Phil McMinn

Director of Digital Marketing

Google Ad Grants: 5 Advanced Tips for Success

5 mins read

Torchbox manages Google Ad Grants accounts for nonprofits including Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity, Samaritans, Mozilla, Mind and Islamic Relief UK. We’re one of three agencies in the UK to have been invited to join Google’s Certified Professionals programme, reflecting our experience and expertise managing ads on the programme.

In this article, we’ll provide five tips and tricks to help you push your account further.

Programme Overview

Before diving in, a quick Google Ad Grants recap.

Registered nonprofits who qualify for an account receive $10,000 a month of text adverts on Google’s Search Network. You can’t retarget, your ads show below paid advertisers and nonprofits starting out on the programme can only use “smart” bidding strategies. Other than that, it is without peer in its value to nonprofits. There is no Facebook or Twitter equivalent; for most charities, it is an amazingly powerful source of free traffic.

Tips for Success

Here are our 5 tips for getting the most out of your account.



Put bluntly: charities with high brand recognition can do more with their budgets. Accounts must maintain an overall click through rate (CTR) of 5% or higher. This causes a problem if you’re competing with paid advertisers: bidding on terms like “london marathon charity places” or “donate to charity” means competing with the very biggest charities, all of whom will be using paid-for Google Ads accounts. You’ll show beneath their ads, meaning your CTR will likely be under 5%.

If you choose to bid on your branded terms in your account, and your brand recognition is high enough to deliver high volumes of clicks, the CTR of these terms (which might be upwards of 40%) will significantly boost your account’s overall CTR. You’ll then be able to bid on low CTR terms without breaching Google’s account-wide criteria.

Bonus tip: Some nonprofits pay for their branded terms. Often, they do this because these keywords are revenue drivers, or because they support DRTV activity that features a branded CTA (e.g. “to find out more, search [charity name]”). If this applies to your nonprofit, use Google Analytics data to identify trends around times of day where ROI on these terms is poorest, and set up an automated rule to enable brand terms in your Ad Grants account during these times. That way, you’re giving the Google Ad Grant some of this equity without compromising on revenue.



We’re often asked how best to manage Google Ad Grants and paid for Google Ads activity concurrently. One recommended approach is to use Google Ad Grants as a testbed for ideas, before launching paid for ads.

Ahead of your next major PPC campaign, road test your ads in your Google Ad Grants account first. Try out keywords to see which ones deliver the highest ROI, test out CTAs and trial different headline combinations. Come campaign time, you’ll be in a position to launch your ads without wasting “real” money and time in the campaign’s early days working out what’s working.

Find out more about we used this approach to deliver volunteers for Girlguiding.



Understanding when to spend real money on keywords is a challenge for nonprofits looking to maximise their PPC budgets. But there’s good news. If you’ve been running regular PPC campaigns, you’ll already have plenty of search terms data to guide you in how best to use Google Ad Grants and paid for in tandem.

Firstly, review existing search terms in your PPC accounts. Identify keywords that have historically performed. Run these as [exact match] keywords in your paid account, and run the same keywords as +broad +match +modifiers in your Ad Grants account to pick up the longer tail, less valuable search terms. (Remember to add the exact match keywords as negative keywords to your Ad Grants account to avoid competing with yourself). Regularly reviewing your Ad Grants search terms report will help identify more keywords that can be moved in their exact match format into your paid account. You’ll be paying only for those keywords with strong ROIs, while also not missing out on searches that might yield future diamonds.

This approach helped us deliver 67% more donations year-on-year for Islamic Relief UK’s Ramadan 2020 appeal.



Many of our conversations with charities begin something like this:

Charity: Hello Torchbox, So we’re not getting the most out of our Google Ad Grants account. We’re only spending 50% of our $10K. Can you help?

Torchbox: We’d love too! But: don’t focus on spend, focus on quality of traffic.

Charity: Absolutely, quality traffic first, always.

[Fast forward 3 months]

Charity: Wow! The quality of traffic coming from our account is really great! But, y'know, we’re not spending all of our budget and, well, we wondered…

This can create tension between our duty to deliver the best results possible, while in effect being asked to bid on poorer performing keywords to spend more. Here’s how we find that balance.

Firstly, rebuild your Google Ad Grants account so that it delivers high quality traffic to your site (we’ll assume you’ve established success metrics). As quality increases, you might see spend decrease as you remove poorer, non-converting keywords. Once you’ve found the natural volume and spend for this converting, high quality traffic, things get interesting.

Using Google Ads’ Shared Budgets feature, split your $10K budget into two. Call one budget “Conversion Budget”. Give it enough budget so that it doesn’t run out. Call the other “Experimental Budget”. Assign whatever’s left from your daily budget. Use this budget to bid on broader keywords that will likely not convert, but might raise awareness or deliver future supporters. For one wildlife charity we work with, we assigned converting keywords like “foster an elephant” to our “Conversion Budget”, and ran far broader keywords like “unusual gifts for Mum/Dad/Christmas” in our “Experimental Budget”.

Here’s the crucial point: report on the success of these two budgets differently. Don’t report on the account-wide quality, because you’re doing two separate things with two different budgets.



While you weren’t looking, Google Search Console just got really good giving you a full 18 months of organic search queries. At your fingertips is a year-and-a-half of user searches that provides you with:

  • Gaps in your organic rankings. Use Search Console to identify poor rankings keywords that match content you’ve already got. Start bidding on these with your Google Ad Grants account. We call this "plugging the gaps" in your organic search strategy, and it's the quickest way to push your charity up the rankings for terms that might take months or years to rank for organically.
  • Ad copy ideas—use search query data to provide guidance on the language your (existing and future) users are using, and mirror it in your ad copy. This is a great way to avoid "internalspeak" - using language that is removed from the way your users are actually searching.

Harvest this data. Get to know Google Search Console. It contains invaluable data that you can’t get from third party tools. Without it, your Google Ad Grants account won’t perform as well.

Read more about how this approach to Shakespeare Birthplace Trust delivered a 77% rise in organic traffic.

What's Next?

Google has really stepped up their commitment to Google Ad Grants in the last 12 months. They’ve announced additional funding to help charities during COVID-19, expanded support for account holders via the Certified Professionals programme, and launched a Compliance Dashboard for Grantees to quickly highlight eligibility issues.

Torchbox will continue to support our charities with this amazing programme over the coming years.

If we can help your charity, please do get in touch.