And how can you make the most of it?

For nonprofits and agencies alike, raising funds for important causes, particularly through paid media, can feel like an uphill battle. Loss of tracking data and economic uncertainty squeezing both marketing budgets and propensity to give means that many digital fundraising campaigns need to work twice as hard to drive the same amount of income. 

However, one bright spot is the rise of paid search in the nonprofit marketing mix—one report found that paid search has the highest conversion rate of any digital channel, and that visitors to nonprofit pages from paid social are 41% more likely to bounce compared to those from paid search. 

With this in mind, we’re taking a look at why paid search is soaring right now, and how your nonprofit can make the most of it. 

Why is paid search having a moment?

Paid search represents active demand for your organization or service, as the audience is looking for your brand or a related topic, as opposed to passively consuming an ad. This means the search audience is typically smaller, but far more motivated. While nonprofits have previously driven volume from paid social, with just a small cohort of engaged donors converting via paid search, the pool of donors who search before giving has increased. 

Despite the cost-of-living crisis, motivation to give is still high, with the CAF UK Giving Report 2023 finding that donations from the UK public were up 1.2 billion in 2023 compared to 2022. But savvy donors, concerned about privacy and charity trust, want to have more say in where their money is going. That’s where paid search comes in. So how can you ensure that your organization is primed to take advantage of the rising search tide? 

Ensure reach

In order to make the most of paid search, you need to understand audience interests and behaviors and ensure your ads are set up to serve for the maximum possible searches. A brand campaign and a wide range of non-branded campaigns, which are themed around your areas of work, help capture donors already aware of your organization and those invested in the cause itself. 

It’s also important to regularly review keywords to make sure you have the right mix of broader terms to drive traffic and more precise terms to maintain return — and you should expect this mix to fluctuate. At moments of increased media attention, such as major humanitarian emergencies, single keywords relating to the crisis may drive strong returns for aid organizations: e.g. “Ukraine” or “Afghanistan”.  However,  in quieter periods these keywords become very expensive as they start to pull in broader, informational searchers. At this point, shifting to target longer tail keywords, such as “donate to Ukraine”, will be more cost efficient. 

Achieve scale

Investing in paid search is all well and good if enough people are searching for your brand keywords… but what if they aren’t? One of the challenges of paid search can be limited volume, as you can only reach those actively searching. 

In order to scale, paid search needs to work hand-in-hand with upper funnel activity to increase awareness of your organization and drive those all-important donations. Strategically placed digital out-of-home, display, and audio ads ensure reach and frequency for your campaign message. Audiences interacting with these awareness ads will be more likely to search for your organization, where your well-optimized search ads will be waiting to guide them through to giving. 

Attribution modeling is vital to understanding the impact of your upper funnel marketing and to build a case for increased investment. Mapping your awareness activity against trends in your paid search campaigns will highlight any improvements in conversion rate or brand visibility as a result of upper funnel investment. 

Personalize your message

While scale is important to reach income targets, layering personalization into your search marketing will bring good returns by creating even more targeted audiences. If you know that particular locations or age groups are more likely to support your cause, adding that demographic targeting to your campaigns enables bidding on broader keywords which brings you an audience more likely to give. For example, if your core audience is women over 55+, adding this targeting to a list of generic keywords means these more expensive terms will be more likely to convert.   

Further personalization can be achieved through remarketing lists. For example, if you’re already running YouTube ads, or plan to, you will create a large pool of viewers familiar with your message. Adding these viewers as a remarketing list to your search campaigns means you’re reaching them as soon as they’re ready to give. 

Consider the onward journey

Finally, don’t forget to think about where you’re sending those search audiences once you’ve reeled them in. The beauty of search visitors is that they already have a level of investment in your organization or cause, so keep the explanatory text on the donate page to a minimum. A compelling image, an example of how their donation will be used, and a streamlined donation form will maintain momentum and ensure audiences don’t bounce before giving.