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What is a Google Grant and how can you make it work for your non-profit?

AdWords is Google’s main source of revenue and a huge percentage of the roughly $50 billion Google earned in advertising in 2013. If I use Google to find reputable charities fighting poverty in San Francisco, my first result will likely be an ad that looks like this:

If you are a non-profit, Google makes this ad space totally accessible to you… for free. Through its Grants program, Google allots up to $10,000/ month in AdWords money to worthy non-profits to raise awareness for their cause. This tool can be an incredible asset to your organization, but the Grants are underutilized and often mismanaged.

We’re here to show you how you can leverage this tool to promote your organization, build email lists, advertise events, recruit volunteers, and much more.

What you need

To qualify for a grant, there are only two things your organization needs: 501(c)(3) status and a website with strong content.

To get a grant, all your organization needs to do is join the Google for Nonprofits program and fill out a short application. You’ll be asked a few questions about your organization’s mission and how AdWords will help you to achieve your goals. The application only takes about an hour and, in most cases, you’ll find out if you’re approved within a few days.

About Google AdWords

AdWords is a very extensive program that allows an experienced user to achieve a level of specification that is impossible in more traditional advertising mediums. It is also a program that can take some time to fully understand.

Here is the basic terminology to get you started:

  • Keyword – A search term for which your ad will appear for
  • Impressions – The number of screens on which your ad appears
  • Clicks – The number of people who click on your ad
  • Cost Per Click – The amount of money it costs every time someone clicks on your ad
  • Quality Score – A 1-10 rating that determines the quality of your ad and the likelihood it will be displayed

“Average Cost-Per-Click” or CPC is of paramount importance to a Grant recipient. An account is only charged when a person clicks on an ad. The more competitive the ad space, the more expensive the CPC.  For example, the Cost-Per-Click for the keyword “Insurance” tops out at $54.91. The maximum amount a Google Grant recipient can bid is $2.00, meaning the CPC cannot exceed $2.00.

Caveats

This is important. Yes, Google is giving away $10,000 a month. But, Google is still a business, and it has created rules to protect its own revenue at the disadvantage of non-profits utilizing the Grant system.

Non-profits typically use significantly less coveted and expensive Keywords, but the $2.00 limit will still affect your campaign.

Actually spending the allotted budget can be challenging. In fact, the average Google Grant campaign spends just $300 a month, 3% of the entire budget.

You want to be spending as much of your grant as possible. At the end of the day the cost of the campaign is reflected by the amount of people clicking on your ads. If you’re not spending all of your budget, you are missing opportunities to advertise your website. Since it’s not your money, there is no disadvantage to exploring every angle to ensure you’re getting as many clicks as possible.

Overcoming Challenges

The best way to get the most out of a $2.00 maximum bid is with a high Quality Score.  Your Quality Score is affected by your Click-Through-Rate or CTR (the percentage of people who click on your ad), the relevance of your keywords and ad text, as well as a positive landing page experience (the page a person goes to when they click on an ad).

A high Quality Score means your ads will be given a more favorable ad spot, which can significantly lower the cost of your ad. For example, a Quality Score of 10 reduces your CPC by 50%, while a Quality Score of 1 increases your CPC by 400%.

To maximize your quality score, develop a mission for your campaign. Are you hoping to attract volunteers, solicit donations, or just draw attention to your site? Of course, you can do all three and much more, but you need to make sure your website’s content reflects whatever is written on your ads. Your content will have a huge impact on your Quality Score. If the content in your landing page is focused on recruiting volunteers for your cause, your ad text and keywords should focus on volunteers and only volunteers.

You should be maximizing the content you have by creating unique ads and keywords to focus on different pages. This will improve your quality score as your ads will be more relevant and the click-through rate will likely be higher. A classic mistake is to create a few general ads with a ton of keywords, setting the landing page as the home page and hoping for the best.  This means you are failing to capitalize on your content, and also not promoting any specific part of your organization.

