One of the biggest issues for nonprofit approval for the Google Ad Grant program, is the condition of the organization’s website. If you received a disapproval notice from Google Ads Grant program like the one below, read on.
“You submitted a website that cannot be approved in its current state.” or “Your ads lead to a website that cannot be approved in its current state.”
There a many reasons your nonprofit was not approved based on these notices. Below, you will find a few reasons why Google Ad Grant generated the notice during the approval process.
Domain Name Registration
First, your nonprofit must own its domain name. Usually is not a problem. However, check to ensure that the organization is the Registered Agent for the domain. You can check by performing a “whois” search on any search engine. Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has a “whois” check. But, ICANN does not support all top level domains. Search online for other “whois” checkers that may fit your needs. The last option is to check the domain name provider records. If you need to change the registration information, there are steps required before proceeding. Each domain name register is different, so read the domain provider’s documentation.
Examples of domain names you do not own and cannot be approved to use include but are not limited to: [ sites.google/sites/example, example.sites.google.com, example.wordpress.com, example.wix.com, example.squarespace.com]. You cannot own top level domain names like wordpress.com,wix.com, squarespace.com, or google.com. If your website is hosted on any of those top level domains or similar, then the organization’s website is a subdomain of the top level domain.
You will need to register a domain name. Many sites offer domain registration for nonprofits. Fees for domain registration vary but can start between $12 per year and up. There are a ton of domain name registers, so choose carefully.
Slow loading websites.
Google don’t like no slow loading website. Yeap, I wrote it just like I meant to say it. Optimize your website for page speed. Your web hosting platform could be a major reason for slow loading pages. You cannot optimize websites hosted on providers like Wix and Squarespace.
Shared hosting is slightly better than Wix or Squarespace. However, even with shared hosting you don’t have complete control of the server. Shared hosting has limited ways to implement caching mechanisms. If your website uses WordPress or is generated with PHP, there are several program level caches such as OPcache, APC, and Redis to help speed things up a bit. Caching depend how the website was programmed and the underlying code.
Virtual private servers (cloud) and dedicated servers can improve page speeds tremendously. VPS and dedicated servers usually allow root access to install server level caching like Varnish Cache or Squid Proxy. Your web developer or server administrator has an increase amount of control over caching.
Typical server level caches include Squid Proxy, Varnish Cache, and Nginx. Most shared hosting won’t allow you to implement those caches. You can add meme-cache and load balancing to improve Page Speed. My suggestion, don’t skip on your server. You pay more upfront, but the benefits outweigh the cost.
Optimize page speed performance by boosting your server resources (RAM AND CPU) and using website themes optimized to serve content efficiently. Your server administrator and website developer need to have a conversation. Unless they are the same person, well…..
Reasons to get a dedicated server
For a lot of nonprofits, the cost of a dedicated web server could fall well beyond their price range. Dedicated servers operate like your home computer. Dedicated severs need maintenance and updating, monitoring for attacks or overload, and to be patched. You must have a server administrator with Virtual Private Servers or dedicated servers. There are many reasons to rent a dedicated server. If your nonprofit’s website has over 1 million page views per month, then a dedicated server will probably be your best option for web hosting.
PCI-DSS requires a dedicated server for any business collecting and storing credit card information. (You are in for a lot of hassle, compliance, and regulations issues with PCI-DSS). I am not getting into PCI-DSS compliance. It’s just too much!
Some platforms have high computational processing power requirements. For example, your organization’s strategic plan involves implementing an e-Courseware or learning management system (LMS) for students or staff. EdX’s Open Source LMS requires high CPU, RAM, and disk storage.
Another example of choosing a dedicated server over shared hosting or VPS, is HIPPA compliance. If your nonprofit is required to comply with HIPPA regulations, then federal compliance overrules and you may need a dedicated server to store sensitive information. Only consider dedicated servers for specific reasons.There are other reasons for dedicated hosting that are beyond this post. But those are a few.
Large un-optimized images also effect page speed.
