Google Ad Grant Data Trends: Reading Between the Lines
The Latest Google Ad Grant Data Trends
The Google Ad Grant scheme has gone through many big changes and unprecedented challenges in the last 3 years. It’s weathered the COVID pandemic, seen the rise of Responsive Search Ads, and has adapted to the removal of broad match modifiers. So, what impact has this had on Google Ad Grant data trends and performance of the scheme as a whole?
Luckily for you, I’ve analysed the data of over 40 ad grant accounts currently under our umbrella, and have highlighted key data trends which give us an insight into where the ad grant scheme currently sits. In some cases, we’re even seeing where it may be headed in the future.
The Top Line
You always have to view data trends within the correct context, or you risk drawing incorrect conclusions. COVID funding was removed in July 2021, which was a large source of additional budget for many Grant accounts. This is the main reason that both traffic and costs were so high during the lockdown period. Add to this that users were stuck at home, and often had little else to do that browse the internet, and you have a recipe for very high performance.
As you dive deeper into the data, there is also a particularly interesting trend across 2022:
From February to October, we can see that cost increased by over $200k for only a roughly 50k increase in traffic. To explain why this is so different we have to talk about the rise of automation, and a bidding war.
The Maximise Conversion Arms Race
Now this is what I call a data trend! Over the last 3 years, cost per click (CPC) in grant accounts has increased by almost 60%, with most of this increase happening in 2022. We have never been bidding higher than we are now in grant accounts.
As you can see, clicks increased, but not by a lot. So, it doesn’t seem like this increase has led to us being able to outbid more advertisers and achieve more traffic. So, what’s going on?
The answer is very simple: Maximise Conversions.
What is a Maximise Conversions Bid Strategy?
Maximise conversions is a bidding strategy which, since 2017, has allowed advertisers to bid above the usual $2 maximum bid limit in grant accounts. We tested this strategy at the time, and found that it exhibited some strange behaviour which made us and many advertisers hesitant to fully utilise it. However, since then, an increasing numbers of advertisers have opted to use this bidding strategy.
This has led to cost per clicks rising across a vast majority of the search environment. It has now reached a point where many grant accounts rely on maximise conversions simply to be able to compete on searches they wish to show for. In 2022, 33% of our grant accounts had an average CPC over $2. This is up from 20% in 2021. For grant accounts like these, maximise conversions no longer becomes a choice, but is instead a necessity.
It is inevitable that maximise conversions will only become more ubiquitous in the coming years, and with it a further rise in cost per clicks. It will become increasingly important to manage your use of the bidding strategy to ensure that you get the most efficiency out of your account.
A cynical view of these change sees a calculated move by Google to cause all grant advertisers to bid more, leading to lower clicks in Grants and therefore increased incentive to turn to paid accounts to make up the difference. An optimist sees this as an opportunity to bid above the competitors and appear for searches that they otherwise could not (in some cases, more on this later).
Whether this is a good thing or not is yet unclear. Regardless, the data doesn’t lie, and the cost per click arms race has shown no signs of calming down.
The CPC Event Horizon
Google have reiterated in recent years that grant ads should always appear below paid account ads in auctions, regardless of what the ad rank is of those ads. Combined with the rising cost per clicks in the grant scheme, this has led to a sort of competition event horizon:
Impression share is the percentage of total impressions on your keywords that you showed for. There is a hard limit in Google Ads that if your impression share drops below 10%, you are no longer able to see the exact number. Impression share in the Ad Grant scheme has never been high – the limitations on the accounts makes that an impossibility. But in early 2021, what small impression share there was plummeted to the 10% level, and has rarely climbed out since.
The message is clear from Google. Grants are not allowed to effectively compete with paid accounts. It is precisely this that has led to an effect I like to call the event horizon.
If there are too many paid accounts bidding on a keyword, then no matter how highly you bid on a term, you will never receive traffic. This is because, even bidding $5 or $6 per click, you would still only show on the third or fourth results page. This trend can be most easily viewed when looking at donate keywords:
Clicks from donate keywords have never been high in Grants due to competition, but 2022 was an all time low. Most months failed to achieve over 300 clicks, and a majority of clicks achieved came from branded searches which included donate phrases. These terms are often lowest competition, allowing the grant to at least show some of the time.
Advert Additions And Crashing CTRs
So what has been happening to ads during this period? Well, the biggest change can be seen when we look at the different types of ads generating traffic in our accounts:
Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) have seen a steady rise in traffic since the start of 2022, and are now the only format new ads can be made in. Since April last year, this type of ad has been bringing in the largest amount of traffic. This will only continue in the future as expanded text ads, which can no longer be edited, become defunct and have to be paused. Google is also likely deprioritising these ads in favour of RSAs.
These ads are touted by Google to produce a better clickthrough rate (CTR) than manual ads. So, surely we should be seeing a steady increase in CTR across time?
Well, this trend definitely isn’t steady…or an increase. Of all the graphs in this blog, this is the most difficult one to analyse. The first drop from September 2021, appeared to be due to an edit made by Google themselves, which was an unusual event that occurred across three days. There was an initial period of recovery up until April 2022. Responsive search ads then became the top ad format in terms of traffic, at which point we it start to drop back to the same level as October 2021.
An additional factor is undoubtably the large number of new, less optimised ads being added to accounts. But, this cannot be the only explanation for such a big drop. We have our own ideas on how you can successfully run RSAs, but these have taken time to develop and there is always more learning to be done. Let’s take a look at the CTR for each of these ad types:
Here we can quite clearly see that responsive search ads seem to have suffered most from this drop. Indeed, for a time in 2022 dynamic search ads, usually the lowest performing ads in our accounts and used in a very specific manner, actually jumped to the top spot in terms of CTR. In 2023 this seems to be starting to recover, but it seems we are in an age where CTR will remain far more volatile than it has been in the past. Close monitoring is going to be vital to react to changes in the environment.
Beyond the Data
It’s crucial to remember that data can only tell us so much. There are trends we are seeing in grants that are very important, but have no direct affect on the results we see.
Throughout Google Ads the age of automation seems to have well and truly come, and the Grant scheme is no different. Responsive search ads, maximise conversions and dynamic search campaigns are all indicating this shift.
Also, the removal of much of the search term data which advertisers used to fine tune their keyword targeting means we have less tools to manually make changes ourselves. Make sure that you take time to test and learn these new automation systems, so that you find the best way for your charity or nonprofit to utilise them.
Many of these automation options rely on conversions as a primary source of data. However, in a post GDPR world, conversion data has become harder to come by and more inconsistent. Now more than ever, it is important to ensure that your conversion selection is comprehensive. Remember, lower level engagement conversions may not be useful in your reporting, but could be vital in feeding your bidding strategies and automated campaigns the information they need to succeed.
Get to Grips with your Google Ad Grant Account
It has been a hectic three years in the grant account, and the data shows that much has changed from the start of 2020 to now. If you want to find out how we can support you in making sure your Grant account is fully prepared for the next three years, then why not have a friendly chat with our expert paid media team.
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