Paid Search and Google Grants: 5 questions with a Director of Digital Media Buying

This post brought to you by Russ Reid Digital with answers by Elliot Wilkerson, Director, Digital Media Buying at Russ Reid.

1: Why is search engine marketing important to my digital strategy?

About 3.5 billion Google searches are performed every day. We rely on search engines to find what we need, and those search engines exist to serve up the most relevant content in the most efficient way possible.

Search functions as a primary harvester of demand generated by your brand, category, and offerings. It means the organization (in your industry) with the most robust and effective search strategy has a substantial competitive advantage because they gain conversions from all sources of demand generated for that category. Implementing a solid search strategy will increase your website’s visibility across search engines, help drive traffic to your website, and increase the potential for a variety of positive outcomes – those are all important components of any digital strategy.

2: Are there “free” opportunities for nonprofits?

One opportunity offered to nonprofit organizations is the Google Ad Grant. This online advertising tool assists nonprofits through $10,000 per month in in-kind AdWords™ advertising that can be used in promoting their missions and initiatives on Google search result pages. It’s not difficult to apply or qualify to receive this grant, and actually most Google Grant members under-spend their budget—the average recipient spends only $330 a month out of $10,000 they’ve been awarded!

But the “free” opportunity of Google Grants isn’t enough. Some recommend that once you have your Google Grant there’s no need to continue paying for SEM. But this approach ultimately hinders a nonprofit’s growth, as the limited benefits of the free media are so far offset by the opportunity cost of a sub-standard search strategy.

3: Am I missing out on anything if I have a Grants-only SEM strategy?

There’s a reason the average nonprofit uses only 3% of their allotted Grant budget. It’s extremely difficult to be competitive with a Grants account especially at the most important time of the year (Fall fundraising season, November – December). The Grants account limits a nonprofit’s ability to be competitive by only allowing bids up to $2 cost-per-click. In most cases this would not even place the organization on the first page of the results pages for the most important and competitive keywords.

There is immense value in paying $3 or $4 to acquire a $200 donor! So, a Grants-only SEM strategy that fails to invest in paid SEM, will mean the nonprofit misses out on the most important website traffic at the very time prospective donors are converting at the highest rate and at the highest average gift. By running a Grants-only strategy, you are leaving net revenue on the table.

Also, you’ll only be showing ads on roughly 50-60% of searches, which is why it is essential to run additional paid accounts to reach these valuable prospects on Bing, Yahoo and other Google partners not included in the Grants program.

4: So what’s the answer?

Effective management of Google Grants alongside other paid SEM investments. This careful balance will help achieve optimal outcomes – in a way that fully utilizes the benefits of the Grant without being held back by its inherent limitations, such as bidding caps.

5: What’s Russ Reid’s SEM & Google Grants expertise?

Co-managing Google Grant and paid search campaigns is a specialty of Russ Reid. We’ve proven that: rigorous management of Grants investment for maximum impact + strategic management of paid search = the best possible return from its paid search investment.

The Russ Reid overarching strategy is to maximize the use of a Google Grant during the time of the year when it is less competitive (January – July) and for the keywords that are less competitive (i.e., brand terms, program-specific terms, and obscure words). We’ve shown year- over-year net revenue growth for all our clients by combining strategic management of both a Grants account and additional paid accounts. Historically, in paid search, most of our clients achieve a 2:1 ROI or better (some as high as 8:1 – 12:1)—results, which are never the case with Grants alone.

Parting thoughts…

Successful digital marketing is all about growing drivers and optimizing converters: fine-tuning your website and search strategy to have the highest possible effective conversion rate for donations, and then growing driving channels like display advertising and social media to fuel rapid growth of traffic into those improved conversion funnels. The sure-fire result is a sharp and sustained growth in net revenue.

Ultimately, our goal is to strategically identify a media mix that will yield the highest long-term value, employing multiple keyword search tools and working diligently to help maximize the ROI from your Grants. By maintaining Grants, organic, and paid search simultaneously, your organization will increase your brand’s visibility while improving your conversion goals and driving only qualified and cost-effective traffic to your website.


To learn how Russ Reid’s Search Engine Marketing strategy can help grow your Food Bank’s online revenue, contact Andrew Olsen, CFRE, Vice President.