Large images hurt page speed. Google Ad Grant approval process involves a check of your website. The user’s web browser loads content, such as images and videos in a synchronous mode (everything downloads in linear fashion). During the loading process, images and videos block other content from loading. You can use Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) as a workaround (there are many available including Google, Amazon Web Services CloudFront, and many more). You can also compress image files into smaller sizes. Mobile devices cannot handle large 10MB image files. So remember to optimize images for mobile devices.
Optimizing image files can be done in a variety of ways from the server to your Cascading Style Sheet (.css files). It’s important to resize images as necessary. Don’t skip out on image optimization.
Image compression saves bandwidth if you have a set max bandwidth per month. Images can be compressed into smaller files with simple photo editing software.
- JPEGs are the most compressed files.
- SVG files have a lot more flexibility when being sized by device and you don’t lose details on zoom.
- PNG and GIF files and all other image files are larger!
- WebP file formats are supposes to be the new more optimized compressed image file types for web. However, converting jpeg & png files to WebP is not so straight forward.
So consider the types of images you use on a website. Also, think about serving images from cloud storage platforms. This allows the images to parallel load with your self hosted content files.
Google Page Speed Test tool checks the website, then displays a list of recommendations on what to fix (but not necessarily how to fix it). Improve desktop and mobile page speed with the recommendations given. Follow the recommendations as much as possible. Some recommendations require server level optimization. But, do what you can on the content level, especially images and videos.
Single page websites.
Google Ad Grant policies states websites must have substantial content. Single page websites are just that-single page. Google bots want to follow links within your website. Single Page Websites cannot be used with Google Ad Grant.
In particular bots are looking for specific information. In the about section state you are a nonprofit organization! I have assessed a lot of nonprofit websites. It’s amazing at how many don’t have that statement. You must have a clearly defined mission statement and what your nonprofit does. This leads to the next issue of not enough content on the website.
Make sure your nonprofit is transparent about it’s location, who it serves, and the people it serves. If people land on your website and cannot immediately determine this information, maybe it’s time for a rewrite of content.
About section does not have required nonprofit statements.
A lot of nonprofits fail to mention that they are indeed a nonprofit. Don’t make people do extra work. Users won’t check GuideStar or the Internal Revenue Exempt Organization (IRS EO) for information. I will, though. Most people DON’T! This is part of the transparency issue I see with nonprofits.
Missing data. You need to put your location and contact information on every page of your website. You may also need to have a statement on each page of your nonprofit status & EIN.
If you are not a nationally known nonprofit, then your trust factor may be little to non-existent. Who are your board of directors and what are their credentials? Have a page of your board of directors and staff members.
How can people find your annual report or other supporting documentation? Provide links to annual reports, 990s, and financial audits. United States Federal law requires tax exempt nonprofits make 990s accessible. If I ask for your nonprofit’s 990s, you must provide it.
What about your Employer Identification Number (EIN-US based nonprofits)? What state are you incorporated? This information is crucial for nonprofit websites. Make information accessible to your users. Provide documentation about privacy for donors and website users. Inform people of how the organization collects and uses information online. Google Ad requires privacy disclosures if you collect and use demographic information. Provide a telephone number for people to contact the organization. You are building trust. Give people more information!
Not having a Secure Socket Layer Certificate (SSL certificate).
Search engines and web browsers have made SSL a standard and not an exception (Bing Search, Google Search & Chrome, Firefox). Some web host now allow you to use Let’s Encrypt SSL services (which you must update every 90 days). Let’s Encrypt provides a free SSL. It can save your nonprofit a ton of cash. However, e-Commerce and donation section, need a specialized SSL. Purchase an SSL certificate that has some type of insurance guarantee. Price varies, but if you are collecting payment information, then an SSL is a must.
Do you plan to store user/donor/buyers credit card information on a dedicated server? The credit card industry’s PCI-DSS requires a SSL certificate. Dedicated servers are required to operate intrusion detection, virus/trojan/worm scans. You cannot store credit card transaction data with Wix, SquareSpace, or shared hosting, or VPS. You must have a dedicated server to store credit card information.
