A few months back, I was listening to an episode of the Library Figures podcast about a program from Google that gives money to libraries so libraries can buy keyword placement on Google. Maybe I’m the last library marketer to hear about this, but I was excited. I was also keenly aware that I had no idea how to get a grant or how to use it.
Librarians need to promote their products and services where people are looking for help—and that’s on Google. The Google Ad Grants allow libraries that don’t have advertising money to still place ads on the top tier of Google search results.
One thing that makes Google Ads so effective is that you can target them to very specific locations. That means a library’s ads will only be shown to people in its service area who have searched for specific keywords.
Businesses of all sizes use Google ads to promote themselves. There are entire blogs and podcasts dedicated to figuring out how to buy the best placement. It’s a complicated process, but it works, which is why everyone spends so much time and money on it!
For help figuring it out, I asked questions of Kathy Dempsey and Trey Gordner of Koios, a company that specifically helps libraries apply for, and then use, Google Ad Grants.
Kathy Dempsey loves library marketing. She’s been editor of Marketing Library Services for 25 years, and she wrote the book The Accidental Library Marketer. She teaches others about marketing in person and online, across North America. Dempsey was the founding chair of the Library Marketing and Communications Conference, and she’s recently begun handling marketing and PR for Koios because she believes in the company’s mission.
Trey Gordner never wants to hear “I didn’t know the library had that” again. His company, Koios, helps libraries appear first in local Google search results, teaching community members about everything their libraries offer. When Gordner is not lost in the Googleverse, he can be found hunting for wild mushrooms, advocating for ranked-choice voting, or grumbling about zoning to his remarkably patient wife.
An important note: Koios is not paying me for the post. I actually interviewed their sales rep as I researched this topic for my library. I thought my readers might benefit from hearing about Google Ad Grants. I’ve known Kathy on LinkedIn for quite a while too. I am deeply grateful for her help in creating this particular post. Thanks, Kathy! ❤️
Can you explain a little bit about the Google Ad Grants program–what is it, and why is it helpful to libraries? The Google Ad Grants program has something in common with a library: Non-users may hear about it now and then, but they’re not sure what it actually offers, how incredible it really is, or how much it can help them. It’s like an open secret—but Koios is trying to change that.
When you do a Google search, the results you usually see at the top (everything with “Ad” in a subtle green box) are “paid results.” A company has bid on a keyword that you searched for, so the ad that’s tied to that keyword shows up first, before any “organic” (unpaid) search results. So, as is often the case with paid advertising, whoever spends the most money gets seen by the most people.
The Google Ad Grants program levels the playing field for organizations that don’t have money to spend on ads. Google offers nonprofits advertising credits so that they, too, have a chance to appear on the top of search results lists. Each grant offers up to $10,000 a month (not a typo!) in credits, so that libraries and other qualifying nonprofits can advertise right next to the for-profit companies.
What does Google get out of this deal? Great question! Google says, in this video, that it’s all about “social good.” This is also a nice 5-minute summary of the program. However, since the video was made, the name has been changed from “AdWords” to “Google Ads.”
How do libraries go about applying for the grant? You can apply online any time. First, you need to have an account with TechSoup, since that organization is part of Google’s approval process. You’ll also need to create a Google for Nonprofits account. Both accounts are free to set up.
Google’s Ad Grant application instructions can be found here. The whole process takes just a few hours. For nonprofits that would like help applying, Koios will guide you. And when Koios’ certified Ad Grants experts are involved, they guarantee you’ll be approved, as long as your organization has the necessary 501(c)(3) status.
What are the chances that a library will be rejected and why might that happen? First, you should know that this is not a competitive grant. There are not just a few slots that everyone is competing for. These “grants” are given to every 501(c)(3) nonprofit that qualifies and applies. There are no specific times for enrollment or for the grant to end. The program began in 2004, and runs in perpetuity.
If a library has the proper nonprofit status, and that’s verified in its TechSoup account, the only reasons to be rejected would be errors in the application. If, however, Google does reject your Ad Grants account, it will share the reason and allow you to re-apply.
When a library doesn’t have the necessary nonprofit designation, it can apply through its Friends Group or Foundation and still get grant funds.
