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Google throws nonprofits a curveball with new ad policy

There’s often a fine line between success and failure. And, as summer gives way to fall, the spotlight starts to intensify when you step up to the plate.

Hit one out of the park, and you can celebrate victory. But if you strike out, your team will suffer the consequences.

I’m talking about nonprofit fundraising with Google Ad Grants, of course.

As we prepare to enter the home stretch of the year, Google has thrown us all a curveball with their new three-strike ad policy that takes effect in September. I’m here to coach you through these changes and help nonprofits avoid any trouble this year-end giving season.

What has Google changed?

We’ve always had to follow complex policies for Google Ads or risk ad disapproval or even account suspension. What’s new is that these policies will now apply to Ad Grants accounts as well.

Google Grant accounts must now comply with two sets of rules—one for Google Ads and one for Google Ad Grants.

That means your nonprofit’s Google Grant account will be subject to the new three-strike ad policy for ad copy, extensions, images, landing pages, and the content on those landing pages. Violations include:

If your account does get flagged, here’s what that looks like:

Type Trigger Penalty
Warning First instance of ad content violating our Enabling Dishonest Behavior, Unapproved Substances and Dangerous Products or Services policies No penalties beyond the removal of the relevant ads
First strike Violation of the same policy for which you’ve received a warning within 90 days The account will be placed on a temporary hold for three days, during which ads will not be eligible to run
Second strike Violation of the same policy for which you’ve received a first strike within 90 days of the first strike The account will be placed on a temporary hold for seven days, during which ads will not be eligible to run. This will serve as the last and final notice for the advertiser to avoid account suspension
Third strike Violation of the same policy for which you’ve received a second strike within 90 days of the second strike Account suspension for repeat violation of our policies

While this is technically a pilot program, it’s likely here to stay. The new policy starts Sept. 21, and it will ramp up over the final three months of the year.

What nonprofits can do to prepare

Looking at the list of prohibited ad types, it may seem easy for charities to navigate. But the trouble starts when ads get incorrectly flagged for disapproval.

It can take weeks to correct a false disapproval—and too many disapprovals may get your account suspended. That would be rough if it happened in November or December.

In order to avoid this fate, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Review the content in your Google Grant and Google Ads accounts.

You don’t want your ads, ad extensions or even the landing pages on your website to have anything that would violate this policy. If you have a dynamic ad group in your account, make sure you add in any potential landing page that would trigger a strike as a negative ad target to prevent the dynamic ads from going to this page.

2. Look for any disapprovals you may have in your account already.

Don’t be alarmed if you see a disapproval. Our most common ad disapprovals include:

  • Destination Not Working: This occurs when a page is broken or taken down
  • Destination Mismatch: This occurs when an ad directs to a final URL that does not match with the display URL
  • One Website per ad group: This occurs when using more than one display URL domain in a single ad group (for example, google.com, google.co.uk, adwords.com).

If you have any in the categories listed earlier, correct the issues now before this policy starts. If you find any of these disapprovals in a paused or ended campaign, remove them from the account. We don’t want any inactive items to trigger a strike.

3. Familiarize yourself with Policy Manager.

Found directly in your account, it provides a list format of what policy violations the account has and provide you with the opportunity to appeal the disapprovals.

4. If you find a falsely flagged disapproval, appeal it.

Google’s AI will mistakenly flag a false disapproval—the AI doesn’t think through context like a person would. Per this WordSteam article, “The Google Ads platform has a notorious history of wrongly applied disapprovals and a frustrating support system.”

Don’t wait for this three-strike policy to start. Act now to get your appeal moving. Once the policy takes effect, we expect the number of disapprovals to go up. That means the amount of time it takes to resolve them will also go up.

What nonprofits should watch for

Once Google’s three-strike ad policy goes live, continue to monitor your Google accounts for ad disapprovals.

If your Google Grant account receives a strike, pause the Google Ads account while it gets resolved. Likewise, if your paid account gets a strike, pause your Grant account.

Do not—under any circumstances—create another paid account. Creating a new account to bypass the strike suspension will do more harm than good. If Google detects ads associated with your organization running another account, they will consider this circumventing their system. Google will suspend your account, and this is one suspension you can’t appeal.

In order to mitigate risks, make sure you don’t put all your eggs into Google’s basket. A diversified approach across multiple media channels (display, native ads, video ads, Facebook ads, etc.) ensures a balanced strategy.

And finally, check with your media partner to see if this is on their radar. A trusted partner will have their finger on the pulse of Google’s policies and can save you the trouble of dealing with disapprovals and changes.

Now, let’s step up to the plate and play ball!

Ashley Carmickle

Ashley oversees PPC and Google Ad Grant efforts at RKD Group, helping manage how we optimize conversions across our client's marketing platforms. Ashley is actively involved as an ambassador for the Ad Grant Certified Professionals, a cohort designed to develop and share best practices across the Google for Nonprofit member community.

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