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Poor Google Adwords copy “costing UK charities millions” each year

Sample charity google adwords
Poor Google Adwords copy “costing UK charities millions” each year

The top 20 UK charities could have saved £2.66 million in 2013 if they had optimised their AdWords copy, according to research from nonprofit marketing and fundraising consultancy Strategy Refresh and  AdWords copy specialists The ATO Co.

The ATO Co. examined a cross-section of AdWords ad texts from the top 20 charities by fundraised income and evaluated them using their dedicated ad text copywriting effectiveness algorithm. They found evidence that best practice in AdWords copywriting was not followed in all cases, leading to a 27% overspend in 2013, the most recent period for which data is available.

Paid search is used by many charities to promote campaigns, fundraising appeals, and other messages. As with all other media, a body of best practice has been built up, and the hosts like Google share advice too.

Google AdWords overspend

Google AdWords overspend by top UK charities. Source: Strategy Refresh and The ATO Company

Charity advertisers using Google AdWords

Charities whose advertising was examined include:

• Cancer Research UK



• British Red Cross

• Salvation Army

• Comic Relief

The top 20 charities analysed spent a total of £10m on Google AdWords in 2013.

How Google rewards effective AdWords copy

Google uses its ‘Quality Score’ to reward more effective advertising by reducing its charges. It explains:

“The 1-10 Quality Score reported for each keyword in your account is an estimate of the quality of your ads and landing pages triggered by that keyword. Having a high Quality Score means that our systems think your ad and landing page are relevant and useful to someone looking at your ad.”

Case study

The authors cite one top 20 charity and how it improved its use of Google AdWords.

The charity, which had an annual advertising budget of £250,000, increased its click count by 34% from 3.125m to 4.735m by applying AdWords copywriting best practice. This resulted in an increase in relative media value of £128,788.

Charities using Google Ad Grants?

Of course, some charities might well be using the free Google AdWords advertising offered through the Google Ad Grants programme to eligible charities. The whitepaper’s authors acknowledge that they can not know which charities do so.

But they argue that their conclusions are still pertinent: “the opportunity remains for them to benefit from increased exposure, and the value of the associated donations that follow, by implementing ad text copywriting best practice”.

Conclusion from Google AdWords optimisation white paper

Conclusion from Google AdWords optimisation white paper

Bryan Miller of Strategy Refresh said:

“The majority of charities find the most cost-effective form of online advertising available to increase relevant traffic to their websites is paid search.

“However, while search spend is going ever upwards the attention being paid to optimising the ad copy used is often minimal. We’re hoping that this research will help spark the debate on how charities might make better use of optimisation best practice to help significantly increase the cost-effectiveness of this key online advertising channel.”

Paul Booth, CEO at The ATO Co added:

“Google AdWords is unique in that it is the only advertising medium that rewards more effective advertising with lower costs. This is especially relevant to the charity sector as it must be seen to be investing every pound it spends as carefully as possible. This white paper reveals that UK charities are on the whole paying far too much for their clicks and shows how significant savings can be made.”

The companies have shared their research in a nine-page white paper ‘How optimising ad text copywriting could recoup millions in lost revenue for UK charity advertisers using Google AdWords‘ which can be downloaded in return for free registration.



Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.

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