Episode 70: Leveraging Paid Search For Nonprofits With Kurt Filla

RTNP 70 | Paid Search


Whether you run a nonprofit or for-profit organization, paid search is going to be one of the main marketing ecosystem pillars you should consider to get “instant on” traffic sources to your offerings.

That being said, running a successful paid search campaign requires some planning and know-how to make sure you get the most out of your investment.

That’s why we are joined today by Kurt Filla, Founder of FillaLife Media.

Kurt LOVES data and it shows. We have a super fun conversation about Search Engine Marketing and Pay Per Click advertising for nonprofits and other purpose-focused enterprises as well. If you are looking to start a paid search campaign, this episode is a must-listen.

From setting up your budgeting and goals to how to tweak your campaigns for maximum effect, this show has it all. Learn about landing page creation and optimization, how to tweak your calls-to-action to get your audience to DO what you are seeking, how re-targeting works, lookalike campaigns, and much, much more on this episode PACKED with great info.


Action Ask:

Look at your reporting data and make sure you have robust tracking set up to ensure you aren’t wasting your time and money on your campaigns. Then test the waters and see what you can do for your organization through paid ads.

Listen to the podcast here:

Leveraging Paid Search For Nonprofits With Kurt Filla

My guest is Kurt Filla and he is an SEM pay-per-click ad guy that you are going to love. He does a lot of work in the nonprofit space. He is a data genius and has a lot of fantastic things to say here if you are looking to do some paid advertising, whether that be on Google, social, or display ads. Kurt is your guy. We talk a lot about Google Grants and optimizing your campaigns so that you get good conversions and strategies to take when starting with a campaign. You’re going to love this show. I had a blast talking with Kurt. Here we go.

Kurt, how are you?

I’m doing great.

Thank you so much for joining me on the show. I’m excited to learn more about SEM. Where are you calling in from?

I am in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I’ve never visited Michigan. It seems like there are some fun places to go, particularly up in the Upper Peninsula. I have a few friends who tend to go up there in the summer and seem to enjoy it.

Michigan is great. We love raising our family here in Grand Rapids, Beer City. There are many reasons to come with all the breweries around here. It’s a great place. We love it.

It sounds like it might be a sister city to Denver. We have our fair share of breweries out here as well. Thank you so much for joining me. I’ve been trying to crack the nut for nonprofits on this whole SEM and paid search endeavor. It’s cool to have you on as an expert in that field. You do a ton of work in the nonprofit space and I’m excited to learn more. How did you get into doing a search for nonprofits?

My background was twenty years here in Grand Rapids. I was part of a company that I helped to build, develop, and grow. The CEO of our company was one of my best friends. We did digital marketing through search, social, and a lot of display advertising. Where we got started was more with the ad space with ads on websites. We even were a part of the pop-up phase when that was vibrant. We did search for the last several years that I was there. I went out on my own, started my own business, and tried to focus on smaller businesses and nonprofits.

I do a lot of work with pregnancy centers, schools, churches, and things like that. A lot of my experience was in the EDU space for higher education. I did a lot of lead development and lead marketing for education clients and universities. That’s what the core of my background was. We did multi-channel and all kinds of digital media but that’s the bulk of what I did. I love search and it’s one of those things where you get immediate results and feedback. It’s exciting because you put it live and even if it’s bad, it’s immediate. You can make changes pretty quickly. I like to be on top of that.

When our clients ask us about search versus SEO, I try and give them the analogy that SEO is like a dimmer switch where it comes on slowly and can degrade slowly. Search is one of those things. It’s more like a light switch where you can turn it on and off. If you have your systems in place and you know that your conversion rates are appropriate, you can flip that switch on when you need it. If you’re flush and you don’t need leads at this point, you can turn that off and on when needed.

The biggest thing as you talk to nonprofits and people is a lot of people don’t understand that when you turn the light switch on, you need to have everything ready to fire. That’s one of the things that I talked to people a lot about. Make sure that your reporting is intact and your objectives are well-defined. Are you looking for clicks to your website, calls, leads, sales, or event registration?

RTNP 70 | Paid Search
Paid Search: The biggest thing as you talk to nonprofits and people is a lot of people don’t understand that when you turn the light switch on, you need to have everything ready to fire.


What is that objective? That needs to be defined upfront. If you can define that, then you need to measure it by placing tracking pixels and connecting all of the different platforms that you’re working with, whether it’s Analytics, AdWords, or Google Tag Manager, and making them all talk to each other so that when you turn the light switch on, you don’t lose any valuable marketing budget or time.

