On Friday 25th January all of our charity clients received an email from the Google grants team notifying them about two significant changes.

 

Here was that message:

News about your Google Grants Account and Optimisation Tips

We are writing to let you know about a few changes to the Google Grants programme.

As part of our ongoing efforts to grow our advertising programme for nonprofits, we are making two changes to the Grants programme. First, as of January 28, 2013, Google Grantees may bid up to $2.00 USD on keywords. This is an increase from the previous CPC bid cap of $1.00 USD and may allow your ads to enter auctions previously unavailable at the $1.00 bid cap. Second, to balance the interests of businesses who pay to advertise on Google search, your ads will now appear below the ads of traditional AdWords advertisers.

 

Our thoughts?

Upon reading this email for the first time I wasn’t overly apprehensive. The initial excitement of the max bid being doubled from $1 to $2 (roughly £0.64 to £1.27) was quickly cancelled out by finding out that grant accounts will always show below paid advertising. Two things sprung to mind; firstly, that it was about time they increased the max CPC for grant accounts above $1. It was a convenient and sufficient amount 4 or 5 years ago when the PPC market was very different. However, we have seen typical charity keywords increase steadily in estimated average CPC’s and minimum first page CPC bids over the years. The outcome being that average positions have fallen over time. Secondly, it looks very much like Google decided to make a self-serving commercial decision and are attempting to conceal this by increasing the max bid.

 

What are the implications?

I would suggest that firstly everyone looking after a grant account adds an annotation to their analytics account for Friday 25th when the email was sent out just for reference. We would also suggest adjusting your bids to $2 as soon as possible.

As of 4pm GMT, 28/01/2013 we have not successfully been able to increase the bid value. We attempted to do this for at least 20 of our UK based charity clients and many US based NFP’s too.

This is the message we saw:

 

UPDATE: As of the morning of 29th January – the AdWords system is now accepting bid changes up to $2.

I have applied for over 50 Google grant accounts successfully since the project was launched and as you can image, if you are managing $100,000 + of Google grants each month then the cumulative effect of a change like this can be substantial.

I fear that the increase in max bid is likely to be considerably over-shadowed by the demotion of grant accounts against traditional paid-for ones. The significance of this will obviously depend on the sector and market in which keywords are being targeted. A well-built Google grant account will always require creativity, well written ads, quality and appropriate landing pages as well as a comprehensively built structure and quantity/quality of positive and negative keywords. The manager of the Google grant account should be doing the above regardless of maximum bid value but the latest change could increase strain on account managers. For our larger charity clients we run a standard paid AdWords account in combination with the grant account to capitalise on those important keywords that we previously couldn’t get visibility for at $1. This balance will need to be very closely monitored over the next few weeks as I’m sure many keywords will be moving back and forth between paid and grant accounts. The goal here when running dual accounts is to never pay for a click that you could get free via the grant account!

We will be keeping a close eye on the effects of this change and keeping this blog post updated with our findings…Let us know how this changed has affected your charity in the comments below.

A final point:

Google don’t have to offer charities free advertising! We have seen many charities completely turned around through the use of Google grants, so we have a lot to thank Google for. I’m sure they have reasons for making these changes (whether they are commercial or not), at the end of the day there’s not a lot we can do so in my eyes we just have to adapt and work harder to get the maximum value out of the accounts.

UPDATE – 30/01/13

So we’ve had our first full day of results since we increased bids on all our clients from $1 – $2 and paid account ads took preference over grant accounts.

A few things to note about the data below:

  • Data includes all keywords including brand related
  • Data is gathered from more than 1 million impressions
  • Each account has a similar number of impressions
  • We haven’t weighted average positions because total impressions are very similar across all accounts

Comparison of Google grant data – Tuesday 29th January 2013 compared to Tuesday 22nd January 2013

Grant Data

Google Grant Data – Click to Enlarge

 

Findings:

  • Impressions up 96% – this is what we would have expected
  • Clicks are up 21% – we didn’t necessarily expect to see this, it’s rather exciting
  • CTR is down as you would expect with a 96% increase in impressions
  • Average CPC went from $0.69 – $1.05
  • Average positions didn’t really change

Each account will vary considerably based on the competitive nature of the keywords and sector.

It is positive to see that, on first impressions, overall clicks are up.

Note: We have not yet analysed the quality of these clicks yet, but we will do this when we have more data collected.


UPDATE – 04/02/13

Following the interest that was generated through this article and the last little bit of data we published I thought it would be worth another udpate with more data.

We compared the data from Tuesday 22nd January – Sunday 27th Jan Vs. Tuesday 29th January – Sunday 3rd February:

Google Grant Change - Data 2

 

So, what’s changed since the last update?

  • Impressions have reduced after the first day but are still 68% up in total
  • Clicks were 21% up and are now 8% up
  • CTR has remained consistently around 30-40% down
  • Average CPC went from $0.65 – $1.08
  • Previously we hadn’t noticed a significant change in position but now we notice a drop from 3.65 to 3.18
  • Only one of the sample of accounts noticed an overall increase in CTR
  • Only 2 of the 6 accounts had an increase in clicks but this increase (31% & 35%) was significantly greater than the drops we saw in the other accounts

Overall, these findings are quite interesting. The most important figure to the client is the number of clicks (as long as they are good quality) and our study shows these have increased in total. However, 4 accounts have decreased and 2 increased by a larger amount. Clearly the sector of the charity and keywords present in the account will play a large part in what the outcome of this google grant change will be.

The other interesting thing we have noticed is that many of our keywords are clearly still appearing higher than non-charity advertisers. Regardless of how low the bid on that keyword is for the non-charity, they should still be ranking higher than a charity using the grant account to advertise on that keyword according to the initial email from Google. If the full effects of this change haven’t come into effect yet we don’t expect the results to be positive when they do!

 

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