If this strategy is implemented and your campaign is still not able to meet its budget, the alternative is to create more content for your website and tailor ads to new pages. This also has the added benefit of improving your sites’ organic search results. But this strategy is time consuming and expensive, and should only be done if a company is very serious about optimizing their web presence.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is no silver bullet. You’re not going to create a campaign, think of brilliant ads and keywords, spend your $10,000 a month, and bask in your dramatically increased site traffic on your first try. Ad Words is difficult to master, and a great campaign takes time, understanding and constant tweaking. Remember these last words as you embark on your Google Grants Campaign:

  • Your campaign will only be as good as your content.
  • Quality Score is king
  • An acceptable landing page is required for Google to send users to your site.
  • You need enticing ad text to attract people to your ads. Remember, a low Click-Through-Rate will lower your quality score.

Five Great Campaign Websites from the 2014 Election Cycle

Having worked in digital politics in a previous life, I observe elections these days with mixed feelings from a safe distance.

Working for political campaigns is hard, stressful and often demoralizing.  The long hours rewarded with below market pay.  But the highs are pretty high.  When you are working on a political campaign it is your whole life for a time.  The small victories, like watching the money come in after sending a good fundraising email, are often nearly as sweet as winning the election.  It is both completely awful and exhilarating at the same time.

Knowing how hard campaign staffers and consultants worked during the 2014 election cycle, I wanted to acknowledge some of the great work digital teams did this cycle.  So, without further throat clearing, here are the five best campaign websites I came across this cycle.

(1) Ed Gillespie (R-VA)

Mark Warner edged out Ed Gillespie in the Virginia Senate race, but I think Gillespie had a slightly better website.  I like the use of photography and the site’s responsiveness is a step above the default behavior you’ll get from most HTML frameworks.

My only compliant about the homepage is the video, which feels like something that wasn’t planned for in the original design and got thrown in at some point.

ed1

The entire navigation system is nicely implemented.  I particularly like the Take Action bar on the left that encourages users to volunteer, donate, share or sign up for the email list.  It is unique and nicely implemented.

takeaction

Like just about every campaign this cycle, the Gillespie team  had a look at the Obama donate page.  The layout and functional of the Gillespie donate page is pretty much identical to the Obama version.

eddonate

 

(2) Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

The Mitch McConell site features a giant background video at the top of every page that references Lincoln, coal miners, Kentucky, soldiers, McConnell and AMERICA.  I’ve made an animated gif of part of the background video below, but you should visit the site to see the full piece.

mitch

While I’m not sure it belongs on every page, I appreciate the boldness of the approach.

(3) Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY)

While it lacks the trippy background video, the site of McConnell’s opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes is probably better overall.  Great use of photography and the whole site is just solid.

alison

I particularly like the collapsed state of the navigation bar and the way the Get Email Updates and Support the Campaign call to actions stay fixed on the screen as you scroll down the page.

alison-2

(4) Nathan Deal (R-GA)

The Deal campaign basically ran back their site design from 2010, going with bold photography and minimal text.  It still works.

deal

The site works just as well on mobile as it does on desktop.  I particularly like the the mobile version of their menu.

deal-mobile

(5) Chris Coons (D-DE)

The Coons campaign site features bold photography and a unique icon-based navigation system.

coons-home

As with the Gillespie campaign, Coons donation provider Act Blue had a look at the Obama donation page.

coons2

What were your favorite sites from the 2014 cycle?

Complete Brick Factory Card Set

This Summer we’ve been posting mock baseball cards of our employees on our Facebook page.  We’ve done this partly as a way to introduce our awesome staff to folks, and partly to amuse ourselves.  You can check out the complete set below.  Enjoy, and follow us on Facebook for more weird stuff like this.

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Social Ads

Navigating Social Advertising

12 years ago, Friendster debuted.
Since then, the number of social networks has exploded.
And in the past few years, so too have the opportunities for social advertising: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+.

It can be a little overwhelming.

Americans spend 37 minutes each day on social media, so social ads are a great opportunity to help you connect with your audience. But should you be using them? And which platforms should you put money into? How do you keep from getting bogged down in all your options? And how do you get the results you want?