You get those analytics and then you know where to make adjustments and can measure against past performance so that you can get a better feel for what’s happening.

A lot of people sometimes miss the mark, turn that light on too quickly, put the gas pedal on, and move forward. If that’s all not lined up, you’re going to lose marketing budget, time, and energy.

Do you recommend people set up landing pages? Is that typically your go-to mechanism for the first step and then have a funnel in place behind that or some drip campaign?

There are a couple of different ways to slice and dice that. Back to the objective, I always ask people, “What is your objective?” For example, we want to get leads with names, emails, and phone numbers so that we can follow up with them for whatever event or marketing thing that they’re going to do down the road. You want to look at the website to make sure that the objective is aligned on the website. Sometimes you need to create a new landing page that markets that specific objective. A lot of times, people have a website that’s pretty well done and has that information.

There’s a place where they can go to capture the data that they want. We can use that. It’s making sure that the site is ready for the marketing objective. Sometimes you need a landing page and sometimes, there’s content there that you can use immediately. I like to try to save people money. If you don’t need to create any landing pages and spend money on them, we can use your website to do that. Whatever you do, you want to make sure that the marketing messaging matches the content that you’re ending up sending the user to. As long as there’s a match there, you’re ready to go.

One of the disconnects that we have seen people do is either sending directly to the homepage where there’s not a strong match from the ad ask to what’s being delivered there on the site, or you’re forcing people to hunt and peck in terms of getting to the thing that they might have been interested in based upon the ad that you ran. It’s paramount that you get those things aligned. Are those some of the most common mistakes that you see with people turning on a paid search campaign?

For sure. You touched on that disconnect between the content and the ad. The little-known secret in SEM is that you need to get that quality score that Google gives you up as high as possible because that reduces your cost per click. The lower your cost per click is, the more traffic you’re going to get. If you have a good match with the ad content, the landing page, and the keywords that you are using, that increases your quality score and Google favors that. That’s one area that people need to jump on. The other thing that you brought up or sparked my interest is that if you make people hunt and peck for things, that decreases your conversion rates.

Search is one of those things where you get immediate results and feedback. It’s exciting because you put it live and even if it’s bad, it’s immediate. You can make changes pretty quickly.

You can create little things on your website to enhance the continuity of the user experience. If there’s a call button or an email button that always stays at the top of your page no matter where you go so that if people go 3 or 4 pages deep and they’re like, “This is the company I want to work with or get connected,” they don’t have to go back 2 or 3 pages or find the contact, click there, and scroll down. They have an immediate call-to-action that’s right there on their screen. They can click on it and convert. Little tweaks like that you can make to your website increase your conversion rates substantially.

There are different ways to do that. We also find that repeating the call-to-action along the page tends to help as well. Having a sticky nav or header can facilitate that. Sometimes you will see them stick on the sides of the page too. There are a number of ways that people can handle that from a technology standpoint. That’s a great idea. What are some other ways to either improve the quality score or enable conversion improvements?

Once you get the conversion data points connected and you’re tracking the objective correctly, you can use the Google platform to optimize towards that aggressively. They have so many different targeting variables and adjustments that you can make. Here’s one example. A lot of people might not consider their audience targeting from a geographical perspective accurately. You need to say, “How far out is my reach? Is it 60 miles? Is it the whole state? Am I targeting all of the US?” For example, somebody is targeting all of the US and might quickly enable that.

You can go in and target all 50 states or all of the major metropolitans. As you add all of those layers and include the United States, you can then see different performance differentials from New York City to Los Angeles, Dallas, and St. Louis. Each one of those is going to convert differently and then have a bucket to adjust either high or low, or turn on or off. If you target broad and leave it broad, you limit yourself on how much you can do to hone in on where the conversions are. You need that tracking upfront to be able to make those decisions long-term.

One of the things we have seen work well in Facebook advertising is getting your ad good enough, casting a wide net and on a fairly small spend, and leveraging the data that you get from that spend to say, “Here are the demographics that liked that ad.” You can run that same ad to those demographics, get more specific where you’re spending a lot more per click because they tend to charge you more when you get more specific, and create another ad and throw it back out there. You’re creating the right ad for the right people and spreading that to those people, more specifically on a more expensive spend.

