A Search Plan For Year-End

If fall is rolling in and we're starting to think of Halloween outfits, it means it's time to start planning your search campaigns for the coming Giving Season. Search is a valuable tool for reaching your potential donors throughout the year, but it's essential during year-end. To avoid a mad dash at the end, let's go ahead and plan now!

1. Start by looking back

How did your campaigns do last year? (That is if you did any search last year.) Did you have any campaigns where you felt you spent too much money without enough return on the investment? Did you try any tests that worked so well that you should roll-out with them? The best way to kick-start your campaigns this year is to look at what did well and what didn't do so well last year so you can learn from your mistakes and build on your successes.

2. Look for room to grow




Look for ways to expand your campaigns and keywords. The best way to start expanding is to look at your top performing campaign from last year, since expansions of those keywords and ad groups will likely perform well. Look for synonyms you may have missed or similar topics (use the Google Keyword Tool for suggestions). What about your competitors? Have you tried any campaigns targeting your competitor's brand name? A lot of people don't think it's possible to show your ads on another nonprofit's brand name. It's possible, but you have to be cautious. The main problem with campaigns targeting other organization's brand names is that your quality score is going to be low since you don't mention X nonprofit on your website. You can, however, work to get their brand name in your ad copy, either by comparing them to your organization or by slipping in words of their brand name in a different meaning. For example, if you want to target people searching for the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, you could say "Donate today to help us protect at-risk national fish and wildlife." Get sneaky! In addition to trying to get the brand name into your ad copy, I would also put all of your competitor keywords into a new campaign. The quality scores on these keywords are naturally going to be lower, so it's best if you keep them separate and can adjust the budget accordingly.

Display Ads

Have you tried using display ads during year-end? Display ads can be expensive, but there are ways to make your campaigns more targeted and more effective. For starters, you can use some of the same keywords that worked well in the search network to target relevant sites on the display network. You can also research potential websites within your target market and test display ads on those specific sites.

One of my favorite display research sites is the Google Display Network Ad Planner. The Ad Planner is a wonderful tool for finding specific websites on the Display Network by specific topic or traffic. For example, say that a lot of the traffic on your website comes from If you put The Daily Green's website into the Ad Planner, it will tell you if the website takes display ads, and if so what sizes they support. It will also tell you other sites that people visit from The Daily Green, which is incredibly helpful at reaching similar audiences. You can also use the Ad Planner to look for placements you don't already know about (via the Search for Placements tab). You can search for topics of websites, exclude certain topics, and find websites that only do display ads. You can even filter websites that have display ads above the fold! The Ad Planner takes some time to filter through to get what you want, but I promise it's worth the time. I have had tremendous success with a small display campaign targeted to a very specific audience of people who visit a certain type of website using the Ad Planner.


Always test! There are a million things you can test in search campaigns, and there's always something out there that could make your campaign perform better. Here are some ideas of potential things to test:

  • Ad copy language
  • Ad headlines
  • Display URL (to use or not to use that vanity URL)
  • Landing page copy
  • Landing page image
  • Button – color, font, size (a really big bright red DONATE!)

The one thing I will say about tests is make sure they're clean. Test one thing at a time so you know exactly what made one ad/landing page perform better or worse. If you decide to test several different things over year-end, separate them to different campaigns, or decide on time periods – test A gets the first week in December, test B gets the second week. Heading into the final week of the year (go time!), I would look over your tests and clean up any low-performing tests. If the big red button has been winning and the blue button has lost (with statistical significance), you want that big red button appearing every time during that last crucial week.

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