll confuse the robot. Make sure you stay on topic and keep your scope somewhat narrow in order to build authority on the subject matter you are trying to rank for. You would be surprised what keywords you rank for with your website. Check it out for yourself: this tool will show you what keywords appear most frequently on your website.
5. Email and Social Media Campaigns
Email and Social Media campaigns are channels to drive traffic back from your website. They are free ways to begin amplifying your message. Work on using them consistently and segmenting your audiences so you’re speaking directly to your audience’s interests.
Feeling overwhelmed? Need some help finding the right direction? We do this stuff everyday and would love to talk to you about your questions. We can even provide you with an online engagement audit that offers specific advice for your organization on next steps for your online engagement strategy.