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Google Grant Implementation

Over the past few years at meetings with marketing colleagues in the Boston theatre community, I have found there to be more and more buzz about Google Grants.

What is a Google Grant?  It is in-kind Google AdWords advertising for non-profit organizations.

Online advertising still fascinates many non-profit arts organizations.  For some, it is still a great unknown or deemed a risky investment.  The traditional methods of direct mail, telemarketing, print advertising, and e-communications (yes, it is now well established and “old”) are used.  Budgets are tight and a high return on investment is needed.  This reduces the amount of risk marketing staffs are willing to take.

Also, I would speculate that many non-profits prioritize internet marketing strategy lower than more traditional or comfortable strategies.  That being said, when an organization is given an opportunity to use up to $10,000 per month in Google AdWords advertising, it is difficult to pass up.  Especially when the advertising is considered, for all intents and purposes, free.

However, just because something is free, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a valid opportunity.  Instead, like every other opportunity, it should be maximized for the fullest benefit in both the short and long term.  A Google Grant is a booster shot–a significant jump start—which, if implemented correctly, can provide a solid foundation for an internet marketing strategy, bolstering a non-profit organization’s web traffic and potential reach.

This is what Google has in mind, too.  An organization that consistently uses $9,000 of the $10,000 per month grant for three consecutive months may be eligible to have the grant increased to $40,000 per month in Google AdWords.

In order to maximize the potential long-term benefits of a Google Grant, a non-profit cannot only rely on the $10,000 per month AdWords spend. In addition it can invest in an overall internet marketing strategy which includes Search Engine Optimization.

Last year, Hubspot had an article on their blog “Stopping The Google AdWords Morphine Drip: How We Saved $183 Last Week”.  This article is reminds us all that other ways exist to drive traffic to an organization’s website.  At his talk, “SEO 101: Search Engine Optimization Basics” from the Inbound Marketing Summit, Dharmesh Shah, followed this comparison by reminding everybody that the Google AdWords system is a bidding system–meaning that as time passes the cost of having a specific ad appear as sponsored result will go up.

Google Grants has imposed some discipline in the bidding process for executing a grant with a maximum bid of $1.00 per click.  You can read a full explanation of all the restrictions here. Here are the key elements:

  1. Maximum bid of $1.00 per click.
  2. Relevant, mission-based keywords and advertisements.
  3. Ongoing, active management of the organization’s advertising campaign.

Google acknowledges that advertising on some words may not be possible.  Instead, the organization will have to find other relevant words on which to advertise.  While this may be a disappointment to the organization, it may wish to contemplate when the cost of other essential and important keywords may also become out of reach or above the $1.00 bid.  This is one of the key reasons why the Google-imposed $1.00 maximum bid provides an impetous for the organization to find other ways to be found online.  What the Google Grant provides is a window of opportunity for the organization to be found in a major search engine while it, at the same time, works on optimizing its website to be found through organic search.

In order to strategically implement a Google Grant, I would make the following five suggestions:

  1. Develop a keyword list through brainstorming how people would find your product through organic search.  When developing this list prioritize relevance to the organization’s mission over the traffic from the specific word.
  2. Strategically implement the Google Grant on a large number of relevant keywords maximizing the daily spend. Test your advertising text, consistently tweaking it for the highest click-through rate.
  3. Install a free analytics program like Google Analytics which will help you to start gathering data on how people find you on their website and what they do when they land there.
  4. From the beginning of your grant’s implementation, plan for the time when you will no longer, within the confines of the grant, be able to bid on specific keywords.  Do this through allocating part of your budget on internet marketing and search engine optimization.
  5. If you don’t have one on staff already, hire an internet marketing strategist to review and optimize your online presence, and your reach in Google.
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“We don’t RFP, we ask for help.”

At a recent meeting of a volunteer non-profit association, one which requires dues of its members, one of the agenda items was announcing the launch of their new website.

We were told the priority was to have a simple, functional, basic online presence.  A few years ago, the previous leadership had also wanted a website.  They put out a Request for Proposal.

It didn’t go anywhere.

At the meeting, the new leader dismissed the earlier attempt, attributing the RFP as part of the failure:

“We’re a non-profit.  We don’t Request for Proposal, we ask for help.”

Read it this way: We cannot afford to do this, we will take the least expensive offer but we’d rather pay nothing.

I cringed.

Before the organization disregards an RFP as the way to solicit proposals, the benefits need to be understood:

The organization can obtain accurate and detailed information on the solution and its associated costs, compare and contrast the benefits of one proposed solution to another, and have some negotiating power.

Working for non-profits, I’ve had vendors try to hook me believing that all I cared about was cost.  Every time, one vendor proposal would be to beat the lowest bid by 10% and provide the exact same service.  When I heard that, they were crossed off my list.  If their initial response doesn’t include substantive inquires that required digging deeper into my business problem, then I know they don’t care about what I am trying to do.

With that approach, I know the vendor is not committed to my mission.

I want vendors who are listening to me.  I want them to ask questions.  In their proposal, if they are able to take what I’ve given them and run with it, then I want to know.

And, that’s the kind of company I want to work with.

That’s the kind of company that is truly helping me.

The volatility of the economy is causing many people to take a “wait and see” attitude.  Justifying every penny spent is going to become important even for larger non-profits.  Calculating ROI will become more important than ever.

It will be a time to show creativity and leadership in demonstrating their marketing strategies are forward-thinking, innovative, and ROI-driven.

Non-profits will need to invest more in search engine optimization and marketing, social media, blog strategies, and making sure their website is built with the most current markup and content management strategies. Only in this way can a non-profit have the highest return possible on investment.

The technology sector knows this.  Just read Mark ‘Rizzin’ Hopkins’ article on Mashable.com, “5 Web 2.0 Businesses That Will Thrive in a Down Economy”:

“The world knows that they need to be on the Internet, they know they can use it to efficiently connect to new and existing customers (something they’ll be wanting to do more than ever, soon), and we have ironed out the ways to do it.  Look at this as our distribution phase. We’ve been innovating for quite a while on the technology side, now we’ll be turning our attention on innovating and making more efficient the business side.”

Now is the time for non-profits to educate themselves and adopt business process standards like Requests for Proposal. Yes, you can still “ask for help”, but you need to know that you’re receiving the right type of help.

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A Beginning

For quite some time now, I have had people suggest to me that I should start a blog. 

Now, it’s time.

For me, the most interesting blogs have not been diaries of day-to-day life but instead what is going on in the world through the eyes of the writer.  Who am I?  Read more here.

Since I was 18, I have worked in professional theatre in various capacities.  Throughout college I was an intern and after graduating and earning my Master’s in Internet Strategy Management, I wanted to find a different way to contribute.  My goal has always been to understand how to use the internet to market in a broad way and then to creatively apply the tactics and strategies to non-profits and arts organizations.

For the arts in particularly, the basic strategies (direct mail and print advertising in particular) have become less and less effective.  As an industry, we need to start looking for creative ways to engage audiences.

This may involve challenging assumptions.

It also may mean that the previous rules no longer apply.

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