NOMCOM blogging: Google will give PS1 $10,000 per month

Google has a program called Google Ad Grants that gives any qualifying nonprofit — and PS1 certainly qualifies — $10,000 per month in free search advertising. It’s not cash, but it’s still a pretty sweet deal. We just have to go claim it.

The bag of free money comes, of course, with a catch: it takes a lot of work to spend $10,000 a month on search advertising, and even more work to spend it well. This was by far the most nitty gritty and practical talk I attended at NOMCON, much of it focused on the mechanics of running a successful search advertising campaign.

If you’ve never had the misfortune of managing an ad campaign on Google, here is a vastly oversimplified rundown:

  1. You, the advertiser, bid on search terms in an open auction.
  2. When someone enters your search term into Google, your ad may be displayed on the search results page if you have a winning bid.
  3. You only pay if the searcher clicks on your ad.

Google Ad Grants recipients don’t really pay anything at all, because they are playing with house money. You get $10,000 of funny money to burn through each month (technically, $329 each day).

Importantly, Google caps the amount that recipients of Google Ad Grants money can bid at $3, which is low enough to put popular search terms entirely out of reach. The trick to a successful ad campaign is finding search terms that are both relevant to the audience you are trying to reach and also priced affordably enough that it makes sense to bid on them.

But there’s much more to a campaign than just choosing keywords. The purpose of displaying advertising is to drive traffic to a specific page on a website. That page should be relevant to the specific search term. For example, if someone searches for “Arduino hacking,” sending them to the PS1 home page would be somewhat pointless. Sure, there’s a small chance the visitor will carefully explore the site to figure out what PS1 has to offer electronics hobbyists. Haha, just kidding: she will immediately slam on the back button. $3 of funny money flushed down the toilet.

What you want to do instead is send the visitor to a page on our website with a headline like, “Interested in joining a community of Arduino hackers?” And then show the NERP schedule and invite her to sign up for a Meetup. Or something along those lines.

People who take this stuff seriously tend to bid on lots of search terms. In this case, a lot means 250,000 or more. (Automation can help a bit: there are sites with names like KeywordShitter that, well, what it says.) The pros tweak and optimize their landing pages. They test out dozens of variants of ad copy out to see which ones perform the best.

In short, search advertising is specialized work that is often outsourced to agencies.

But it doesn’t have to be quite as bad as all that. Start small. Borrow keyword lists from other makerspaces that already advertise online. Set up a single landing page for each of the areas within PS1. Etc. It’s still a lot of work, but not necessarily an insane amount of work.

Which maybe brings up some questions: do we even want $10,000 per month in free search advertising? What would we do with it? The answers are: yes and a lot.

The most obvious use of the money is to grow membership. But there is a lot more than that you can do:

  • Attract people to one-time events, such as Fusion classes or the upcoming Chicago Open House that PS1 is participating in.
  • Engage in geographical market research by targeting campaigns to different Chicago ZIP codes to see where interest in makerspaces is highest.
  • Solicit volunteers for specific roles or events (lots of people are looking for volunteer opportunities online).
  • Target specific types of makers to bring new people to under-utilized areas of the space.
  • “Smoke test” new offerings like classes by advertising them and seeing what kind of response we get.

And so on. Basically, if there’s anything you want to try to spread the word about, Google Ad Grants gives you hose of cash to point at it.

Next steps: refreshing the website and enrolling in the program.

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