Commercial activities policy-ecommerce, linking to commercial websites, affiliate linking, linking to bad websites.
Google already gives you a hint. No AdSense. It is the executive leadership team’s decision to consider which program (Google Adsense or Google Ad for Nonprofit) is more viable. Weigh the pros and cons of switching to Google Ads Grant program verse using AdSense. Choose wisely.
Affiliate marketing links are a no-no with Google Ads Grant program. Amazon Smiles program is pushing the limit. I would include Amazon Smiles program in the affiliate marketing category, however many nonprofits with the Google Ad Grant continue to use Amazon Smiles.
If you out link to other websites, check each link. Are the links active? Google Ad Grants team has a blacklist of commercial websites. Only they have the list. Sometimes, a website will have a few. Ask yourself, could an external link be commercial. If Google Bots encounter any link that produces a browser warning, the link is considered malicious. Fix or remove the bad link from your website. Remove links leading to a external hacked website.
Hacked websites are a big no with Google Ad Grant. Check the health of your organization’s website with Google Search Console. If your website is hacked after approval, your account will be deactivated. Hacked prior, but working on cleaning up the website? You cannot apply to Google Ad Grants until the organization’s website is clean. Google Search also removes (a process called de-index) hacked websites from its search results! Wait for Google to re-approve your website to appear in Google Search. Again, monitor your organization’s website health with Google Search Console. Scan and remove bad outbound links on the website.
Another reason for disapproval, are some websites resemble a commercial business. A second reason for disapproval, is the website has a 100% e-Commerced focused. Reword written content and expound on the nonprofit’s mission. You are building awareness for your organization’s cause. Let people know what you do! Disapproval for commercial websites, is rare for Google Ad Grants. If you received a disapproval based on the “commercial” policy, assess how you promote your services on the website. Does it appear you offer no real services, support, or benefit your community? If your organization’s website appears like a for profit entity, you have work to do. This is why it’s important to include nonprofit and tax exempt status throughout your website.
Now to the next issue…….
Does your nonprofit sell product, goods, or services with an e-Commerce store? If yes, provide a clear statement on the website explaining how sales benefit the organization. Or you could link to an annual report that has the information. Again, this is a transparency issue. The Internal Revenue Services makes 990s and determination letters easy to download. Most people will not do this.
Solicitation of donation requires specific wording. Donation landing pages must state the nonprofit’s tax exempt status. The page must also make it clear whether donations are tax exempt. If part of the donation is tax exempt, the landing page must state the portion. Also, include your EIN or charity registration number on donation pages as it’s required by Google Ads (not only Google Ad Grant).
Last, but not least! No Search Engine Optimization.
On managed content platforms like Wix and Squarespace, there is only so much Search Engine Optimization you can do. SEO extends beyond optimizing content. A part of SEO includes improving the server. But again improving the server is beyond this discussion (I am not a server admin expert!).
Google Ad Grant Policy: Your site must have a robust and clear description of your organization, mission, and activities. It must have substantial content, updated events and information, clear navigation, and clear calls to action for a high quality user experience.
Google Ads issues quality scores for keywords on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest). Keywords with a quality score of 1 or 2 must be paused within the Google Ads Grant account.
One part of the quality score is landing page experience. A well developed content strategy will improve success with Google Ad Grant program. Build multiple landing pages and content around what your nonprofit does.
Tip: If you are approved for Google Ads Grant, it’s bad practice to land every ad on the home page.
I will even go to the point of stating user experience is part of SEO. Clearly defined call to actions are important. A lot of times it hard for me to find those possible conversion points on nonprofit websites. If I have a problem finding it, then other users won’t be able to find your call to actions either. Make call to actions stand out!
Stuck at the website approval process for Google Ad Grant? Leave a message on the Google Ads Grant Community Forum. Add your message along with your website address. There are several people within the forum (along with myself) who will give you solid advice about fixing the rejection issues (all advice is free!). However, community members only make suggestions. You have to work with your web developer to make changes. Don’t get defensive about the critiques. Take the advice as assisting you in making your website better.
Thanks for reading,