I like what you said about not spending a lot of money to do that because that is another misconception that people have. People get pitched all the time from all different marketing companies like myself. Usually, the bigger the budget, the more everybody makes. At the end of the day, you don’t need to spend a lot of money out of the gate if you set it up right to get the data that you need to make these decisions. One of the things that I like to tell people is that when you start out, start out conservatively with your budget.

Protect it and make sure that you’re seeing those things that you talked about and that these audiences are aligned, performing, or not performing. Don’t spend thousands of dollars out of the gate because you’re excited. Make sure that you’re seeing all of these data points that are going to help you build a successful campaign. When it’s working, then you can adjust your budget up. You’re going to make money down the road or at least get a return on your marketing spend if you’re a nonprofit and you’re not there to make money. You’re going to get the results that you want.

Does that improve your quality score as well? If Google sees that you’re performing well, does your cost per click come down?

If you have a good click-through rate on your ad, that helps your quality score but I don’t think that the conversion rate or conversion metrics layer into that. It’s more click-through rate.

RTNP 70 | Paid Search
Paid Search: It’s important to segment your creatives or marketing strategy into themes so that when you’re creating ads, they are in parallel to the target.


What are some recommendations that you would have without getting clickbait-y on how nonprofits have succeeded with getting a good click-through rate on their ads?

It’s important to segment your creatives or marketing strategy into themes so that when you’re creating ads, they are in parallel to the target. Let’s say you’re a school in Memphis and you’re trying to market your sports program. Making ads that are thematic around the location and theme of the ad and having that all match is important for the quality score. You can also do different variations with that. There are two different types of ads. There are static words with 3 headlines and 4 descriptions.

There are also responsive ads where you can put up to fifteen different headlines and focus on variations on the theme. Through the data, you can see which one comes up and performs better and build off of that as well. It’s grouping them together thematically and making sure it all matches because that’s going to improve. Google wants the ads and the user experience to be extremely relevant to the user searching. If you’re relevant and they click on it and have a great experience, Google measures all of that in their mystery box. That’s what determines the quality.

I imagine that Google is looking at bounce rates, time on site, and things of that nature once people have clicked through and are using that as part of their algorithm for whether or not to show the ad.

The speed of the website is important. If it’s a slow experience, Google measures that. They want you to have unique content or something authoritative, informational, and easy to read and digest. They look it up and scan the landing pages like crazy to make sure that they’re matching what you’re doing.

We get that question a lot in terms of people wondering how the algorithm works. It’s like, “We have some guesses but no one knows for sure.”

It keeps you busy trying to strategize on that.

You do a lot of work in the messaging component of this. What do you recommend in terms of people when they’re creating their ads?

What sets you apart? You need to focus on who you are and what is your identity and core value proposition. I don’t always think it needs to be super fancy and in-depth. Sometimes it’s simple and straightforward. Concise is good and works for us. It’s a simple call-to-action within the ad, “Contact us now. Easy online appointment. Visit us. Here’s our location.” Get to the point quickly and present your core value proposition, who are you, how are you different, what are you trying to bring to the community or audience that’s unique and would be helpful to them.

There are some interesting things in the nonprofit space in terms of getting people to take action. It’s that challenge, particularly when you start looking at donations or even volunteering time. You don’t typically have people waking up in the morning and wondering how they’re going to give away some of their money. There’s that friction that occurs throughout that process.

Sometimes you can do some targeting with your competitors in this space as well. While you can’t use their trademark in the headlines, you can use your competitors in the keyword. If you know somebody similar in the area, you’re competing for eyeballs, views, and even donations, you can target them so that your ad comes up when they’re searching for someone like you or similar to you. That’s a little strategy to help on the donation side. When it comes to SEM and nonprofits, sometimes SEM isn’t the right answer. When you’re thinking about your marketing budget and marketing objectives, sometimes SEM is always top-of-mind.

At the end of the day, you don’t need to spend a lot of money out of the gate if you set it up right to get the data that you need to make these decisions.

They’re searching. The intent is high. They’re looking for something specific. If that’s not where you are in relationship to your potential user, SEM might not be the right answer. You might be more of a social play. You were talking about SEO. You want to be mindful of what your objective is and how are people looking for you in what format. I’ve tried to put together some nonprofits with SEM and it wasn’t the best fit. Social was a better fit. You also want to think about that when you consider SEM. It’s not always the right answer for all clients.

It’s interesting how everything plays together. Having a multi-pronged approach can be helpful. Even with some of the new opportunities out there in SEM, it might not be the right play for a lot of nonprofits. What should people investigate to figure out if SEM is right for them?

