Whether you call it “sponsored content,” “advertorial,” a “promoted post,” or “branded content;” native advertising is a super powerful tool for brands and businesses of all sizes.
If you’re starting to explore native advertising or want to get a better understanding of what it is, you’ve come to the right place.
In this post, we’ll discuss the definition of native advertising, why it works, and how to incorporate it into your overarching content marketing strategy.
Let’s dive in.
What is Native Advertising?
Native Advertising vs. Content Marketing
There is a general misunderstanding with native advertising.
Content marketing is a long-term, strategic initiative that involves creating and distributing high-quality and consistent content with the goal of building trust, demonstrating unparalleled value to consumers and ultimately driving customer behavior. Native advertising is a means of distributing such content in an unobtrusive, yet promotional way.
In short, content marketing is the goal, and native advertising is one tactic that can be used to accomplishing this goal.
You can have content marketing without native ads, but you can’t have native ads without content marketing.
And, the most effective content strategy, typically includes both.
Native Advertising Definition
So what is native advertising, anyway?
Native advertising refers to paid content that blends in with its surroundings. This form of advertising is typically content-forward and is an unobtrusive way to get your brand in front of a new audience.
Since marketers love to come up with new ways to describe tactics, you may have also heard native advertising referred to as branded content, sponsored content, an advertorial, or a promoted post.
We’ll dive more into why you should care about native advertising below, but for now, just know that it’s a great way to provide relevant information to a targeted audience in a way that doesn’t disrupt the user experience.
What Native Advertising Looks Like
Most internet users today are tremendously skilled at spotting ads and as a result, are tired of having their browsing experience interrupted by ads. They’ve found solutions to improve their experience and in fact, in 2019, 25.6% of internet users in the U.S.had installed ad-blocking software.
This of course, creates a challenge for advertisers, and they’ve discovered less disruptive ways to advertise. Subtle native advertising generates much more engagement than standard business ads. Native ads yield a 40x higher click-through rate compared to traditional advertisements.
Native advertising relies on the same concept of creating high-quality content. The only difference is you’re paying to have it there.
You’ll find native advertising across all digital marketing platforms, including websites and social media.
No matter which platform it is on, native advertising will mostly blend into its surroundings. This cohesive quality is what gives the tactic its name – it appears to be from the same source as everything around it.
The place you’ll find native advertising most often is on news publications, such as SFGATE.
The homepage below is filled with the latest and greatest news stories, along with one sponsored post highlighted in gray. Native advertising isn’t meant to trick readers, so you’ll always see some sort of “sponsored” designation.
For example, readers interested in business and technology may come across a promoted piece of content by Microsoft like the one below on Forbes.
Native advertising can also feature evergreen content.
Business Insider ran a promoted story about a colorful variety of corn for a seed seller, and it has since been updated due to its lasting popularity.
A branded post can also be shared by an influencer in a given niche.
Much like sponsored posts on national or international publications, native advertising in conjunction with an influencer has the same form and function as other pieces of content on their site or social media pages.
Platform-specific native advertising is yet another form of the method.
For a price, your company can place a branded hashtag that appears at the top of the Trends bar.
While the example from Patron Tequila below is clearly labeled as sponsored, it still blends in more with its surroundings than a pop-up video ad would.
Types of Native Ads
As noted, native adverting can come in a variety of formats. Here’s a rundown on the six main types of native ads you might come across.
In-Feed Ad Units
In-feed ad units promote sponsored content that appears in-line with other articles from a specific publisher.
Promoted social media posts also fall into this category. In this format, the content is designated as “sponsored” and matches the look and feel as all other content from the publication.
This type of native ad format refers to sponsored listings on e-commerce sites and directories such as Amazon or Yelp. These don’t technically contain editorial content, but they are designed to seamlessly integrate with the user’s visual experience.
In the example below, you can see two promoted listings on Amazon that appeared after “marketing books” was searched:
Paid Search Units
While you may find promoted listings on websites like Yelp, Google and other search engines have a similar ad unit often referred to as a paid search unit. These are the sponsored ads that appear at the top of the search results page:
While clearly shown as advertisements, these links blend in seamlessly with the rest of the results in order to blend in.
Another area where you’ll find native ads is in recommendation widgets. You’ll often encounter these ads on the sidebar of a web page, at the end of an article, or placed between organic content in order to recommend additional content you might like based on your browsing behavior.
These sponsored recommendations are paid for by the advertiser and placed programmatically across different websites based on specifically defined targeting using a content amplification network.
