Pitfalls of paid online advertising

With such a wide variety of options available in online advertising today it is not surprising that many not-for-profit organizations feel like they are at the casino when allocating their precious marketing budget. Each type of online advertising avenue has pitfalls for the charitable sector. Make sure you stay clear of these blind spots so you don’t crash and burn during your next campaign!

Search Engine Ads

Google is the master of this domain. Once you have maxed out your grant spending with Google, investing some of your advertising budget here makes sense. Google Ads consistently drive the most engaged and valuable traffic around to your website if you have a content-rich and search-optimized website. The major caveat is that your website requires the ongoing investment each month to ensure that quality traffic is coming your way. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that a basic website will do the job. Mobile traffic has now surpassed desktop. By investing in versatile platforms, you get better reach and interaction and as a bonus,  you’ll improve your SEO.

Social Network Ads

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter only make sense if you plan ahead and produce compelling content. Paid ads, promoted posts or sponsored stories are popular ways to reach more of your target demographic but don’t forget that these platforms flood the senses with fast moving content, often making it difficult to keep your audience’s attention over time. With regular experimentation and tweaking you can continually improve your results, if you are carefully tracking your efforts and money. If you haven’t done it already, spend the time upfront developing your target audience so it can be used to shape your marketing goals and communication tactics.

Video Ads

Youtube has seen tremendous success with their video ad space growing in popularity. According to Hubspot’s Marketing Statistics Report, 55% of consumers view videos in their entirety and 43% want to see even more video content. Although you are only paying on a cost-per-view basis, the upfront expenses to create quality content should make you think carefully how your choice of video advertising plays into your larger strategic plan before biting the bullet. 

Display Ads

A digital billboard of sorts, these passive ads are less targeted than traditional keyword-based search ads. Banner ads can help to increase brand awareness, mainly through creative visuals. Display ads will often increase traffic to your website albeit from a wider audience that is curious but not necessarily looking for you. Careful evaluation of your goals will help you avoid the mistakes we often see with this kind of ad spending. In general, we do not recommend that our clients allocate their marketing budgets to display ads. The targeting tends to be poor, and the traffic low quality. 

Retargeting Ads

Statistics show that only 2% of web traffic to your site converts on the first visit, which means 98% of users leave without engaging! By retargeting these users after they leave your website you are reminding them about their previous interest in your cause.  Overuse of this method might lead to brand fatigue – be cautious about messaging and ensure visuals are intriguing enough to get the attention of your audience.  

Buying ad space online is here to stay and more and not-for-profits are upping their game.

Recent data on the status of paid advertising in the nonprofit sector gleaned from the 2019 Global NGO Tech Report, which surveyed more than 5000 not-for-profit organizations in Canada and the US, gives us insight into where the money is going.

  • 95% of charities are using Facebook
  • 53% of those using Facebook purchase ads 
  • 56% of charities are using Instagram
  • 29% of those using Instagram purchase ads
  • 64% of charities are using Twitter
  • 12% of those using Twitter purchase ads
  • 37% of charities are using LinkedIn
  • 16% of those using LinkedIn purchase ads
  • 30% of charities are using YouTube
  • 9% of those using YouTube purchase ads 
  • 73% of charities have a Google Ad Grant account  
  • 33% of those charities purchase additional Google Ads

Before you spend a cent, you should sort out what you’re trying to achieve and consider the quality of material you have to advertise.

Video, text, or images can and should be handled totally differently in the digital world. Phil can walk you through the process from start to finish. Contact us to get your next campaign ready.    


Myth busting Google Ad Grants

More and more not-for-profit organizations are taking advantage of Google Ad Grants. The text-based advertisements that nonprofits can create with the grant allow organizations to compete for paid search terms without having to fork out the cash. Re-examine your priorities if you are spending dollars on digital advertising but haven’t yet applied for grant money from Google!

So what can you get?

$10,000 per month of advertising dollars to spend on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, as well as full access to Google Adwords. With the average cost per click across all industries hovering around an average of $2.32, it is well worth getting some free ads from Google. But is there really such a thing as a free lunch?

Let’s clear up a few myths

Myth 1 – It will be easy to burn through the 10,000$!

Sorry to break it to you but Google Ad Grants set a daily cap on what you can use. The way the grant works is that the $10,000 is actually dolled out in $330 allotments for each day. If you do not get $330 worth clicks in a day, it doesn’t roll over to the next day. There is a lot of other red tape when it comes to how organizations can use their ad grant including a keyword bid limit of $2.00. Unless organizations bid on conversions instead of clicks, this bid limit imposes significant restrictions on the amount that an organization is able to spend of their grant money. Remember that Google’s priority is helping users find the most relevant and useful information available, not prioritizing the advertiser. Your ads will show up in a search if they are high quality and relevant to the user doing the searching. The onus is on you to get the clicks!

Myth 2 – Apply for the Google Ad Grants first, fix the website later

Your nonprofit’s website is the backbone of your Google Ad Grant. The quality of your site affects if and when your ads show — and more importantly, whether people take the action you want once they’re there. Whether that means making a donation, signing up as a volunteer or adding their name to your newsletter mailing list. Having the essential tracking in place from the very start ensures that you can show progress to key stakeholders and have benchmarks to improve your communications. 

Myth 3 – You can compete with paid advertisers

Ads using the grant provided by Google only show up when there is reserve inventory on the ad platform. That means if paying advertisers want those keywords, they are going to outrank you 10 times out of 10. It is important to use location specific keywords and targeting. Although Google Ads rewards relevancy, not-for-profits often operate in a very competitive advertising field. To stand out from the crowd, especially during critical times of the year such as year end giving season, nonprofits can consider investing in a paid Google Ads account to bid on competitive keywords and extend their reach.

Myth 4 – Any volunteer can take care of a Google Ads Grant account

There is a steep learning curve for using Google Ads effectively. It is designed for professional marketers, so it can take time to learn how to navigate the interface, create new campaigns, optimize your account — and most importantly stay compliant with Google Ad Grant policy. You don’t want to end up with a lot of low performing campaigns, struggling to reach the minimum performance required by Google. Is it worthwhile to invest in a professional account management service to maximize your benefits with Google Ad Grant? We think so!

Myth 5 – Set it and forget it!

Surprise, surprise! You need to maintain your Google Grant Ads account or it will be suspended. Global targeting and single word keywords are a thing of the past. Google is always tightening the digital belt and making sure you come back often for a visit. Don’t forget that Google Ads isn’t the only tool needed to run your Google Ad Grant account. You will also need to check in on….

  • Google Analytics – which gives you insight into how people arrived and interacted with your site.
  • Google Tag Manager – which tracks when folks sign up for your newsletter, events, or fill out a contact form.
  • Account Review Dashboard – which enables you to track your account compliance.

Digital ad platforms can be a powerful tool for improving awareness and driving conversions for organizations in the charitable sector. However, inadequate reporting, lack of transparency, and passive ad management strategies often result in inefficient ad spend.


Phil has an in-depth understanding of the not-for-profit sector as well as a wealth of experience managing and optimizing digital ad campaigns. By combining our industry knowledge with tactical strategies, we are able to identify and execute on paid ads opportunities that other agencies may overlook.

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