You don’t even need a huge budget. If you are looking at the various formats to reach out to your audience, you’re thinking of social, search, display, and SEO as well. I always tell people to start out with a few of those platforms combined and make sure that your reporting is distinct so you can see the performance on each platform or venue. One of the services we offer is when we do that, we’re looking proactively at the performance on each channel to make sure that we can adjust budgets or recommend changes based on individual channel performances. It’s good to test if you’re able to.

You don’t need huge budgets to do that. You can test with a few hundred dollars a month on some of these platforms and still get some data that’s meaningful as long as the conversions are being tracked properly. One of the things that are helpful for tracking is not just tracking your core objectives. Is it most important to you to get a lead, phone call, traffic to your site, or event registration? If those are all important, then you want to track those. You can track in Google Analytics up to twenty different goals and then import those into AdWords. You track people that look at 2, 3, or 4 pages, click on a learn more button, or navigate to your contact page without clicking on content contact.

Each one of those variables or actions on your website can all funnel back into conversion or post-click data that informs your media buy on what’s working or what’s not. Getting more granular is another best practice so that you don’t have to spend so much money. At the end of the day, the call or the lead is the most expensive to get because there are fewer of them. People are going to search around on your website and click a little bit before they do that. Those early indicators of activity can help them educate you on which audience, ad, or keyword is providing you the lift that you want.

In a lot of the different programs, you can retarget people based on behavior. Essentially, if somebody did click a button but didn’t fill out a form, went to your contact page but didn’t fill anything out, or visited a second page, if you have tracking on it, you can vend a different ad to them that’s targeted to that material that they went to.

We love retargeting. Retargeting works almost in all cases across all platforms. The only downside is that in some nonprofits, if you’re related to a church or some religious organization, Google doesn’t let you retarget to anything that is of a religious nature. We worked with a well-known Catholic organization and they weren’t allowed to retarget.

Certainly, that’s where hiring an expert would be handy. They might be able to help you.

There are ways around that. This is valid. It’s no secret. If you have a user list, you can upload that list, target a list, and also create lookalikes like, “We have 5,000 users. These are people under a certain income, ZIP code, or area. They have these types of interests. These are our people.” You can upload that list and then create a lookalike campaign.

RTNP 70 | Paid Search
Paid Search: If you are looking at the various formats to reach out to your audience, you’re thinking of social, search, display, and SEO as well.


You can target people that are similar to the list that you already have. The only problem with SEM is that they still have to be searching for your keywords. If you limit your audience to these micro-audiences, sometimes it gets hard to spend that budget. That strategy might work better on a social campaign but it’s still something you can use. It is helpful.

Can you do lookalikes on Google as well? Is that just a Facebook play?

You can do lookalikes on AdWords.

I didn’t know that. That’s an interesting play. Tell us a little bit more about what people would need to put together. For example, it seems like if you had a donor list, that would be something that you could leverage to start building a lookalike. Is that correct?

It’s a donor list or any email. Usually, you need 1,000 people in your audience or more and then you can target that.

Essentially, they would look at that email list, pull demographics, habits, likes, and things of that nature and vet an ad to people who have similar demographics and interests.

We can only speculate how Google does that.

That’s the idea. For people with a larger donor list, there’s certainly an opportunity there to leverage the data associated with that. Do they need to have personal email addresses? Will business email addresses work as well?

Any email addresses work if there’s a business. I don’t know how that works to identify who the user would be if it’s a business. As long as your email is identified to a person, gender, and age, and usually when they’re logged into their Gmail, it connects. You have a cookie on your site and computer and it identifies for you. I’m not exactly sure how all that works. If you upload that list, then you can use that. It’s more effective on the display media side as well social media.

Displays specifically because there’s so much inventory in display marketing. It’s great to narrow in on an audience because it’s hard to narrow in on content. It’s good for display. It’s a little harder on search because you’re already intent-based, so people are searching for your keywords. If they’re not long-tail keywords and they’re relevant to what you’re offering, you don’t want to miss people. If you’re struggling to get a good return on your ad spend and get a performance that you’re happy with, that is a good way to live at your budget.

Tell the audience a little bit more about display ads versus other types of advertising.

Google offers display ads. There are some other platforms that I use, like AppNexus or Xander. When you have all these websites out there, there’s a lot of unsold inventory. They put them into AdWords, go out there, and get direct buys with people but don’t sell out all their inventory. 95% or 96% of the internet space is available to you in AdWords in their display campaigns.