In the above example, you will see a note that says “Sponsored Links by Taboola.” Taboola is one of the many networks available for creating recommended content.
Display Ad with Native Elements
Similar to regular display ads, display ads with native elements are contextually relevant to the site they appear on and the adjacent content on the page. While you can tell that this ad for Campbell’s recipe collection is not the same as the recipes found on allrecipes.com, the content is relevant to the viewer because it is of a similar topic:
When we refer to native advertising on this site, we are primarily referring to this format. As one of the largest publishing companies in the world, we have a robust set of native advertising solutions that we can offer to our clients.
Our in-house content marketing agency The StoryStudio specifically works with brands to produce and promote high-impact content experiences that are typically housed on one of our owned web properties like SFGATE:
These stories are labelled as sponsored and because they are produced by our team and promoted to our consumer audiences, they are extremely successful at raising brand awareness and driving engagement for our client base.
You can learn more about The StoryStudio in this quick video:
Why Native Advertising Works
Now that we have basics of what native advertising is, we need to cover why it works.
The fact is, the ROI of native advertising is too good to ignore. Someone who views a native ad is 18% more likely to purchase your product or service than someone who views a display ad.
Here, we’ll cover the reasons why native is so successful and some benefits of using it for your business.
The Benefits of Native Advertising
Native advertising extends your content distribution and captures the attention of your target audience better than traditional, leading to creator conversations, engagement, and conversions. When you engage with your audience, you build more relevancy and receive higher loyalty.
When you reach your target audience on as many platforms as appropriately possible, you increase the life-span of your content.
This, in turn, offers a higher ROI potential on a per-asset basis.
Reasons Why Native Advertising Works
1. Native Ads Provide a Positive User Experience
One reason for higher CTRs is the lack of disruption native advertising has on the user experience.
A reader comes across a piece of useful content when they’re browsing a news site that interests them. They’ve already been clicking around between articles, and even though they see a post is sponsored, the topic seems interesting.
The best part?
Clicking on the native ad won’t redirect them to a different site. A reader is able to be informed or entertained without having to interrupt their on-site browsing.
2. Native Ads Feel More Trustworthy and Are More Likely to Be Shared
Customer preference for native ads is also apparent in their willingness to pass interesting info along. One study found that consumers look at native ads 53% more than banner ads, and they’re also more willing to share the ad with friends and family.
Not only do native ads have strong click-through rates, but they also have a greater potential of being forwarded (AKA free advertising to new leads).
3. Native Ads Have Been Proven to Increase Brand Awareness Effectively
Another study found that native advertising increases brand awareness by 69% and increases purchase intent to 51%.
Bottom line? Native advertising is a winning marketing tactic.
It is good for consumers and brands alike, and many savvy marketers have noticed. eMarketer predicted that 64% of display advertising spend in 2020 would go to native advertising:
Despite a flattening of the curve, native advertising is still growing.
Understanding Why Native Advertising is Efficient
To understand why native advertising is so efficient, we first need to understand the problem with content distribution and advertising in general. It should come as no surprise that we live in a highly saturated and information overloaded society.
To stand above the noise and make headways, you need not just exceptional content but a comprehensive distribution strategy.
Native advertising is a useful tool to include in your distribution strategy. It’s a great way to distribute your content and expand your reach getting closer to the ultimate goal of engagement. Native advertising in tandem with content marketing speeds up the process of reaching your audience.
Best Industries for Native Advertising
Companies across all industries can take advantage of the power of native advertising. From wineries attracting new customers to B2B businesses establishing thought leadership, there’s something for every business owner in native advertising.
Some of the most impactful native ad opportunities live within the B2C space. As people become more immune to “traditional” marketing, brands are turning to native, interactive content experiences to spread the word about their brand and offerings. Some of the top performers in the B2C category include:
As for businesses in the B2B space, advertorials placed in industry-specific or reputable publications can do wonders for adding credibility and brand trust. Here are the top B2B industries using native advertising to their advantage:
How to Use Native Advertising
Like with most marketing initiatives, there are a handful of strategies you can implement and best practices to follow. When you can’t reach the people you’re supposed to with traditional content marketing, paid ads can be a practical solution to:
- Promote content that is considered too niche to be found organically
- Reach new, highly-targeted audiences on social media or relevant websites
- Promote cornerstone content or other high-level content to drive organic sharing
- Optimize for Google and other search engines
- Generate guest-posting and content syndication
- Increase your backlink signals
It’s more complicated to measure the ROI from your advertising efforts, but if you can successfully do the steps below, you can expect plenty of hyper-targeted traffic to your site.
