Friends of The Smokies: A Cause Inspired Case Study

Friends of The Smokies: A Cause Inspired Case Study

Friends of The Smokies: A Cause Inspired Case Study

Since 1993, Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been working to assist the National Park Service in its mission to “preserve and protect Great Smoky Mountains National Park by raising funds and public awareness, and providing volunteers for needed projects.” In order to fulfill this mission, Friends of The Smokies primarily relies on donations, guided hikes, volunteers, and purchases of their license plates. Details about all of these important items are located on their responsive, easily navigable website.

They began working with Google Grants mid 2015, and their grant was being managed completely by Marketing Manger, Brent McDaniel. In addition to his normal marketing responsibilities, Brent was actively managing their $10,000 monthly grant. This was no small task or time commitment. He was running campaigns based around general brand awareness, as well as basic promotion for guided hikes and license plates. However, like most nonprofit marketing managers, Google grant management was not Brent’s sole responsibility, and it unfortunately had to take a back seat to his typical duties. Despite this, Brent was able to get their monthly AdSpend up to around $1,000, with a click-through-rate (CTR) of 3% (indicating that 3% of those who saw his ads, clicked through to the website). Although these metrics are not ideal by our standards, for someone with limited time and experience, Brent’s management was off to a good start.

Let’s fast forward to the 3rd Quarter of 2016, when Cause Inspired Media took over their grant management. After they became a client, we did an initial audit of their AdWords account, and found that although Brent was on the right track, there were clear changes that needed to be made. As it turned out, they were getting most of their web traffic from people searching for hiking opportunities. They were not tracking conversions (people who go from simply browsing a website, to performing a desired action), and were only bidding on about 4-6 words/phrases that were actually clicked on. Some examples of what they were bidding on include: “Smoky Mountain Trails,” “Great Smoky Mountain Hikes,” and “Trails in the Smoky Mountains.” Although hiking programs are a significant part of Friends of The Smokies’ mission, they are not the only revenue-driving aspect to the organization.

After our initial account audit and conversations with Brent, we created campaigns that more accurately reflected Friends of The Smokies’ goals. We significantly expanded Brent’s campaigns for license plates in Tennessee and North Carolina, general brand awareness, and hiking programs. We even added campaigns for their various annual events. Now, rather than bidding on a handful of keywords and only seeing clicks on a few of them, we are now bidding on hundreds of more relevant keywords and are seeing significant clicks on most of them. Here’s what the data shows:

Metric: Clicks Impressions Click-Through-Rate (CTR) = Clicks / Impressions Total Monthly Spend
July 2016 (before working with CIM) 517 17,811 3.01% $845.79
July 2017 (with CIM) 4,253 105,594 4.03% $5,953.47


But what does this data mean? Do these numbers indicate real value?

As the data suggests, since we began working with Friends of the Smokies, their clicks, impressions, CTR, and ad spend all increased dramatically. A “click-through-rate” is the percentage of individuals who saw the ad, connected with it, and then clicked through to their website. Google considers anything above 1% to be an effective CTR. This increase indicates that we were able to create advertisements that were relevant to the search performed, and that those ads effectively reflected the content on the web page. This helps ensure that the people visiting their website are there with a purpose, and are more likely to convert (perform a desired action, like, donate, sign up for a program, request information, etc.).

But aside from this, we also have been using Tag Manager in Google Analytics to track conversions. Someone who converts simply performs a desired action on a website. For Friends of the Smokies, a conversion could be an inquiry about a license plate, a newsletter sign up, or a donation. This method of tracking allows us to see that people who have clicked on the ads we created actually ended up adding real value to the organization. Just last month (July 2017), we were able to see that multiple people submitted license plate inquiries, signed up for their newsletter, and donated. By tracking conversions through Tag Manager, we are able to correlate real value for the nonprofit to the Google Grant, and actually see, step-by-step, how the conversion happened.

If you’re like most nonprofits, your marketing department might not be big enough for full time management of the Google Grant. But, with a trusted, certified partner in Google Adwords and Analytics, you can be confident in the fact that your digital marketing efforts will lead to added value for your organization. Adwords is a proven tool that works well to increase brand awareness, donations, volunteers, newsletter sign-ups, and much more. While it can be costly for the for-profit world, nonprofit organizations have an upper hand with the Google Grant. Cause Inspired Media has been able to help Friends of the Smokies, and many other nonprofits who were in a similar position.

If you’re interested in using the Google Grant to promote the goals and mission of your organization, contact us! We’re happy to help!

By: Emily Dietz, Strategic Planning & Operations Manager