Never be emotionally attached to the content and messaging because the smallest tweak can make huge differences. You go in with one assumption and come out with a different result.

You can upload image ads and get those launched on websites out there. Google will report to you on what websites you served on and what the performance is on each website. You can create whitelists and target individual sites that you like and that you see where performance is good or keep it open and do this audience targeting, lookalike audiences, and things like that.

Are there any trends on display ads that you’ve seen are working better than others if people want to do a display ad campaign?

It’s all about data. When it comes to trends, there are always new creatives, imagery, and technology out there but it comes back to making sure that the data is as robust as possible. Display was the core of what I did for my twenty-year career in digital media. On the downside, it’s the Wild West. There’s so much inventory. If you put app traffic in there as well, it gets noisy and overwhelming. Sometimes that good performance can be hard to find. It’s all about data and making sure that data is fully locked in and integrated so that when you start doing a display campaign, you’re honing in immediately on what’s working.

The other thing that’s important is the rate. To any nonprofit, when you’re talking to people and doing a budget, a lot of times, especially on display, I’m seeing that the CPM or cost per thousand impressions has been high in the marketing space. You don’t need to spend a lot of money when it comes to the rate to be able to get traffic. I’ve proven on most campaigns that I’ve worked on that you can get by with almost 1/10 of the rate on what is generally being pitched out there. Be careful with the rate. You normally don’t need to spend a ton on a CPM basis.

That’s a great segue. What do you recommend people start with in terms of budgeting to dip their toes in the water and start to get data? It depends on what the cost per click is. Do you typically recommend people start with a $100 ad spend plus whatever management fee is associated with that? Do people need to budget closer to $1,000?

$100 is a little bit low. I usually used the $10 a day minimum. It’s hard because if you’re a legal company and you’re targeting a keyword that has a lot of competition. The $10 a day budget will get you 5 impressions and 1 click every 3 days. A lot of campaigns are $1, $2, $3, or $4 a click. You can get 2 to 5 clicks a day at a $10 a day budget. What I normally say to answer that question is, “What are you willing to risk or lose?” If you knew that in testing, you would lose 100% of your budget, what are you willing to risk the first few months? Start there because it is risky. Anytime you put a marketing campaign up, there’s that element of risk.

There’s no guarantee of a return on your investment or the effectiveness of your ads. There are too many variables. When you first launch out, what are you willing to risk to learn? I try to get results as quickly as possible but it gives people a sense that, “I understand that results aren’t going to be immediate. I need to be patient. This is the amount of budget I can be patient with to start the campaign out and see what I got.” On the low-end, if you have no budget at all type of company and you’re struggling as a nonprofit, $250 to $500 a month would be a good starting point. If you’re more moderate and you have a larger marketing budget with a clear objective, that $1,000-plus mark is a good starting point.

The other thing that people should consider is having at least a portion of your goal be to get information. That can be a little bit of a mindset change but if you’re trying to drive donations, go into it with the attitude that this is an investment that you’re going to get something out of regardless. That something may be that your ad is not functional and that no one is interested in that particular messaging. At least you were able to test something and you know that it didn’t work. Coming at it from that mindset or perspective is a good way to approach any marketing campaign. It’s not a cost. It’s an investment.

All of our failures, we learn from. If the campaign wasn’t successful, usually you can see, “Our price was way too low. It didn’t penetrate. There wasn’t enough inventory on the keywords that we put in there. Our landing page fell flat. After they clicked, they did nothing.” That will educate you that they got to your landing page and did nothing, “How can we fix that? What are some options?”

It’s even the color scheme of your landing page. Shifting from green to blue or from red to yellow makes a huge difference in how users respond and their emotional state, feeling, and sense of trust. When they’re on your page, do they feel welcome? Is this a place that seems vibrant and alive? “I want to be a part of that,” or is it cold, sterile, and not impressive?

We were introduced by Tim Kachuriak over at NextAfter, correct?

No, we were introduced from Instant Nonprofit.

It’s from Christian LeFer. He was on the show as well. He and his team do great work in terms of helping people set up their nonprofit from the get-go. I mentioned Tim Kachuriak, who was on the show. He has an interesting business called NextAfter that does a ton of analytics and research on what works and what doesn’t in terms of setting up landing pages, running campaigns, and things of that nature. When you were speaking, I thought, “This sounds exactly like what Tim would say.” Every campaign has some value. Even if it didn’t provide the results that you were looking for, there’s an opportunity there.

