Google AdWords Grants – What Will Happen Next?

Using a technique not all that unfamiliar to PPC professionals who use AdWords, Google announced via email to Google Grants participants last week that there are some big changes coming to the Google Grants program, beginning on January 1, 2018. Yup, that’s right, at the end of the calendar year, when virtually every nonprofit on the planet is furiously working to get end of the year donations in, AdWords decides to move the goal posts on them starting January 1st. That’s pretty crappy, even by Google announcement standards…

Clix Marketing had a great write up on the details as did Ginny Marvin over at Search Engineland. According to Ginny’s piece, non-compliance notices will start being sent on January 1st.

Here is my take on what all this means in practical terms.

The Biggest Changes

The most significant changes have to do with requirements for Google Grants account structure (full documentation is here). All accounts must:

  • Maintain an average CTR of 5% (up from the previous 1%)
  • All campaigns must contain a minimum of 2 Ad Groups
  • All Ad Groups must contain a minimum of 2 ads
  • Campaigns must utilize a minimum of 2 sitelinks
  • Must use “specific geo-targeting” to show ads in locations relevant to your nonprofit
  • The $2 bid cap can be removed, but requires the use of Maximize Conversions automated bidding

Ads & Ad Groups

The 2 ad groups and 2 ads per ad group are not a big deal. Most accounts should already have this in place – at least the two ads per ad group one. It should not be too cumbersome to add a second ad group to a campaign.


The sitelinks requirement, I think, is problematic on a couple of fronts. First, why force anyone to use sitelinks? Especially nonprofits who may or may not have pages in their site that are relevant enough to their advertising to want to have as sitelinks? Even more importantly though (and I will get into this when I talk about the bid cap “removal”) sitelinks count the same as clicks on the ad itself for CTR and also when calculating conversion rates. When I inquired with AdWords about how sitelinks impact bidding when the Maximize Conversions strategy is enabled, the answer I received was this:

If Sitelink landing pages tend toward lower conversion rates, this conversion rate would be factored into the model used by Maximize Conversions and could lead to less aggressive bidding.

Bidding Changes – No More $2 Cap? Maybe…

So, you can have bids that are higher than the previously capped at $2.00 level, but only if you use the Maximize Conversions automated bidding. In order to use the Maximize Conversions automated bidding, you must enable AdWords conversion tracking on your web site. So, theoretically, sites that are more sophisticated and can actually add tracking will have an advantage over sites that can’t. Side note – it is not just small nonprofits that might have trouble implementing this. Large and even international organizations use backend platforms that can make this impossible (I know this personally having worked with organizations large and small and on many different platforms geared for nonprofits where amazingly you literally cannot add tracking code for a succeesful donation, for example).

Add to that the fact that sitelink pages by definition are NOT going to be conversion pages (you are not going to send someone to a thank you for your donation page). So, by forcing the use of sitelinks, AdWords is setting up a situation where conversions have less of a chance of even happening in the first place. Which would lead to “less aggressive bidding” which translates to your bids won’t go up that much.

What does that matter? Well, the 5% CTR is certainly a big deal. I think it is likely to result in nonprofits having to reduce the scope of what they are advertising on to hit that average for all keywords. If you can’t maintain the 5% average, your account will be canceled:

If the CTR requirement isn’t met for 2 consecutive months, your account will be cancelled.

Don’t worry, you can always use AdWords Express:

If you can’t meet the requirements above, you may pause your AdWords campaigns and use AdWords Express, which automatically structures your account.

Oh, and you can’t used shared budgets and to Maximize Conversions. Each campaign must have its own budget. Documentation on Maximize Conversions budget setting is found here.

Keyword Bidding

Did I mention that there are additional restrictions about they keywords they can bid on too?

It starts by saying this:

AdWords works best when an organization’s message is relevant to the user’s search. To help you to get the right audience and to help users find what they’re looking for, each ad and keyword in your Ad Grants AdWords account must reflect your organization’s primary mission, be relevant to your nonprofit’s programs and services, and be specific enough to provide a good experience for the user seeing your ads.

As such, the following keywords and queries for serving Ad Grants ads are not permitted:

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)

Note terms with dashes, periods, or special characters are not treated as single-word keywords

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

Keywords with a Quality Score of 2 or less

It ends with this helpful suggestion (which is on every page of the documentation of the updates):

Alternatively, you may choose to pause your AdWords campaigns and use AdWords Express, which automatically manages your ad’s search phrases (instead of keywords) based on your business product or service categories.

Full support document on keywords is located here.

You Can’t Run Ads On Your Web Site

This was not covered in the email to Google AdWords Grantees, but you cannot run AdSense (and from the language I would guess ads from other sources likely won’t fly either):

Limited ads on website

  • Advertising on your organization’s website must be relevant to your mission and not be obtrusive to users.
  • Your website may not host Google AdSense ads or affiliate advertising links.