 

So what is social advertising:

It’s advertising. It’s on a social networking site.
You’re paying to reach people who don’t already follow/like/whatever you.

For a lot of companies, social ads are part of the overall digital advertising strategy which might include Google AdWords and a few well-placed banner ads. (Yup, banner ads are coming back. Maybe.) But if you’re not advertising on social yet, there are a few key reasons to consider it:

  • Many social ads don’t look like ads.
    As a society, we’re flooded with advertising, so we’ve trained ourselves to tune the noise out. Automatically, we don’t pay attention to most solicitations. But social platforms have found a way to get through your filter and make you take a second look.
    Many ads are either carefully crafted to look like content or are actual content from your pages. Take the Levis Instagram ad below. If it didn’t have the “sponsored” icon, it would look like just another Instagram post in your feed.
    Levis Instagram Ad
  • You have many different ways to target your audience.
    Geotargeting, or serving your ads to users based on their geographic location, revolutionized advertising and made digital far more efficient than print for many marketers. In the last five years we’ve seen it used in video, display, and search ads.
    However, social took targeting even further so you can really hone in on your target audience. Social networks have access to information beyond location so, depending on the platform, you can target by gender, age, interests, behavior, and more. On Twitter, you can even target anyone who follows your competitors.
    Twitter Targeting

But, as we said, there are a lot of different social networks to advertise on. Should you be on any? Should you be on them all? Or maybe just a select few?

First you have to consider:

  1. What is the goal of your ad?
    Do you want more people on your organization’s page? Then you should put money into ads where you have a strong presence and strong content. (What’s the point of having followers if they have nothing to follow?) Are you trying to get people to go to your website? Ad types with strong calls-to-action are best for this.
  2. What resources do you have?
    First, images. The old adage is true; a picture is worth a thousand words. And all the big sites, even Twitter, have become more image-centric as of late. But images that work on Pinterest don’t always work on Facebook. Do you want to use a large photo? An infographic? An animated GIF?
    Second, your (rough) budget. Can you throw $40 at this? Or $4,000? Or $400,000?
  3. Where is your audience?
    Trying to sell to women who make a lot of money? You should be on Pinterest. Urban millenials? Instagram.

Once you have answered those questions, take a look at what’s out there and see what matches up.
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Off the Rails

How to keep your website review process from going off the rails

A few weeks ago I wrote a somewhat frivolous post that used 11 animated gifs to explain what it is like to build a website for a client.  I wanted to loop back and write a bit more substantively about the review phase of a project (represented in gif 9), which is the period between showing the client a functional draft of a site and its launch and completion.

In the post, I focus on how difficult it is to work through the final details that come during the review phase.  Correcting typos.  Switching out text and images.  Fixing small IE and mobile bugs.  Testing and debugging forms, ecommerce elements and CRM integrations.  This is all hard and tedious work that is mostly unavoidable.  You just have to grab some whiskey and power through.

However, a lot of the more painful aspects of the review phase can be avoided with good communication and planning.  Below are the most common mistakes I’ve made over my illustrious career, and some simple advice for how to avoid making them.

Hidden requirements

Hidden requirements are critical client needs that surface unexpectedly towards the middle or end of a project.  These hidden requirements are discovered most often during a project’s review phase, when the client first sees a working site draft.  The missing Salesforce integration the client finds when testing a form. The Member’s Only section the client forgot to tell you about.   Hidden requirements are one of the main reason projects go over budget and off schedule.

The best way to prevent hidden requirements from popping up is to have a discovery phase for every project.  During a discovery phase, everything should be put on the table.  The web development firm needs to ask good questions and the client needs to share anything and everything, no matter how small it may seem.  It seems obvious, but in order for a web development firm to efficiently build a website for a client they need a full understanding of the requirements of the project.   As Jordan Hirsch put it in his great Drupalcon session on requirements gathering: “You can’t ever truly skip a discovery phase.  You end up doing it even if the client doesn’t pay for it.”

