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Beyond Clicks: A Comprehensive Approach to Optimizing Paid Ad Performance for Nonprofits

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Published February 15, 2024 Reading Time: 8 minutes

This blog was written in collaboration with Emily Ajalla, Ashley Walker, and William Cawthra of RKD Group, a nonprofit growth accelerator.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed How to Analyze and Optimize Organic Traffic for Your Nonprofit Website. We dove into all the tools and strategies needed to get the most from your efforts to climb Google’s rankings and increase donation volume.

Here, we’ll examine a critical complementary piece in your digital marketing strategy: paid advertising.

Organic search helps users focus their intention to act, but paid ads spark the awareness and the consideration that comes before those actions.

Thus, you must go beyond simply tracking clicks to optimize your nonprofit’s paid ad performance. In this blog post, we’ll review how to better understand and analyze your paid search and paid social channels to improve your return on advertising spend (ROAS).

The Power of Data: Pulling the Right Reports

As always, in the world of digital marketing, we start with data. Knowledge is power, so understanding which reports to pull will help you analyze your performance.

You should review in-engine and landing page data to gain a holistic understanding. However, we’ll focus on the in-engine side for this blog post.

In-Engine Data Analysis

Paid Search

Let’s start with paid search—an important element in any nonprofit organization’s media strategy. Paid search helps you gain visibility on search engines like Google and Bing when potential donors look for relevant keywords.

Here are a few benefits of leveraging paid search ads:

  • Elevate awareness of your nonprofit brand and mission.
  • Edge out competitors for keyword rankings and visibility.
  • Generate immediate interest for time-sensitive events or emergencies.
  • Increase donations to fuel greater impact.

Unlike organic search efforts, which take time to build and see growth, paid search can provide immediate results. However, to maximize your ROAS, you must understand your reporting:

Search Term Report

Reviewing your search term report is essential for creating and maintaining a successful paid search campaign. With your search term report, you can:

checkbox Understand user search intent: This is critical to ensure your keywords, ad copy, and landing page align with the searcher’s intent. In general, high traffic doesn’t inherently mean high-quality traffic.

Search Term Report
“Sponsor a child” triggers search terms with two intents: one for philanthropy and another for immigration.

checkbox Examine the relevancy and quality of your traffic: Understanding which search terms trigger your keywords is key to understanding the quality of your traffic. In general, low-quality search terms will have poor click-through rates (which negatively affect the quality score) and will often have more expensive cost per clicks (CPCs). As more low-quality terms come in, the campaign’s ad rank decreases, leading to impression share lost due to ad rank.

Search Term Report
Adding the broad match keyword “glasses recycling” includes an ad when a searcher looks for places to donate their used prescription glasses. However, the search terms that saw high click-through rates intended to recycle or reuse glass waste. Although the click performance was impressive, the odds of a conversion were low.

checkbox Identify any cost inefficiencies: Inefficient spending can waste precious advertising dollars. By identifying and acting on phrases or search terms that see empty clicks, you can ensure ad spend goes to the traffic that best supports your campaigns’ goals.

In the case of expensive clicks for on-topic search terms, evaluating the match type and ad schedule can be the best tool to bring cost metrics like CPC and cost-per-acquisition (CPA) under control. Testing various constraints and tightening targeting is crucial to ensure you maximize valuable nonprofit advertising dollars.

Keywords with high-auction activity can show extremely elevated CPCs. While these aren’t always negatives, evaluating which match type works best and which audiences are most likely to convert is critical.

checkbox Determine converting search terms: Streamlining ad groups can be challenging, and including every converting query during the initial setup isn’t always feasible. By allowing a campaign to run for a specific period, the search term report can reveal valuable insights, highlighting terms initially omitted as keywords despite their strong conversion performance.

Incorporating these high-performing terms into your keyword list can enhance quality scores, optimize spending efficiency, and boost competitiveness.

Search Term Report
Adding “therapy dog” as a keyword helps find valuable search terms like this. However, adding “migraine therapy dog” as a keyword will allow the campaign to further capitalize on high-quality traffic and improve competitive metrics.

checkbox Monitor search trends: Understanding trends pertaining to your keyword search volume is crucial. You may see traffic increase during natural disasters, awareness months, or if your organization or a topic relating to your organization gets featured in the news. Monitoring your search terms may help you identify opportunities for new campaigns or site content and unveil potential negative keywords.

Search Term Report
This search term indicated that Dr. Oz recently featured a topic related to a nonprofit’s educational goal. However, the metrics associated with search term reports indicate irrelevant search terms.

