12 Powerful Ways Nonprofits Can Increase AdWords CTR

How we increased our Nonprofit AdWords click-through rate 11 fold.

1. And, knowing what we know now, we could increase AdWords CTR much faster.

2. And, knowing what we know now, our click-through rate continues to rise.


This year we learned how to increase AdWords CTR 11 times compared to the CTR of 24 months ago. You can see in the two screenshots below how much our step-by-step techniques improved our AdWords account performance compared to 24 months ago.

Get your own AdWords grant for donations, volunteers, subscribers & program participants.
CTR: AdWords places ads about your nonprofit on Google search results. Your click-through rate is the percentage of people who click to learn more about your nonprofit. This is a big deal!
Learn how our nonprofit was able to increase AdWords CTR 11 times.
About a year and a half ago I took over management of our $10k a month Google AdWords grant. After reading some articles I began to realize that as a nonprofit we really didn’t know what we are doing. This is because AdWords is really sophisticated and you really need a plan make sense of the sophistication. See our 12 Step Plan at the bottom of this post.
That said, my first suggestion: I can’t stress how important it is that if you’re just getting started in AdWords—start small, and stay small until you learn how to do these things. Then expand.
A few years ago when the Center for Sustainable Development received a Google for Nonprofits Grant we were very excited. It was a lot of fun to creatively think up AdWords ads and do a fair amount of (we thought very clever) wordsmithing. It was also very exciting to see our AdWords account growing to the point where we fulfilled the $10,000 monthly grant allowance each and every month.
However, about 18 months ago I began to wonder: "So what good is this doing?" "What are we getting out of this?" "What are our goals for our AdWords grant program?"
We sat down and had a few heart-to-heart discussions and realized that our AdWords goals as a nonprofit should be to increase donations, grow our mailing list, find more volunteers, and connect with more people who would like to participate in training programs.
This simply wasn’t happening—then—with AdWords.
So I took it upon myself to really research what AdWords could do for us—and what it was that we needed to do with AdWords to help us realize our goals. Then we set to work.
At the one-year anniversary of working on the account, I wrote a newsletter showing that we had a five fold increase in our click through rate. For me, this was profound.
I made some major changes in the first year. I cleared out some campaigns there were no longer interesting to us. I made major changes to ads and completely revised our keywords. I also did some more advanced things as I learned such as putting in ad extensions and negative keywords.
Beginner's Guide shows 12 ways to increase AdWords CTR.
The Beginner’s Guide to Online Donations. CSDi is offering a complimentary nonprofit book on online fundraising.
Boost your donations in 15 weeks:       Get The Beginner's guide to learn how to increase AdWords CTR.
Each of the 15 chapters include 3 step-by-step guides that lead you in setting up a modern website, launching a donor newsletter program and applying for a $10k/mo Google AdWords Grant. See what the 45 guides include.
As I continued to learn, our ability to increase AdWords CTR accelerated—such that now, after 18 months, we were able to increase AdWords CTR 11 times over a two year period. We were able to increase AdWords CTR for CSDi 5 times at the 12 month point of the process.
You can see in the two screenshots below how much our 18 month’s of effort allowed us to increase AdWords CTR over the preceding 24 months. Look at the bottom line first:
Sample click-through rate for August 2015.
Google AdWords: How to increase AdWords CTR August 2015 click-through rate
Sample click-through rate for August 2017 – two years later.
Google AdWords: Increase AdWords CTR 11 times in 24 Months
Compare changes in the bottom line between August 2015 and August 2017.
  • Click-through rate: Up 11 times from 0.38% to 4.13%
  • Clicks: Up 1.96 times from 114 clicks per day to 337 clicks per day
  • Impressions: Down 73% (this is a result of the increased click-through rate maximizing our daily budget more quickly: perfect!)
  • Cost Per Click: Down 39% to $0.95
  • Daily Budget: Up from 53% to 97% OF Full Daily Grant Allowance
You can’t really compare the individual rows except for the bottom row; that’s because we changed most of our campaigns so the individual campaign rows (12 months later) no longer relate to each other. I left them there just so you can see how remarkably campaigns in general have improved in their performance.
3 AdWords Missions:
So we actually developed three AdWords missions as we began to analyze our position a 18 months ago. 1) Increase AdWords CTR so that more people would visit our site. 2) Clear out some dead-weight campaigns that weren’t helping us to reach our goals—or no longer represented what we wanted to offer. This was complicated because some of those campaigns actually had a pretty good click through rate. So we needed to turn them down slowly as we built new campaigns to replace them. This is part of the reason it took 18 months. 3) Get our conversion rates up: more donations, volunteers, course participants, and of course—grow our mailing list.
One of the first things that we realized as we embarked upon this process was that it would have been much easier and much faster to do it correctly from the very beginning. In other words, start out with one campaign with a few ads and learn how to optimize them for achieving our goals—and then to take what we learned from that and develop successive campaigns.
Instead, we were faced with trying to achieve our goals by cleaning up a couple of years of unfocused work: 9 existing campaigns, 22 ad groups, 64 ads, and 800 keywords. Man, that was a lot of work.