Misunderstood deliverables

During the planning and design phases of a project, typical deliverables include user personas, site maps, wireframes, mood boards and eventually draft designs.  The goal of these deliverables is to help define a site’s structure and visual language prior to actually building the thing.  When used correctly, these tools dramatically increase efficiency.

A lot of our clients are communicators or policy folks who haven’t managed a ton of web development projects.  While the deliverables referenced above may seem self explanatory to me, they are frankly a little baffling to folks who don’t have a lot of web development experience.  As a result, sometimes clients end up approving deliverables without really understanding what they are approving.

As an example, for nearly all of our projects we produce a draft design composition in PSD form.  These comps show what a site page will look like when built.  When reviewing design comps, clients tend to focus narrowly on branding (photos, exact language, etc.) as opposed to structure (the elements of the page).  So we’ll often go back and forth with a client a ton on photography, and then find out about major structural problems only after we have a site draft done.  This is completely backwards.  Changing photos out once a site is built is easy.  It is much more difficult and disruptive to change structural elements after a site is in beta form.

When this sort of thing has happened on projects I’ve managed, it has pretty much always been my fault for not clearly explaining the purpose of the deliverables, and the ramifications and changes late in the process.  Clients need to understand what they are approving.

Poor review process on the client end

One of the first questions we ask new clients is what the review process looks like on their end.  Is the core team working on the project on a day-to-day basis empowered to make final approvals on all deliverables?  Or is there a Board or President or CEO that needs to review things in order for them to be truly approved?

If a review process requires approvals from people on the client side that aren’t involved on a day-to-day basis, it is vital that key deliverables are shared and approved throughout the site build process.  As an example, if a client requires CEO approval we might solicit their feedback and approval on our site plan, wireframes and the draft designs.

The key is to get feedback from all stakeholders early in a project’s life cycle, when changes are inexpensive.  What you don’t want is to build an entire site only to find out during the review phase that the CEO has a completely different vision for the project.  This has happened to me more than once.

Poor review process between client and web development firm

Back when I was younger and stupider, I was guilty of sending draft sites off to clients with vague direction asking them to tell us what they think.  The result was sometimes a free-for-all, with changes trickling in one-by-one over email from multiple people on the client side.  The changes often contradicted each other.

We now ask our chief client contact to compile feedback into a single batch of changes that are vetted and approved by all internal stakeholders.  We usually use Basecamp to track changes and to communicate where we are on tasks with the client.

It sounds obvious, but simply communicating to the client how feedback should be sent can save a ton of headaches.

Lack of resources on client end

Building a website is a lot of work.  Once we turn over a project to the client for review, the ball is largely in their court.  At that point they are responsible for reviewing and testing the site, getting buy-in from relevant stakeholders and filling any content gaps.  This takes more time, and is a less fun, than reviewing a site map or a design comp.

I’ve worked on projects that were delayed for months due to the client simply not having time to review and compile feedback on the draft site.

To mitigate these sort of delays, we try to be up front at the beginning of the project about the amount of time that will be required from the client during the different phases of the project.  The beginning (discovery and planning) and the end (review) of a project tend to be the periods that require the most time from the client.

Lack of a solid content creation plan

Most people approach the drafting of website content the way college students approach term papers: it is something done at the last possible moment with the aid of caffeine and a hard deadline.  For a website, the content should be one of the first things you work on, not one of the last.  There are a few reasons for this:

  • I’ve written about this before, but content has a huge impact on design.  If text you expect to be one sentence ends up being three paragraphs an entire page layout may need to be redone.  Producing content early in the life cycle of a project, instead of at the end, will prevent expensive and time consuming changes during a project’s review phase.
  • People consistently underestimate how long it takes to write and edit a site’s copy.  If content is done at the last minute delays are pretty much inevitable.  We have completed sites and then waited for months for the content to get finalized.
  • Once the copy is produced, it can take a long time for the web development firm to drop the copy into the site and format it so that it looks right.  Content delays can cause a chain reaction, with other work held up until the content is ready to go.

To prevent the content from slowing down a project, we try to work with our clients to establish a clear content creation process and plan at the very beginning of a project.