In addition to the search term report, here are a few areas to consider when building your paid search strategy:

  • Auction insights: It’s helpful to understand who your competitors are and what they do. Fortunately, Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising allow advertisers high-level insights into competitor movement in the keyword auction. With these insights, you can prepare better to make budget decisions, implement or streamline keyword strategies, and gauge campaign health.
  • Search partners spam: Search partners are a network of partner search engines and publisher websites that show ads on results pages, site directory pages, or other pages related to a search. Google and Bing each have a version of search partners, including sites like YouTube,, AOL, Yahoo, and others. Enabling these partners can help expand your reach, but there’s little transparency in their data, increasing the potential for fraud and fake clicks from bots.
Search Term Report
Google allows advertisers to view vital partner information like invalid clicks with the addition of a new column. While partner traffic can often be low quality, Google’s traffic report shows us that’s not always the case. It’s vital to test the features offered by advertising channels to see what mix provides the best results.
  • Smart bidding strategies: By leveraging machine learning and existing account data, you can fine-tune your campaign objectives to achieve your desired outcomes. However, you give up a certain amount of control over bidding by using complex bidding strategies like target ROAS (tROAS) or maximizing conversions. Both can also require up to a month of learning to optimize their effectiveness.

Paid Social

Social media has become integral to everyday life in the last decade. Increasingly, people spend more time on these platforms, making paid social another critical avenue for your nonprofit to pursue.

Given Facebook’s vast user base of 3 billion monthly active users¹, it should be the focal point of your paid social strategy, which is where we’ll focus our discussion. However, on a platform with such a massive audience and numerous advertisers, you must find a way to get through the noise.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of your investment:

  • Generate a connection: Social media often evokes our passions. Harness this by creating an emotional bond with your target audience. Instead of solely concentrating on immediate donations, construct a journey that steers users through the marketing funnel—starting from awareness, progressing to engagement, and leading them to take action by making a donation.
  • Combat ad fatigue: No one wants to repeatedly see the same ad. Dynamic retargeting on Meta (Facebook and Instagram) can help alleviate ad fatigue by showing the viewer a different image and ad copy each time they get targeted. Frequency caps control the number of times a user sees a specific ad within a given period.
  • Adapt to privacy changes: Google’s third-party cookie deprecation has begun. Thus, advertisers must rely more heavily on first-party data and audience profiling to compile look-alike audience segments.
  • Set up Facebook Conversion API (CAPI): A pixel and Facebook CAPI can work in tandem to accurately gather customer data on the server and browser sides to deliver better ad experiences for viewers. Facebook CAPI helps improve the accuracy of targeting for ad campaigns.
Explore Classy’s Integration with CAPI

Don’t Forget about the Election

The United States will elect a president on Nov. 5, 2024, and experts predict this election will set new records in political ad spending. This will significantly impact programmatic inventory for all advertisers in the months ahead.

Consider this as you plan for this year’s paid social budget:

  • Expect ads to cost more: With more advertisers trying to get users’ attention, political campaigns will impact costs in the weeks leading up to the election. Streaming services like connected TV advertising will most likely see the largest effect, especially in specific primary and swing states.
  • Increase your budget this fall: Costs will likely rise from late September through election day. You could see the cost per 1,000 impressions increase anywhere from 10%-20% in the weeks leading up to the election.
  • Be cautious when analyzing: It won’t be apples to apples when comparing year-over-year performance. Thus, don’t expect the same results as 2023 when competing for attention.
  • Watch for restrictions: In the 2022 election cycle, Meta implemented a restriction period for ads about social issues, elections, or politics. There’s a chance it could bring this back for the 2024 election.

Pausing and Reallocating for Higher ROAS

Avoid treating paid media channels as a one-size-fits-all solution for campaigns. A prosperous campaign relies on a diversified marketing mix that targets audiences through various channels, fostering engagement and driving conversions.

Paid social and programmatic efforts are pivotal in gaining exposure among the intended audience, subsequently generating demand. Because paid search is a demand-driven platform, it’s expected to have a lower CPA.

Thus, each channel must have a strategy within a campaign.

However, your work can’t stop there. Once the campaign begins, continue to evaluate and optimize your ad program to maximize your ROAS. That means you may need to pause underperforming elements and reallocate your budget.

Here are a few areas to think about:

  • Test continuously: Focus on quality over quantity to ensure your ads get seen and, most importantly, remembered. Make sure your messaging is cohesive to avoid audience confusion.
  • Don’t spread your messaging too thin: Limit your active messages to a select few to avoid hurting your performance. Spreading your ad dollars too thin limits the ability to gain insights and pull directional learnings.
  • Evaluate every four weeks: Observe performance over a four-week period to allow for ample ramp-up and impressions. Decide which ads generate engagement and drive consumer action. Pause underperforming creative messaging.
  • Pivot to successful channels: Adjust your spending toward the channels driving the most success based on your performance analysis. Paid media is all about flexibility and quickly pivoting from one channel to another.

If you still don’t see the results you expect or start to see a drop in performance, there may be additional aspects to consider:

  • Are you targeting the right individuals?
  • Is your message relevant and relatable?
  • Do the channels you leverage align with your target audience’s preferred channels?
  • Is it possible ad fatigue has set in, and it’s time for a creative refresh?

Put Your Learnings into Action

The synergy of organic and paid efforts forms a robust digital marketing strategy for nonprofits, driving intentional actions and broadening awareness. Harnessing the power of both worlds, your nonprofit is set up for a more impactful online presence and greater success in achieving its mission.

Copy Editor: Ayanna Julien

Article Source

  1. “23 Top Social Media Sites to Consider for Your Brand in 2024,” Buffer, last updated January 22, 2o24,
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