RTNP 70 | Paid Search
Paid Search: There’s no guarantee of a return on your investment or the effectiveness of your ads. There are too many variables.


Never be emotionally attached to the content and messaging because the smallest tweak can make huge differences. You go in with one assumption and come out with a different result. As long as you’re not attached to all of that and you’re flexible, you can do a lot with small changes and tweaks.

I mentioned landing pages and we have talked about them a bit throughout this episode. What are some of the tweaks that you’ve seen work well on landing pages for your clients?

The positioning of your call-to-action is the most important thing. A lot of people will put the forum if they have it, “If you’re interested in us, please give us your name, email, and phone number and submit.” A lot of times, people instinctively put that at the bottom of their page. If you put it at the top of your page, especially on mobile, when somebody clicks on the ad, they see that form right away and they’re able to convert. The positioning of your call-to-action, especially a lead form towards the top of the page, is important. A lot of things you have to think about it, if you do a good ad, you have 2 to 3 headlines and 2 descriptions that each have 90 characters.

If you get all that information in the ad and people are searching with high intent for what you’re offering, that ad alone might be enough for them to be ready to convert. You have to be ready for that user who has high intent and eagerness to convert. When they get to your landing page and that form is right there up top without scrolling, that conversion is yours.

Every time you force a user to touch their phone, scroll, click, and move, that decreases your conversion rate because we’re all lazy. They’re consuming information super fast. If they have to work for anything, they’re onto the next ad, website, or thread. Make it easy and shift things around, so it’s top-of-mind and top of the page.

We have done a lot of work in landing page conversion. It’s amazing some of the things that you can do on a landing page to make it work a little bit better. Let’s say you have 100 people that take action on your landing page and 1,000 people come in, so you have a 10% conversion rate. If you can move that a couple of points, it can add up.

The other thing while we’re on this landing page content issue is that a lot of times, people tend to be verbose. There are reasons for that. They want to get good content that Google recognizes, authoritative, and informative. When you’re talking about a landing page, your user is absorbing content fast. If you can organize it in such a way that’s more bullet points or smaller chunks to consume quickly, that helps the user find out about who you are and what you’re offering more quickly than if you require them to do a lot of reading and use their time and energy to look into what you offer. Being less verbose can be helpful.

I would argue that a landing page is not designed to be something that Google ranks anyway. That’s what the rest of your site is for. Your landing page is there to convert specifically.

You want to focus the budget or precious money that you do have on the platform that’s going to work the best for you.

You need enough content to be able to get that quality score up so that it matches your theme, keyword, and headlines but you don’t need so much because we’re not trying to get it up on SEO for your AdWords landing page.

That’s a mistake that some people make. You got the sale. Don’t screw it up by continuing to talk.

For landing pages with so much content, I’m like, “That’s not going to work.”

In the nonprofit space, I imagine you’ve done quite a bit of work with Google’s Grants program. What can you tell people about navigating that quagmire of stuff?

The Google Grants is exciting upfront. To be able to get $10,000 of free Google ad spend a month is appealing. The message is it’s hard to spend that money. Google doesn’t make it easy for nonprofits to spend the full $10,000. Unless you have somebody who is a marketing expert in-house who has a lot of time and energy to be on top of that constantly, you need to outsource it and have somebody help you with it. What’s required is constant attention.

Google doesn’t let you bid more than $2. If you’re bidding using their manual cost per click, you can’t bid over $2. It becomes difficult to be relevant and get that good quality score and a good click-through rate because you’re only bidding $2. If your competitors are bidding $6, $7, or $8, you’re never up there and not getting the traffic.

They encourage you and have a lot of information out there about how to incorporate conversion tracking to be an essential part of your Google Grants campaign. I don’t even think you can have a successful Grants campaign unless your conversion tracking is rock solid because then you can bypass some of the manual CPC biddings that a lot of people start with.

If your conversions come in rather quickly and robustly, then you can use the Google automated buying strategies like max conversion, return on ad spend, or target CPA. Those then bypass your cost per click requirements. There are all these hoops that you have to jump through. You can’t bid on any single keyword. If you were a school and you wanted to bid on education, you can’t bid on one keyword. It has to be, “Education services near me.”

It must be long-tail.

You have to be mindful as you load all that, place your bids, and create your ads. It has to be meaningful. The third point is your click-through rate. They require it to be 5% or higher. It’s a challenge. The junior or novice AdWords person might not be able to do that out of the gate. You need to massage it, look at what works and what doesn’t, and constantly weed out things that have low click-through rates to meet that 5%. You have 30 days to repair it if it goes under 5%. If you don’t repair it in 30 days, they pause it. It’s a good use of this grant. If you can get your ads out there and stay within their boundaries, it’s a great opportunity.

