We recently ran a piece around Google killing right hand side ads in SERPs, and the impact that might have on PPC activity. 

But the discussion so far has predominantly been around companies and agencies that are likely to have some level of flexibility within their display budgets. 

One group that will be impacted in a very different way is the charity sector, particularly those who rely on Google’s Ad Grants programme, which limits bids to just $2.

With pretty much everyone agreeing that the new setup will likely push up cost-per-click (CPC), many charities operating in an already competitive market will see their ads pushed out of the picture. 

I caught up with Matt Lewis, a freelance ecommerce consultant working with adult education charity The City Literature Institute (City Lit), to find out how the loss of right-hand ads will impact charities and what he thinks Google could do to ease the damage. 

Matt Lewis The City Literature Institute

Q. How do Google Ad Grants work?

A. It’s a scheme that runs in parallel to the standard Adwords process. It allows charities and non-profits to apply to Google to get a free paid search budget (between $10,000 - $40,000 per month). 

There are a number of restrictions Ad Grants users face compared to their paid counterparts: search partners and display networks are unavailable, and bids are capped at a $2 maximum.

Q. How do you think the recent changes to Google’s right hand side ads will affect your PPC activity?

A. With bids capped at $2 within an already competitive auction, the pressure to appear in the top listings will become more intense. 

Over time we expect the required first page bids to increase (as indeed they already have) and the amount of visibility we can realistically get from the scheme will reduce. 

Q. To what extent will this impact the charity sector? 

A. The impact this change will have on charities is potentially quite a large one. Recent data shared on the impact of the change suggests that all results below the new position four are losers in terms of volume, organic search included. 

If charities are restricted because of bid caps and face lower volumes from organic search as a result of the changes, then potentially these organisations will be some of the hardest hit by the changes.

The new view

google right hand side ads gone

Q. What could Google do to try and limit the damage? 

A. My opinion would be for Google to remove the bid cap from the ad grants program or increase it substantially.

This would then allow the organisations who use it to approach their PPC activity with a lot more flexibility and get the full use of their budgets.

Q. What steps can charities take to avoid being impacted too harshly by these changes?

A. Being overly reliant on any one channel or source of traffic is always a risk, and diversification of an organisation’s media mix should always be something to consider when things like this arise. 

Developing business through communities and supporters offline is a tried and tested method for charities, and doing the same online should be an obvious port of call if it's not something already being investigated.

Sign up if you haven’t already…

Despite its limitations, Lewis was quick to add that Google Ad Grants have given City Lit the means to get its cause in front of thousands of people it may not otherwise have been able to, so if you work for a charity it’s well worth signing up if you haven’t already.

Here’s hoping Google listens to what the charity sector is saying and takes steps to mitigate any potential damage caused by these recent changes.

Jack Simpson

Published 10 March, 2016 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)


Tom Barker, Head of Digital at National TrustEnterprise

Excellent post, thanks.

over 2 years ago


Mary Greenwood, Digital Marketing Officer at Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Hi...your article's headline grabbed my attention immediately. I've been aware of the change in Google's SERPs and monitoring the impact it's having on our AdGrant Adwords campaigns, and already, needless to say, I've seen a decline in traffic from this channel. It is going to be challenging - to say the least- as a wildlife conservation charity in this shifting time. I hope Google remove's the bid cap like you've mentioned, to alleviate the impact on AdGrant account holders.

Your article shines a light on the importance of nurturing other online channels and ensuring there's good mix of online activity bubbling away so to speak, which I completely agree with.

Great article, thanks for posting!

over 2 years ago

Christopher Whalen

Christopher Whalen, Search and Analytics Consultant at Torchbox

I'm cautiously optimistic based on what I'm seeing. I wrote about how the removal of side ads will affect Google Ad Grants a couple of weeks ago (https://torchbox.com/blog/google-ad-grants-side-ads/).

I've analysed data from 25 Google Ad Grants since the changes came into effect on 18 February 2016, comparing 3 weeks before and after the loss of side ads. Since the change, clicks have gone up 5%, clickthrough rate has improved, cost per click is 3% lower and average ad position jumped from 2.4 to 1.9.

I agree that volume below the top ad positions has decreased but this is more than compensated for by the increased volume and exposure in the top positions. Before the change, 57% of Google Ad Grants ad impressions were in the top positions; now this has increased to 68% - so charities are actually getting more, not less, exposure.

I haven't looked into the impact on organic search, but the early signs for Google Ad Grants are that the changes have been beneficial for charities.

over 2 years ago


Matt Lewis, Ecommerce Consultant at Engage & Acquire Ltd

Hey there Christopher, I totally agree that the top 3 positions have been impacted positivly by the changes and in some cases the new p4 slot will also have delivered a strong benefita for advertisers too.

From my own experience with ad grants in a more competitive space the bid cap and changes have combined to have a more negative impact, with overall impression share falling. It's in these scenarios where charities will face a tough time.

In more niche or specialist areas if they already dominate that space then (like paid advertisers) they will do better since the right hand side has been removed.

over 2 years ago


Gavin Parkinson, Marketing and Sales Manager at Hitch Marketing Ltd

Great article. Big question - what are Google planning to do with all that white space on the right?

over 2 years ago

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