Libraries Can Get $10,000 a Month in Google Ads for Free. Here’s How.

Trey Gordner /

Trey Gordner is the founder of Koios: helping libraries show up online.

How we found out about Google Ad Grants

At the ALA Midwinter conference, I led a roundtable discussion on Google visibility. Near the end, I asked, what I hoped was a provocative question: “How many of you buy ads on Google?” Out of a room of 20 library directors, 4 raised their hands. “Okay,” I said, “Anyone willing to say how much they spend?” No one spoke.

Finally, one director said: “Well, we’re part of a nonprofit program. We pay our ad agency a small amount per month and get $10,000 of ads.”

I nodded, meanwhile thinking, “This library is caught in a scam.”

But I was wrong! They weren’t caught in a scam, they were taking advantage of a great program! I’ve since concluded that Google Ad Grants are the biggest marketing opportunity available to libraries today. And most library staff don’t even know the program exists.

What is a Google Ad?

When you use Google to do a search, most of the results you see on the first page are there “organically,” meaning Google rated them the best results for your search. Google also reserves a few premium spaces for paid results. Search for a product or service of any kind on Google, and you’re likely to see something like this:

Example of a Google Ad search result. Website promoted is uncommongoods.com

Ordinarily, a paid result might show up on page 2 or page 10, but by offering a small “bid” (usually $1-2), the site can appear at the top of the first page. If you click on the paid result, the site owner pays Google his or her bid for the specific words used in your search.

In the example above, Uncommon Goods “extended” their ad and included their phone number. A site owner can also limit when the ad appears, such as only on a certain device (mobile or desktop) or only in a certain area (example: city or county limits). This is one way in which your local florist can appear beside 1-800-FLOWERS in your Google results. Or, for instance, how the library can show up next to Amazon for a book you both carry.

Why Ad Grants?

Google realized that with all of the competition around search engine optimization (being the first result organically) and pay-per-click Google Ads, nonprofits could be crowded out of top results. So they created the Google Ad Grants program. Nonprofits can set up an advertiser account with Google AdWords, just like a business would, and bid on words and phrases they care about. But instead of the nonprofit paying the bid, Google donates it in-kind: up to $10,000 per month. And if you spend all of it (hard to do), the ads simply stop showing. There’s no additional charge.

What do we do with them?

You may be thinking, “What would I even do with $10,000 of Google ads?” If you’re bidding just $1 a click, that’s a lot of search power. In fact, if you were to get a click-through rate of 4%, that means the library could appear as a top result up to 250,000 times every month. Here are a few ideas from libraries that have already implemented Google Ads:

  1. Promote your collections
    Image of a Google ad for the The Great Gatsby and the Chattanooga Public LibraryChattanooga Public Library (CPL) uses Google Ads to promote their physical and digital collections. When a Chattanooga resident searches “thirteen reasons why book” or other titles and authors in the library’s collection, they see an ad like this. The ad to the right also shows some of the extensions CPL has added: information about their hours, as well as a few of their popular book lists.
  2. Promote your programs
    Image of a Google ad for the Summer Reading Challenge at the Toledo-Lucas County Public LibraryToledo-Lucas County Public Library uses Google Ads to promote their programs, including their Summer Reading Challenge. When a parent in Toledo searches “summer activities for kids” or “children's books” they learn about a great, relevant program for kids at their local library.
  3. Promote your databases
    Image of a Google ad for learning Chinese at the Washoe County Library SystemWashoe County Library System uses Google Ads to promote their databases, including Mango Languages. When an aspiring language learner searches for any of Mango’s 72 available languages, they see that they can learn a language through the library for free.

How do I qualify?

Any verified nonprofit organization can apply for Google Ad Grants. Libraries, as government organizations, do not qualify directly. However, Google’s terms make special provision for “philanthropic arms of educational organizations.” So, if your Friends of the Library or Library Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3), they qualify. And, in keeping with their mission to support the library, they can use the grant to promote library resources. Google has a specific enrollment process for nonprofits, so follow these instructions closely. Also, be sure to read through the program policies before you begin.

Where can I get help?

If you’re excited about Ad Grants, but the prospect of managing them seems daunting, join the Library Search Marketing Roundtable. We’ve organized the group to help libraries and library affiliates share data and best practices around Ad Grants. All the libraries mentioned above are members. And if you need help applying, you can contact me for free assistance.

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