May 3, 2018; Forbes

At the beginning of 2018, Google made some significant changes to their AdWords grant guidelines, including requiring an overall clickthrough rate of five percent or higher. From now on, if AdWords campaigns begin to fall below the five-percent mark for two months in a row, the account will be flagged, suspended, and eventually shut down. These dramatic changes aim to incentivize nonprofits to better use their grant money and come with benefits such as the elimination of the $2.00 cap on costs-per-click through the use of “Maximize Conversions” automated bidding.

Now that we’re well into May, many organizations have gone through the pain of having their AdWords accounts suspended. What you may not know is that once an AdWords account is suspended, Google has specific additional requirements for nonprofit organizations to keep and restore their grants.

Along with new requirements on keyword scores and campaigns within AdWords, abiding by the following list of guidelines pertaining to your website (provided in Google’s Website Policy) is also important in order to keep your AdWords grant:

  • Owned and operated website
    • Your organization must own the domain that users land on when they click your ad.
  • High-quality website
    • Your website must function well and not contain broken links.
    • Your site must have a robust and clear description of your organization and mission. Each web page must have sufficient information for visitors to understand your organization’s purpose.
    • Your ads, keywords, and website may not make claims that promise results after a consultation, service, or purchase. Claims on your website must cite verifiable references to provide transparency to users.
  • Commercial activity
    • Commercial activity must not be the main purpose of your website. This includes sales of products and services, consultations, lead generation, and providing referrals.
    • Any limited commercial activities must support your non-monetary mission.
    • If your organization charges for products or services, your website must describe how your organization uses funds, for example, by disclosing an annual report.
  • Limited ads
    • 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. If you’re required to link to an AdSense account to receive payments for the Android market, you’re eligible as long as you don’t display AdSense ads on your website.

These regulations encourage grantees to take their audience-targeting and user engagement to the next level—but nonprofit organizations may find it challenging to meet all these strict guidelines. Only relevant ads can be displayed on linked webpages used within any AdWords campaigns. Google does not want nonprofits generating ad impressions (and therefore revenue) from pages that are being directed to within their grants unless promotional materials are clearly linked to the organization’s mission. Goals of paid search traffic through AdWords grants must no longer be focused on profitable needs in any way, from advertising to lead generation to promoting consultation services.

Another noteworthy change is that grantees can only direct paid search users to approved domains, so be careful when using donation sites or landing pages that are located on related subdomains before receiving approval. Using a site audit or other means to ensuring your website has no broken links isn’t just a general best practice for search engine optimization—it’s now important for keeping your grant as well. Lastly, your website must distinctly communicate your nonprofit’s purpose and mission on each and every page to which paid search users are led.

In the past several months, countless nonprofits have been losing their $10,000 AdWords grants. Google is getting stricter with its guidelines, so organizations need to be wary; once on their radar as suspended, nonprofits must carefully follow all these guidelines before their AdWords grant and account will be restored.—Aine Creedon

Disclosure: The author knows firsthand the pain of losing and then regaining an AdWords account at NPQ.