SEM 101 for Nonprofits

by Jay Reyes & Chase Bender, 12 Apr 2018

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) for nonprofits involves maximizing both paid (all major search engines) and unpaid strategies (Google only). Let’s start with the basics and then explore how to make both strategies work for your nonprofit organization.

SEM is the process of marketing webpages of nonprofits and their missions through search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing.  SEM allows businesses to bid on keywords that are associated with their brand’s relevant product offerings. When a user searches for phrases similar to or exactly like your keywords, you will be entered into the auction within the engine. If other businesses are not actively bidding on those keywords, your ad will be shown higher on the results page than any organic results.

SEM can pack a punch if used correctly and should be the foundation of any digital campaign. At the base level it increases overall traffic and visibility to your site. It enhances brand awareness as users begin to associate their searches with your brand. Most importantly, it leverages a potential donor’s behavior and intent based on what they’re actively searching online.

How do you get the most out of your SEM? The key to utilizing it to its full potential is setting clear and defined goals for success, then determining what tools and strategies will help achieve those goals.  If your organization is focused on driving revenue, then utilizing paid search by investing and bidding on top terms associated with your organization is a surefire way to garner interest and donations. Keyword testing is a great way to determine which keywords are likely to result in revenue.

Google Grant

Google Grant is a $10,000 SEM grant offered per month, specifically to 501 (c), that qualify to utilize on Google Search bids.  While Google Grant does help generate revenue for your organization, there are stipulations associated with its use in comparison to paid search. Some key differences are:

  • Grant is a secondary auction, which means you're entered into the auction after paid accounts. This results in a very different impression universe, in which the same keyword can generate thousands of impressions on a paid account, but significantly less on Grant.
  • Google Grant doesn’t allow search partners, sites and other engines that Google partners with to show your ad. This leads to less volume than a paid account.
  • There is a maximum $2 bid cap, which makes outbidding competitors difficult. This cap is especially difficult for non-profits during peak seasonality when everyone is looking to show ads related to “tax deduction” or “Giving Tuesday” searches.
    • Google recently launched a “maximize conversion” option, which is fully automated and allows Google to increase volume and optimize towards conversion rate, without regard for a Cost per Ad goal (CPA). This eliminates the $2 bid cap. The increase in volume will allow them to collect data based on what generates the most conversions.
  • Generic one-word keywords like “donate” are now restricted. Google Grant keywords should reflect your organization’s primary mission, and they must be relevant to your organization’s programs or services.

So, what is a good strategy for utilizing Google Grant? It all depends on your budget and goals. At DRUM, we are firm believers that Grant should be used to supplement a paid account. The reason is that top revenue-driving keywords do not get the same traction between the accounts. Here’s an example of things we have tested between a paid account and a Grant account:

  • Running the same keywords on Grant and Search: We have found that doing this helps supplement paid, but leads to a lower impression universe for Grant. This is because Grant is entered into the auction after paid accounts. In the example below, you’ll see that while our Grant impression share is high on the keywords, Google Search is far surpassing in volume.

  • Running Grant on top keywords instead of a paid account: In the example below, we used ad scheduling to turn off our paid keywords during a certain time in order to let Grant pick up the volume. We found in a pre-post analysis, that although Grant increased volume, it wasn’t close to the amount we lost from the paid account.

  • While Google Grant is a great opportunity for non-profits, utilizing it as a supplemental strategy to traditional paid search ensures that you can combat the limitations within Google Grant and fully capture important traffic. A paid account allows you to reach more donors, bid on higher converting keywords and enter more auctions, which results in more impressions and reach. These are powerful tools that should be used in conjunction with one another to ensure that maximum revenue is achieved — all while conveying your organization’s mission and goals.

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