RTNP 70 | Paid Search
Paid Search: If you’re doing it in-house and not outsourcing it to someone, have patience. A lot of times, we will see the campaigns evolve, grow, and mature over time.


What do you recommend people do when signing up for that? Should they go for it and hope for the best? What are the steps that people should take?

If they’re setting it up themselves, it’s important to create great ad content, have that be matching your keywords, and be sure you have a landing page that’s connected. They limit you. The average would be $330 a day, depending on the month. You never go over that. Google cuts you off at this daily spend. If you can get out of the gate, get a few campaigns live, see what your click-through rate is and if the conversions are coming in, and switch to that maximize conversion buy strategy, you might be able to get $25, $30, or $40 a day.

The other thing is to have patience. If you’re doing it in-house and not outsourcing it to someone, have patience. A lot of times, we will see the campaigns evolve, grow, and mature over time. Sometimes it takes 3 to 6 months. I do have clients that are spending $8,000, $9,000, to $10,000 of that grant but it has taken 3 to 6 months to get there. It’s constant care and attention to all of those points.

It sounds like you certainly get paused. Are there ways to get out of that Google Grant jail once you’re in it?

Yes. Google has been great to work with. I have found that in all cases, the team has been responsive. If you do get a notice that you’ve gone under the click-through rate or you have a creative out there that is not perfect or you have that single keyword, they give you notice and time to fix it. Usually, if it’s one of the criteria that you’re violating and it’s under 5% for a 30-day period, then you go into the Google territory of jail time but you’re still live. You just have to fix it in the next 30 days. If they did pause it and you weren’t spending money, you can work with them to get it fixed. They have been able to work with me in various situations like that.

I certainly have recommended Google Grants to different people because it is out there. It certainly is a generous offer for those who are looking to at least start dipping their toes in the Google Ads arena. There are always pitfalls, loopholes, and little things you have to be aware of.

The biggest thing that I can tell the audience is that there’s a huge difference and you have to create a different expectation for the Grants account versus what you would do for a paid account. I would never encourage any nonprofit to rely solely on the Grants account. The reason why is that paid is always going to get priority from Google. It takes so long to get your traffic up to that higher spend. It’s more like an SEO long play for people. When I’m looking at conversion data, return on ad spend, and how effective my ads are, the Ad Grants always trails the paid account by 2, 3, or 4 to 1.

It’s significantly worse when it comes to actual performance. If you have a cost per lead on the paid account for $10, I’m not surprised when I have $100 on the Grants account. The traffic is not as high quality but you can get there with that constant time, attention, and work as long as your click-through rate and the quality score are strong and you prove yourself over time. You can get that to improve but even in its best scenario, the paid account generally does better.

That is great information that I’m sure most people don’t know.

Make sure that’s all intact and be conservative if you’re starting. Test the waters, see what response you get, and then grow as your campaigns improve.

I encourage people to do both and put some of their marketing budgets into the paid account. If you’re going to outsource the management of the Grants account, you put that budget aside for that and do them both together.

That’s not a bad plan because once you’ve built the Grants one out, for example, you could throw money at a similar campaign.

The paid account also informs the Grants account because you will get access to inventory, get immediate results on things that take forever on the Grants account, and say, “This is working over here in the Grants account.” They help each other.

That’s an interesting tactic. I like the idea of throwing a couple of hundred bucks at a paid campaign and then leveraging the data that you get from that to inform your larger grants. Do you run paid social as well? Are you exclusively in Google?

We do all three. It’s the trifecta of social, search, and display. I find that every client performs better in one area or the other. Usually, nonprofits specifically haven’t worked with a lot that has unlimited budgets. You want to focus the budget or precious money that you do have on the platform that’s going to work the best for you. We will try to launch in the best area and oftentimes, that is social. One of the strategies that we already talked about is the lookalike. If you have a list of users and you’re trying to get more people to know about you that are like your current users, Facebook Lookalike is phenomenal.

It’s a great way to conserve budget because if you’re in a metropolitan area like Chicago, it’s a huge area. How can you conserve your budget and hit the people that you most likely want to hit? That lookalike strategy is great. Putting that into social is a great way to get that response where the search might not give you the amount of volume because people might not be looking for you, and want to respond to them. We do all three, search, display, and social. As things work and you get more donors and have bigger budgets, then working all three together at various percentages is my personal expertise.

