12 steps to increase your AdWords click-through rate 5 fold

How we increased our Nonprofit AdWords click-through rate 5 fold.

1. And, knowing what we know now, we could have done this much faster.

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


We increased our click-through rate almost 5 fold (4.7 times actually). You can too! You can see in the two screenshots below how much our step-by-step techniques improved our AdWords account performance over the past year.

A couple of 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 a year ago I began reading articles that made me begin 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.
Learn How to Apply for a Google AdWords Grant.
The Beginner’s Guide to Online Donations. CSDi is offering a complimentary nonprofit book on online fundraising.
Boost your donations in 15 weeks:       Learn How to Apply for a Google AdWords for Nonprofits Grant.
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.
You can see in the two screenshots below how much our efforts improved our AdWords account performance over the past year. Look at the bottom line first:
Click-through rate for Sunday, October 25, 2015
Google AdWords 2015 click-through rate
Click-through rate for Sunday, October 23, 2016:
One year to the day later.
Google AdWords 2016 click-through rate
  • Click-through rate: Up 4.7 times from 0.58% to 2.72%
  • Clicks: Up 29% from 241 clicks per day to 311 clicks per day
  • Impressions: Down 72.4% (this is a result of the increased click-through rate maximizing our daily budget more quickly: perfect!)
  • Cost Per Click: Down 23%
  • Daily Budget: Equal: Full Daily Grant Allowance
  • Ad Position: Up 20%
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 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 year ago. 1) Increase our click through rate 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 a year. 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, 76 ads, and 800 keywords. Man, that was a lot of work.
We also had some real dogs in there. 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 one of marching backwards.
Another reason why it took a year to get our click-through rate up is that we learned very quickly that if we made a number of changes all at once, 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 very early on we learned to make small changes on a weekly basis and to wait and watch to see what actually happened. This was how we learned. It would have been so much easier with one single campaign.
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.
But because of this, we began to realize that what we have learned over the past year 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.
So today, one year later, we have 9 campaigns (mostly new ones), 28 ad groups, 101 ads and 446 keywords. These are performing at 5 times the clip as the old campaigns, and benefit from a continuing process of optimization. They are (mostly!) getting better each month. We’re still learning!
Here are some recommendations:
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 your ad grant.
2. Get really organized with your documentation so you can figure out what you did 6 months ago. 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 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 add extensions and keyword insertion. We will show you how to do this.
11. Read. Google 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 45 step-by-step guides which will take you through these same steps as well.
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 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