Full website policy documentation is here.

Do Not Forget Or Blow Off The Annual Survey

We’ll send an annual Ad Grants program survey, and will expect your response to participate in the program…

If you miss the survey deadline and your account is cancelled, just fill out the survey. Completing the survey will initiate a review for account reinstatement that will be addressed within 10 business days.

This is in the Account Management section documentation found here.

They Really Want You To Use AdWords Express

AdWords Express is mentioned and encouraged on every single page of documentation for Google Ad Grants. The Account Management page has this right at the top:

We want you to be successful. A good option for most organizations is to use AdWords Express, which automatically manages your online ads.

What Does It All Ultimately Mean?

My sense is that the goal here might just be to eventually push most if not all Grants advertisers into AdWords Express. The wording throughout the documentation is pretty heavy handed toward using AdWords Express as the answer to meeting all of these new requirements. AdWords Express is a very limiting experience. I went in to see what it was like to set up an ad and it made me sad for these organizations.

It is basically like having all dynamically generated ads, based on the URL you point AdWords Express to. You choose a goal, choose geographic targeting (which by default is a tiny radius around your physical location) choose from options about what to target (chosen by AdWords Express from the page you pointed it to) and then write an ad and set your budget. That’s it.

AdWords Express Select A Goal

AdWords Express On Web Site Goal Details

AdWords Express Suggestions for Neptune Moon

AdWords Express Budget

That’s it for options in AdWords Express :(. Can’t even exclude locations or have a choice about “people in my targeted location” versus “people interested in my targeted location”. No negative keywords to drop out traffic that you don’t want.

What To Do If You’re A Current Google Grants User

Get into compliance. If you do not meet these updated requirements, it seems that your account will be canceled. You can appeal the cancelation (after you fix whatever got you canceled presumably?) and may then get reinstated in 10 business days.

Here is a suggested checklist to go through on any Google Grants account:

  1. Keyword review to identify: single keywords, non-owned brand terms, terms with Quality Score of 2 or less, Low Search Volume terms and CTR of under 5% – pause any that are questionable or non-compliant to new rules.
  2. Campaign structure review to ensure: two ad groups per campaign and two ads per ad group as minimum now required.
  3. Conversion tracking status – is it in place? Can it be put in place?
  4. Investigate using Maximize Conversions bidding – can we do it? What is needed to implement?
  5. Budget review – campaigns using shared budgets?
  6. Ads running on web sites – is AdSense running? Are any other ad platforms serving ads on the web site?
  7. Sitelinks – are there any live currently? If so, make sure applied to all campaigns. If not, find some to create and apply.
  8. Review geo targeting, make any appropriate adjustments or exclusions.

What about you? What will you be doing for your Google Grants Accounts? Anything? Nothing? As always, sound off in the comments or hit me up on Twitter (@NeptuneMoon).


  1. I manage 11 Ad Grant accounts. A few days ago, I looked at a couple that would fail the new requirements, and made a few simple tweaks. Removed a few high impression, low click keywords. Bingo, they’re all above 5%. It shouldn’t be difficult to attain the new standard.

    Anyone worried about complying should read On the Ad Grants section of the Google advertisers forum there has been a lot of information provided by the Grants team. There will be warnings 14 days before an account is suspended. They will help fix, then reactivate accounts.

    They have said on the forum that they aren’t trying to push people into using Adwords Express. It’s almost as if the policy pages were written by completely different people, because I got that impression at first.

    A lot of nonprofits have heard about the suspension of the GrantsPro program (now referred to as Legacy, so that’s the final nail in the coffin). They’ve also heard about many GrantsPro holders being downgraded to $10,000 for not being on-mission enough. And they’re getting suspicious of Google’s motives.

    Something that’s not been noticed by most commentators: you no longer have to login every 30 days or make an edit every 90 days. So that’s one good thing!

    The two ad groups per campaign rule is nonsense, and the ban on most single word keywords is surely unworkable. But the 5% rule is a good thing, and will improve the quality of a lot of sub-par accounts.

    My biggest complaint is that this announcement was made just before Christmas and hid the bad news behind terms and condition links. The Grants team have admitted the communication was poor, and seem to be making up for that by providing a lot of further information.

    But also, there’s a missed opportunity. Why didn’t Google insist that all holders create goals? Especially if they want to promote the Maximize Conversions strategy.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed comments.

      It is encouraging to hear that the goal is not to push all grantees into AdWords Express. Like most things Google announces or rolls out, the language is vague and leads to unnecessary confusion.

      The timing is atrocious for nonprofits, I totally agree. Especially as US ones are even more stressed out than usual right now as they worry over possible tax law changes impacting giving next year and trying to really, really maximize donations this year…

      I’m going to share the community link over on Twitter too, as we had a Twitter chat about the Grants Program changes earlier today.

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