Do you find that you have to have that list of 1,000 to do a Facebook Lookalike or is it lower? It seems like I heard 300 was the starting target for that.

I know that the retargeting specifically is 1,000. We have a couple of campaigns that are under that and aren’t serving. I can’t remember in my memory if a lookalike was able. Maybe you don’t need 1,000 because the lookalike audience, if you have 300 or 500, might be bigger than the 1,000 of a retargeting, so it’s worth a try. I don’t have anybody with that small of a list.

I was curious. For some of the smaller nonprofits out there, that sounds like something that would work for them, which completely makes sense to me when the breakeven is there. Keep putting efforts toward building your list of donors. I’m on the board of a nonprofit. One of the things that came out of the pandemic in 2021 was their numbers for donations were up a little bit or flat but the number of people donating was way up. If you have a nonprofit that experienced that even if your donations were down, looking at that list is a viable opportunity for you. An asset is certainly worthwhile and not only from pure email marketing opportunities but also a campaign like what Kurt is talking about here. It sounds like it would be a valuable opportunity for you.

It’s interesting that you’re talking about donations during the pandemic. It is surprising. Many of my nonprofit clients did not experience a huge dip. People were concerned and worried about what was going to happen even with the economy. Most of them stayed flat or did better. It was like this surprise, “We’re staying at it and people are still engaged and helping us out. We can keep our streets going.” It’s pretty cool to see.

RTNP 70 | Paid Search
Paid Search: Make sure that all of that reporting is intact and robust so that you’re able to leverage that month over month.


The other thing that’s interesting about that is most nonprofits had to pull back on events in 2021 so their costs went down. There’s another slight hopefully bonus for people, even though events are that lifeline.

People showed up online when they did the online events. There’s a lot of people that I worked with. There was a good response. A lot of people were surprised but grateful.

It’s interesting times out there. People are still scared, struggling, trying to figure things out, and worried about what’s going to happen but there’s certainly so much opportunity, whether that’s through traditional marketing, email marketing, or hitting up a search engine marketing campaign. There are things to try. Keep iterating and keep that juice flowing.

More and more, digital is the path in the future because people are spending more time online than they ever were before.

For good or bad, that seems to be the place that we’re in at this point. This has been amazing. I’ve learned a lot. I’m so happy that I was able to have you join me on the show because this is going to be beneficial for a lot of people to pull back a little bit of the mystery of paid search and all of the great things that you do for pay-per-click.

Thank you. It has been great to be here and chat with you. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s my passion. I love the data, the immediacy of the results that you can see, and being able to act on that. It keeps me going.

Thank you so much. How can people find out more about you and your organization and see if you can help them out?

My website is FillaLifeMedia.com. I have a few sections on social search display advertising. There’s even a section on donor targeting for nonprofits and how to tie your donors and retarget them or do lookalikes. There’s information there. You can reach me there. All my contact information is at FillaLifeMedia.com.

Thank you so much for being on the show. My audience knows that I do this every show but I do love having these conversations and pulling back the secret sauce or looking into that recipe of how people can do better in their marketing to do more good in the world. I also want people to take action. I ask my guests at the end of every show. If there was anything that you wanted people to do, what action would you like for them to take after reading this? What would you have them do?

If you’re doing a marketing campaign either internally or with a partner, go and look at your reporting. Are you getting robust reporting? That includes not only impressions, clicks, and click-through rate but also conversions and cost per conversion. Make sure that all of that reporting is intact and robust so that you’re able to leverage that month over month. That would be my takeaway. Make sure that’s all intact and be conservative if you’re starting. Test the waters, see what response you get, and then grow as your campaigns improve.

That is sound advice for any campaign. Thank you again, Kurt, so much for being on the show. I had a good time talking with you. I hope you have a great rest of your day.

Thank you. You too.


Important Links:

About Kurt Filla

RTNP 70 | Paid SearchOver the past 20 years, I have a successful track record of managing multi-million dollar budgets in various verticals at an executive level: My work has resulted in thousands of successful digital media buys that outperformed the most optimistic of expectations. Now as Managing Director of Filla Life Media, I am applying my executive experience as a digital media buyer, seller, strategist, and optimization expert to help support local nonprofit organizations, pro-life ministries, churches, schools, and small businesses who are making a real difference in people’s lives. There is a time in life when life beckons you to give back; that time is now.