Paid Search Basics for Non-Profits

Paid Search (Bing Ads and Google Ads, formerly AdWords) consists of four key elements. No surprise that three of them are also the three key elements that make up Google’s and Bing’s Quality Score rankings. Each of these elements come with their own challenges and benefits. However, all are essential to achieving success with Paid Search.

Account and Campaign Structure

How to set up an account and campaigns has been a question even experienced paid search professionals are second guessing themselves on. There are a number of different thoughts and strategies, some more time consuming to manage and more advanced that others.

The best advice I’ve seen and the way I structure my account and campaigns is to mirror the structure of your website. For example, if you sell plastic bags and plastic boxes, you’ll likely have a link in your main navigation called Products, or something similar. That’s essentially what your account is promoting. You may also promote just services or products and services. Regardless, think of that as your account. This is what you’re trying to promote at the highest level.

Now, back to promoting bags and boxes. Think of these as your campaigns. Within each product group you’ll likely have different types of bags and boxes – you could have small plastic bags, large plastic bags, resealable plastic bags, etc. etc. – and a similar break out for boxes. Think of those as your ad groups.

The key to building successful campaigns is to keep the keywords in each ad group as focused as possible. You will likely only end up with 1-5 keywords per ad group. Keep in mind, not all ad groups are created equal, though. A very effective ad group structure is what’s known as SKAG, or Single Keywords Ad Groups.


SKAGs are great because your ad copy is hyper-focused on one keyword. Let’s say we’ve created a SKAG for small polypropylene bags. Polypropylene is a type of plastic. Even though we have an ad group for small plastic bags, polypropylene bags is a highly searched product and one of our most important products. Therefore, we want to break it out and focus just on that specific product or keyword. Our more broad ad group focusing on small plastic bags will target everything else. We’ll talk more about that later.

So now we have our very focused keyword and very focused ads to go with it. As long as this ad points to a page that is only about small polypropylene bags, you should have a great quality score. Probably in the 8-10 range for Google and a 10 for Bing. (Bing seems to be a little more forgiving when calculating quality scores).


Goal = Targeting the right searches and people

Now that we’ve discussed ad group structure, let’s talk about the keywords you’ll put into them – how to find the right ones and how many to add to each ad group. This is referred to as keyword research.

There are several keyword tools – some paid, some free- that you can use to research keywords and see average monthly search volumes, how competitive the landscape is for bidding on that keyword, as well as similar keywords that you may not have thought of.

Google’s Keyword Planner is great if you’re on a budget – it’s free. But my favorite keyword research tool is SEMrush. It provides much more data and details around the keywords you’re researching than Google Keyword Planner and it’s evolved into a great tool for SEO and competitive research as well. At a relatively low price point, the value you get is tremendous.

At some point in the not-to-distant future, I’ll write a post that just focuses on keyword research, so this is going to be very high-level since we have a lot of other things to cover.

Let’s take a look in SEMrush at the keyword small polypropylene bags:

SEMrush keyword search



Here’s some of the data you’ll see:

Organic and Paid Search Data for just that phrase:

SEMrush organic and paid search data

Why this is important: the volume will tell you, on average, how many times that keyword is searched for each month. You’ll also see an average CPC and a measure of how competitive the landscape is for that keyword. In the example above, this is a relatively low-searched term and is highly competitive (on a scale of 0-1.0, 1.0 being the most competitive). Keep in mind, I wouldn’t necessarily let a competitive score of 1.0 prevent you from targeting the keyword. However, if there’s a similar keyword with a high search volume and lower competitive score, it will be a cheaper option to target.

Other keywords that contain that phrase and related keywords:

SEMrush phrase and related keywords example

This offers you a great opportunity to find keywords that you may not have thought of using and they could be a cheaper option. Or, you could find a different way of referring to the same product that has a higher search volume, meaning you’ll get in front of more people. However, a lot of times, the higher the search volume, the more competition and, the more competition that exists usually translates to a higher CPC that you’ll have to pay.

As well as the top organic and paid search results that are currently showing for that keyword:

SEMrush organic and paid search top results example

This is great info to see just who you’ll be competing against. You can also see the ad copy that competitors are using and can create something similar to start with and then change it as you start to get data flowing into your Google Ads and/or Bing Ads accounts. Why recreate the wheel? Just don’t copy the text word for word!

That’s a great segue into our next topic…ad copy.

Ad Copy

Goal = Encouraging people to click

Targeting the right keywords is going to be important, but now that you’ve done all of the work in finding just the right keywords and have given a lot of thought to how your account and campaigns are set up, it’s time to get to where the “rubber meets the road”.

You can target the right keywords but if your ad copy isn’t relevant to the keywords you’ve chosen or doesn’t match the person’s intent and convince them to click on your ad, it’s all for naught (nought for my readers in the UK).

When writing ad copy, it’s important to write at least three ads that are slightly different – maybe they each focus on different calls to action, or different ways of saying the same things, or different features and benefits. The idea is that you’re essentially doing A/B testing to see what resonates with people and receives the best CTR (click through rate). After about 30 days, review the performance of the three ads, pause the lowest performing ad and try to create a new one that you think will perform even better than the best performing ad in the ad group. Rinse and repeat this indefinitely. Or, at least, until you feel you’ve nailed what really resonates and performs well.

It’s also important that your ads reflect the content and intent of the landing page that you’ll be sending them to. More on this when we talk about Quality Score.

Landing Page

Goal = Conversions; either sales or leads

Paid Search has taken on an element of SEO in how Quality Score is calculated and, ultimately, how much you pay per click and how successful your ad group and targeted keywords will perform. It makes sense. Google and Bing both strive for the best user experience. If people produce ads that have nothing to do with the ads they run or don’t offer the content and information that the person clicking on the ad expects to see, that will cause a big problem for them (Google and Bing) and, if it happens enough times, could force users to switch from Google to Bing and vice versa.

That’s why landing page relevance is an important element in calculating keyword Quality Score.

It’s very important that your landing page essentially contain the more important on-page SEO elements tied to your keyword – and another reason for using SKAGs and a small number of keywords per ad group. You can really only optimize a page for one or two keywords when it comes to Quality Score.

Some of the more important on-page SEO elements to focus on are:

  • Page title
  • H1 tag
  • Keyword mentions throughout the page
  • Image names and tags

Make sure you adhere to the same SEO standards you would if you were targeting organic traffic – don’t keyword stuff these elements and focus on quality content and a great user experience first, then make minor tweaks to improve SEO or the relevancy of the page to the keyword you’re targeting.

Quality Score

We’ve talked a lot about Quality Score, but what exactly is it? If you’ve been working with paid search for any period of time, you’ve likely seen a reference to Quality Score when looking at keyword performance data in your account.

Quality Score is comprised of the three key elements above that we’ve discussed: keyword, ad copy, and landing page.

The idea, in its simplest form, is that all three elements should be focused on the same keyword – and in some cases, user intent. Meaning, if you’re targeting people looking to buy small polypropylene bags, then your keyword should focus on things like “buy small polypropylene bags” or “get small polypropylene bags”, etc. The ad copy and the landing page must essentially be all about buying these bags with a clear CTA (call-to-action) button or form.


As you already know, this topic goes well beyond what I’ve discussed above. I could essentially create separate posts for each of these elements. I didn’t even talk about keyword types, negative keywords, bidding, or other things that go into a successful campaign. But, if you are just starting out in paid search and use the advice I’ve provided above, you’ll have a strong foundation with which to build upon as you continue to learn.