I quickly learned that I had to work very slowly in improving our account for two reasons. One was the limited time that I had available to invest in the project. But perhaps more importantly, the other reason why it took a 18 months for us to increase AdWords CTR is that I discovered very early on that if I made a number of changes all at once—they sometimes reduced our performance—and there wasn’t a simple way to track which of the things that we did worked—and which things that we did didn’t work. So I adopted the approach of making small changes on a weekly basis and then waited and watched to see what actually happened. This was how we learned. It would have been so much easier and faster if we had started in the beginning with one single campaign.
So this was a happy discovery in the sense that in taking small, step-by-step actions on a weekly basis meant that my time investment remained small. It also meant that I could learn by observing how discrete activities worked—or didn’t work.
We also had some real dogs in there. Donation AdWords campaigns that were trying to appeal to people who had no money. AdWords campaigns that were trying to appeal to people that had no interest. The campaigns were very cleverly written—and quite compelling—but some of them simply didn’t have any takers. However, they were using up our daily budget.
If we would have simply started off with one campaign, a couple of ad groups with a couple of ads each—and maybe 20 keywords in each ad group—it would’ve been so much easier, we would’ve learned so much more so much faster, and the entire process would have had a positive forward motion rather than at times, seeming to move backwards.
The second thing we began to realize was that we were probably fairly typical of other nonprofits. We didn’t have the budget to hire a full-time AdWords account manager. We didn’t have a lot of spare time ourselves. And we certainly weren’t experts.
So, because of this, we began to realize that what we have learned over the past 18 months in how to increase AdWords CTR could be very valuable to other nonprofits. We’ve learned step-by-step techniques for helping us achieve our goals. We like sharing this information.
Today, 18 months later, we have still 9 campaigns (mostly new and different ones), 27 ad groups, 73 ads and 273 keywords. Similar numbers to before, but they are essentially new, much better organized and optimized and are performing at 11 times the clip as the old campaigns from two years ago—and benefit from a continuing process of optimization. They are slowly getting better each month. We’re still learning! A big difference is that we have only one third of the keywords we did 24 months ago. We got rid of the keywords that weren’t helping us out and this made a huge difference to our performance.
Here are some recommendations in these 12 steps:
1. Start small and move slowly. It would be best if you could follow our step-by-step process from the very onset of getting accepted to the Google Ad Grants program.
2. Get really organized with your back up documentation so you can figure out what you did 6 months ago that might be useful today. Things that didn’t work then might have components in place now that would allow them to work today. We show you how to do this.
3. An AdWords ad is only as good as its landing page. Make sure that you have your goals in order for what you want your landing page to do.
4. Follow steps that we offer to develop solid keywords for both your landing pages and your AdWords ads. Your keywords should be the words that people use to search the Internet for your type of services.
5. Make sure that your AdWords keywords are represented in both your ads and in your landing pages.
6. Move slowly. Watch new AdWords ads for 3 to 4 weeks to see how they are performing before you begin optimizing them.
7. Periodically take time to check your campaigns and ad groups to make sure the various components are performing. If they’re not, delete under-performing keywords, ads, and ad groups. This will help maintain the quality score of your AdWords account. Keep track in your backup documentation of what you change.
8. Periodically take time to check that your AdWords ads and your landing pages are still absolutely parallel to each other.
9. Look at the words that people are using to cause your ads to show. If some of those people are looking for something different than what you have to offer, begin including their search terms as negative keywords in your ad groups so that they’re not wasting your daily budget.
10. Later. Once your campaign is up and running smoothly, begin investigating some of the tools which AdWords offers that will enhance your ads. Things like ad extensions and keyword insertion. We will show you how to do this.
11. Read. Google search is a tremendous resource for problem-solving. If you feel that one of your AdWords campaigns is under-performing, Google your specific challenge. You will find there are a tremendous number of resources and forums that can answer your questions. You aren’t the lone wolf out there: other people face the same challenges.
12. Take online training courses. CSDi offers online courses that take you through a step-by-step process that begin with applying for a Google nonprofit grant and take you through all of the steps that we describe above. We also have a free online book with 42 step-by-step guides which will take you through these same steps as well. Chapters 11, 12, 13 and 14 focus exclusively on AdWords.
Just so you know:
AdWords is not my full time job. I run the Center for Sustainable Development. I have to work hard to find the time to optimize our AdWords account: it tends to come in spurts. If I was to average it out—I invest maybe between 1 and 3 hours per week; I wish I had more time. I actually spend more time working on the landing pages that the AdWords ads link to; a very good investment. Let us show you how and why.
Tim Magee
Here are some helpful resources:
3 Stupid-Easy Ways to Increase Your Ad CTR | WordStream
13 Powerful Ways to Increase Your AdWords CTR