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5 Year-End Search Marketing Tips for Nonprofits

fundraising nonprofit Dec 13, 2019

The finish line of this calendar year is in sight, which means nonprofits are frantically working to secure those year-end gifts. Most are going heavy into direct mail and many are integrating email campaigns with direct mail. There’s also been a pretty big increase the past few years of nonprofits getting into the Facebook Ads game, which is great; however, more competition equals lower ROI for campaigns in many cases. All of these channels are great, but I believe one of the most overlooked channels for year-end fundraising is search engine marketing.

I was digging around in Google’s Keyword Planner in the Google Ads platform to pull some data. I looked at the following keywords for December 2018:

· Donate to charity online

· Donation tax benefit

· Tax deductible donation

· Nonprofit donations

· Charitable donations

· Donation

· End of year donation

Keyword Pricing

Let’s talk a moment about keyword pricing. The price of a keyword is determined by competition, how many accounts are bidding on specific keywords, and how much users are willing to bid per keyword. The ranges of price can vary by time of day and day of week, but you can bet that you’ll be paying a premium for donation-related keywords the closer you get to December 31. For the entire month of December 2018, the low range bid amount for the set of keywords above was $2.99, while the high range was $13.07. Of course, these are averages made up of the price of the individual keywords. The highest cost keyword topped out at $24.99, which was “donate to charity online.” Yep, that means every time that word was clicked, it may have charged the nonprofit $24.99. Your branded keywords, or keywords that contain your brand name, should be relatively inexpensive though.

With potentially such high costs, why do search marketing? Wouldn’t the cost to acquire be astronomical? It doesn’t have to be. You certainly want to look at how much it costs to acquire a donor, which would be how much you spend in total on search marketing ads divided by how many gifts you acquired.

SEM Average Gift

Based on a sample size of 24 nonprofit clients that I’ve personally worked with, I’ve seen an average SEM gift range on the low end of $46 and high end of $1,412, with the overall average gift coming of $242. All of these clients were either local or regional. So, the question is not should your organization execute SEM ads for year-end campaigns, but how can you do them more effectively. Here are 5 tips to help you improve your SEM campaigns:

5 SEM Tips

1. Capitalize All Words: Yes, it’s true….and your English teachers would have a fit if they knew this was a recommendation. But this isn’t about English, it’s about marketing. There have been multiple studies that writing in this manner will increase click through rates on SEM ads.

2. Use Display Paths: In Google Ads, you can add a display path underneath the headlines. Similar to how a pre-header functions with email, this display path provides more context as to what is contained on the landing page that the user will click. For example, instead of having a url in your add that says, it can say This signals to your donor that this is where you can go to donate to help this particular cause. Also, this display path is for display purposes only within the SEM ad, so there is nothing you have to do on your end to create a page with the same url on your website.

3. Use Insights From Google Analytics: The default setting on Google ads is to have your ads run 24/7; however, you have the ability to change what hours of the day and days of week your campaigns run. My recommendation is to either 1) review the time of day and day of week that donations typically come into your website or 2) review your Google analytics to identify the time of day and day of week trends where users visit and are engaging with the site. By engaged, I mean there is a higher average session duration, lower bounce rates, and higher pages per session. Next, adjust the hours of the day, and possibly day of week that the ads run.

4. Adjust Demographics: Is a 20 year old’s donation as valuable as a 60 year old’s? Sure, money is money, right? When it comes to your SEM budget though, there is a limit. Let’s say you have $2,000 to spend on SEM. Would you rather cast a wide net, targeting 20–65+ year-olds or focus on a more tightly defined age group? Based on most donor demographics, you’d likely want to tighten up the age group, and possibly even the gender, of who sees your SEM ads. This will allow you to limit wasted ad spend and really focus on the sweet spot of the donors you want to reach.

5. Landing/Donation Page: This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have to say it. Don’t invest time and money into SEM ads only to send your donors to the homepage of your website. If you look at your homepage right now, I’m willing to bet that you have somewhere between 10–25 different things that your donors could click. Homepages are filled with clickable distractions including images, links, menu items, buttons, email subscribe forms, and more. Don’t send your donors to that jungle. Make sure your SEM ads click to a donation page with minimal distractions. If you have the ability to remove the top menu from the donation page, then do that as well. This keeps the donor’s attention on making a gift.

By applying these few tips, you’ll be able to reduce ad spend waste and put your message in front of a defined donor audience at the time they are online and looking to make a gift. You might ask, “why do I need to do search ads if people are looking up my organization to make a gift anyways?” In other words, if a donor’s intent is to make a gift to you anyways, and they search you out on Google, won’t they find you in the organic search results? Sure. However, SEM ads will put you front and center with a donation page, eliminating distractions of just going to your homepage. Further, competing organizations can bid on your brand name as a keyword and show up above you in search results. SEM ads help you to play defense against competition and preserve your visibility in search results.

Last tip….if you’ve never set up SEM ads on Google, set them up in Expert mode instead of the default of “Smart Mode.” That mode is really not so smart, but quite limiting. Expert mode allows you to have more control over how you set-up and target your ads. Good luck!

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