Once a library is accepted, how time consuming is it to do research and keep up to date on compliance? The time varies, but the key principle is that no one should expect to simply “set it and forget it.” Google’s policies require “active management” of every grant it awards.
To get the most out of the grant, when library staffers are running it themselves, they should expect to spend 4–8 hours each month reviewing the performance, addressing compliance issues, and adding/updating campaigns. This doesn’t count any time spent on determining what to advertise or on creating the specific landing pages that Google requires ad links to go to. With the Koios Ads service, staffers need only spend about an hour per month—15 minutes reviewing the account on their own, plus a 30- to 45-minute meeting with Koios to discuss new ideas and priorities.
Using the grant isn’t terribly difficult, but it does require someone who understands the grant program and the details of search engine marketing, and who has the time to work on it at least once a month. This is why many library systems use the Koios Ads service to administer the grant. However, librarians are welcome to do it on their own. Once they’ve gotten a grant, even if Koios helped apply, the ad credits are theirs to keep and use.
One caveat: Google reserves the right to change Ad Grant compliance rules at any time, and the company exercises that right frequently. You must follow those updates closely and adjust your account to meet the new rules. If you don’t, Google will warn you, then it might “suspend” your account.
Google sends warnings once a month when something in an account doesn’t conform to its rules. If you don’t fix the issues listed in the non-compliance report within 2 weeks, Google will suspend your account. Suspended accounts can always be reinstated, but it takes at least 2 weeks, and of course you must fix all non-compliance issues first. Moreover, none of your ads will show while your account is suspended.
How does Koios help with the whole process? Koios helps in both basic ways and in specialized ways. First, the basic actions Koios handles:
1. It offers free help with the grant application.
2. It offers a 30-day free trial, during which Koios experts discuss what’s important to each library, set up initial ad campaigns, monitor them, and report back to the client.
3. After the trial period, if librarians sign up for the Koios Ads service, the company handles the following tasks:
* meets with librarians to determine what they want to promote
* researches key words and phrases around the chosen topics
* creates the Google Ads and links
* creates the required landing pages
* runs many campaigns at once for maximum impact
* monitors analytics and tweak ads to improve performance
* prepares monthly reports for clients
* ensures continuous grant compliance
The company also offers two deeper advantages, things librarians could not do for themselves:
1. Koios developed its own artificial intelligence bot for Ad Grants, which it calls Grantsbot. This AI runs daily compliance checks on every account, so clients never have to worry about their grants being suspended.
2. Koios runs campaigns that librarians would be unable to create or manage on their own. For instance, its “catalog campaign” integrates with a client’s ILS so that, when someone searches for a title and / or author the library holds in its catalog, library ads show up in response to that Google search. Koios Ads can do the same for libraries’ events calendars and for larger databases. Such huge campaigns would be unmanageable without the vendor partnerships and custom software we’ve developed to manage Ad Grants.
When libraries use our Koios Ads service, the only things their staffers have to do is meet monthly to discuss goals and results.
What are some successes that libraries have celebrated due to Google Ad grants and Koios? Libraries have successfully promoted upcoming programs, business and career resources, streaming media, in-person services, and genealogy resources, for example. Many have increased their database usage. One in particular has increased its revenue (case study). We’re actively adding case studies to our website to share data on successes.
Koios’ mission is to promote everything a library does. It’s not just about increasing circulation—you can run ads for events, for services like meeting rooms, and more. So Koios often runs 20+ campaigns at once for each client.
How much does it cost to hire Koios and how can libraries contact you for more information? Pricing depends on two factors—service population and the breadth of resources you want to promote. The important point is that you shouldn’t let budget dissuade you from trying the Ad Grant. Koios will work with you to build a package that meets your primary goals and fits within your budget. It also offers discounts through the Amigos and Califa consortia.
Contact Koios via a form on the home page or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 803-570-2144.
One current partner, Keith Merckx at Pioneer Library System in Oklahoma, said that working with Koios allows his library “to implement these ads at a fraction of what it would cost us to hire a person for a position that would mostly consist of the services offered by Koios.”
Need more information? You can contact Kathy Dempsey at Kathy@LibrariesAreEssential.com or Trey Gordner at Trey@Koios.co.
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