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Should Nonprofits Use the Ad Grants “Maximize Conversions” Bid Strategy?

As per January 1st, 2018 nonprofits can rejoice as the $2 bid cap on Ad Grants was lifted…


…or maybe not.


There’s a catch. You’ll need to use the “maximize conversions” setting. With the manual CPC, enhanced CPC and other (automated) bidding strategies, the $2 bid cap still stands.

(You’ll also want to read our previous post to make sure you’re in compliance with all the new Ad Grants policies).


But hold on – don’t just go ahead and change your bidding strategy to “maximize conversions”.  I know, it sounds great, right? Most of us want to maximize our conversions and it would be awesome if AdWords could optimize our bids. It would save us so much time instead of having to optimize our keyword bids manually. And if that means we can bid >$2, that’s amazing! However, I would strongly recommend to A/B test this change first by running an experiment.

Why? Because we did. And the results can vary significantly.


(We’ve updated this blog on April 23 after running some more experiments that resulted in favor of the Maximize Conversions bidding strategy.)

Maximize Conversions vs. Enhanced CPC – Case Study Results

We ran A/B test for several of our clients; a 50/50 experiment with the old bidding strategy (enhanced CPC) and the new (maximize conversions) and kept all else equal. Here are the results:


Client A: There were fewer conversions and the cost per conversion was higher using Maximize Conversions bidding strategy. This is the most common result my colleagues have also experienced.

maximize conversions vs enhanced CPC bidding strategy experiment A


Client B 1): There were more conversions but the cost per conversion was more expensive using Maximize Conversions bidding strategy

maximize conversions vs enhanced CPC bidding strategy experiment B


Client C: The cost per conversion was less expensive using Maximize Conversions bidding strategy, BUT the CTR was significantly lower– lower than the 5% account average CTR we need to uphold to comply with the new Ad Grants policies. I suppose we could try and optimize this.

maximize conversions vs enhanced CPC bidding strategy experiment C

Client C


Client B 2) & Client D The cost per conversion was less expensive using Maximize Conversions bidding strategy and CTR was similar

Maximize Conversions vs. Enhanced CPA example B2

Client D

When might maximize conversions be successful for you?

There is no way to know for sure if maximize conversions is the right bidding strategy for any of your nonprofit’s campaigns, unless you run an experiment. Generally speaking, it might be worth a shot if:

  • You see a lot of “below first page bid” notifications on keywords where you’re already bidding the maximum $2.00,
  • This is a keyword that some organizations might be making money from (e.g. providing a course, paid service or selling a product), or
  • You know there is more search volume for this topic (e.g. from previous keyword research) and you can meet the search intent but AdWords is just not showing you for these keywords.

If the conversion rate for these keywords is high enough, you could beat your current CPA.

However, do keep an eye on the CTR because, in my experience thus far, the CTR is sometimes under the 5% minimum that we need to keep account wide. For client B, we were fortunate to have a very high CTR previously, so we were able to balance the new campaign with a low CTR (<3%) with the other campaign that has a >20% CTR but a higher CPA. We are currently working on improving the CTR for this campaign so that we can hopefully get even better results.

How to set up an experiment in AdWords

So you’ll want to run your own experiment to decide if maximize conversions is the right strategy for you.

  1. Go to the campaign you want to experiment with and create a new draft
    • In the old AdWords experience, you’ll see a “drafts” button on the top right, next to your date range
    • In the new AdWords experience, there is a tab on the left called “Drafts & Experiments”
  2. Name the campaign experiment (e.g. “Maximize Conversions: [campaign name]”)
  3. Go to your settings and change the bidding strategy to “maximize conversions”
  4. Click “Apply…” and choose “run an experiment”
  5. Name your experiment, choose your start and end dates (1 month is usually a good time frame but it can vary depending on your budget and how many conversions you get), and what % of your campaign budget should go to the experiment (I’d recommend 50%, again depending on budget and # of conversions).
  6. Analyze your results. If your experiment is more successful and you have no other concerns (like low CTR), feel free to implement maximize conversions to the campaign.

Some tips:

  1. Make sure that any secondary or informative conversions are not included in your “conversions” column. Instead, include them in “all conversions”. That will make it easier for AdWords to optimize for the conversions that matter most. You can specify this in your conversion settings.
  2. Don’t make too many changes while the experiment is running.
    • If you make changes to the original campaign they will not automatically be applied to the experiment and vice versa.
    • Automated bidding strategies need time to optimize – making too many changes will make it harder for the algorithm to do so
  3. Think about your goals — your organizational goals, your marketing goals, your Ad Grants goals. Keep these in mind as you analyze the results. Numbers are just numbers, what do these numbers mean for YOUR organizational impact?

For other clients, we’ve mostly seen similar results to Client A; manual / enhanced CPC was more effective than maximize conversions and often let to lower clicks as well. So if you don’t have time to run an experiment yourself, we’d recommend sticking to a manual bidding strategy.

If you have run experiments with the maximize conversions bidding strategy, please let me know what your experience was in the comments below. If you are a nonprofit looking for some help to make the most out of Ad Grants, please get in touch.