It's 12 years since Google launched Google Ad Grants, a system that gives registered charities a "budget" of $10,000 (£6,800) a month to bid for keywords that will position them in the advertising section of a Google search.
All registered charities with a UK headquarters can apply for a grant, so hundreds of charities now have one. But according to Rob Salmon, director of digital marketing at the website design agency Torchbox, lots of them aren't taking full advantage of the system. "It's not about spending for the sake of it," he says. "It's about spending to help you achieve your goals. But if you're spending very little of your grant, the chances are that you could be using it better."
Making better use of the system
Be innovative in your choice of keywords, says charity web designer Ben Blankley. The more popular keywords can be auctioned for as much as $30 a click, but charities using Google Ad Grants are not allowed to bid more than $2 and need to think up creative terms related to their cause areas. Charities can, of course, open a normal account with Google if they want to bid more and hope to win more mainstream keywords.
Blankley ran the digital department at the child protection charity War Child for five years until 2014. One of the charity's best-performing keywords was "Bongo Bongo Land", he says. "War Child used to be quite flippant, so there was a page on our website about the Congo and how everything people knew about it was from the Um Bongo song (from the 1980s fruit juice advert)," he says.
When in 2013 a UKIP MEP used the term "Bongo Bongo Land" to describe countries that received government aid, lots of people starting searching for the term and War Child's website traffic rose sharply.
Associating itself with less conventional search terms also proved a winning strategy for Alder Hey Children's Charity. Rather than bidding for, say, "children's charity", it bid for specialist keywords relating to the medical procedures provided at the hospital. Traffic to its website doubled in a year.
Yet healthcare charities should be careful they don't flout Google's advertising rules; this can result in adverts being restricted or even the removal of the grant. Thyroid UK had its grant removed two years ago because it referred to medication in its adverts.
"Google has strict guidelines on advertising drugs or cures, so it's best to avoid any language that could fall foul of these rules," says Graeme Wallace, digital marketing manager at Arthritis Research UK.
When the charity first used Google Grants, several of its adverts had only "limited approval" because they included terms such as "cure", "drugs" and "medicines". Once the charity removed these, the reach of the adverts (the number of times they were shown) increased by 3.3 million per cent and the click-through rate (the percentage of people that clicked on them) increased from zero to 8 per cent.
According to Wallace, a charity should set itself the target of attracting 3 per cent of the people who see their advert to click on it and should aim for an average bid of about $1 for each keyword. They should also aim to get their adverts positioned between the first and third advert slots.
"If you don't already have a Google Grants account, check to see if you are eligible to apply - and apply," says Wallace.