Step One. Do Your Research
Going into a campaign blindly is a surefire way to waste money. For native advertising to work well, you need your content to fit with the publisher’s style, tone, theme, and overall feel.
Know your target audience and know them well – from what digital channels they frequent to how they like their coffee.
Understanding their every move, thought, feeling, objection, and so on should be the very first thing you determine before you embark on implementing any content marketing strategy, especially one that involves financial investment.
Specifically, as it pertains to content, you’ll want to determine what kind of content they want based on their buying journey as well as their overall motivations, needs, and goals, their current relationship with your brand and what publishers are they looking at to get this content.
Find your laser-targeted publishers – the native advertising platform you choose will most likely already have a team of experts ready to give you all the details you need in regards to the different publishers. That said, you should still do your due diligence and conduct research so you know exactly you should be creating.
Most importantly, keep your business goals in mind. It’s often very easy for budding entrepreneurs and business owners to get entangled with the latest marketing initiative only to deploy a tactic not aligned to their overall goal.
Step Two. Identify Your Content
There is a plethora of content you can create for your content marketing strategy which includes blog posts, podcasts, infographics, earned media, social media, videos and so much more.
Whatever content type you choose to create, you’ll want to make sure it is engaging enough to educate or entertain readers. Though blog posts and infographics are the obvious choices most marketers make, it’s expected and not original.
You’ll never really stand above the noise if you’re doing the same thing as everyone else.
You should look at what content of yours is already getting the most engagement and base your creative choices on that. It could be social media content, newsletters, videos, illustrations, infographics, podcasts, webinars, e-books, etc. Keep in mind content preferences vary on your customers’ personas.
Once you determine what type of content you want to promote, you must tailor it to match the tone on the site your promoting it on.
Though you want it to follow a similar tone and fashion to the publisher’s site, you should still make sure to correctly label your content and use body copy to guide your reader to your intended goal seamlessly.
Step Three. Optimize Your Landing Page
If you are placing a native ad that directs people back to your website, you’ll need to have a great landing page for when they click. How to build a well-designed landing page is beyond the scope of this article, but you’ll want to make sure every tiny detail, from the font size to the calls-to-action are placed strategically and positioned in a way that maximizes conversions.
You’ll also want to make sure that user’s first impression all the way through to their experience on your site is consistent. This means weaving the same messaging and design elements (like colors, fonts, and images) into each step in the process.
This also means implementing targeted keywords as appropriate.
Step Four. Know Your Ad Networks and Platforms
Once you’ve determined the type of native ads you want to run, you’ll need to figure out which platforms (or native ad networks) to host your ads so that they show up on the website you want them to.
There are plenty of native ad networks you can choose from. Some cater to specific industries, and each one has its strengths and weaknesses. They also range in their minimum financial investment, but you can expect between $0.15-$0.30 per click.
Here are some of the more popular ones:
- Adsense Native Ads
You’ll want to get familiar with the various platforms before selecting a handful to try out. By using these channels, you instantly have access to millions of users from all over the world perusing sites like CNN, Time or ESPN.
Since each if these ad networks reaches a different subset of people, it pays to know your audience. Understanding where they like to hangout, what topics they are interested in, their demographics and consumption habits will help you narrow down your options.
Experiment with a few different networks and measure the results to find the right ones to continue with. You can run a test by posting the same ad in various formats on different websites.
Once you see which two perform the best for you with regard to your campaign goals, focus on optimizing your ad campaigns (targeting, content, creative) for the best results.
How to Run an Effective Native Advertising Campaign
While we firmly believe native advertising is a worthwhile strategy for gaining new leads and expanding your business’ reach, there are ways to increase your likelihood of success.
Make it authentic
Brandon Keenen, senior director at BuzzFeed EMEA, says that “the secret to good native advertising is really being authentic and keeping things real.”
Create content that engages readers by telling a story or teaching a concept. Brandon adds “connecting through knowledge, through emotion, through happiness, through sadness through all those human emotions and through identity — that’s an important way to communicate.”
Make it valuable
Native advertising doesn’t work if the value only moves in one direction. That is, your sponsored content has to benefit more than just your brand. Whether the content is entertaining, such as the colorful corn advertorial, or informative, like Microsoft’s sponsored AI post, the point is to make your content blend in with the pieces a reader already loves on a site.
You can boost the value of your content by adding multi-media or shareable components, such as adding a well-planned video.
Make it relevant
Creating an advertorial that resonates with your target audience depends on two pieces of the puzzle; the content and the placement.
Pertinent content creation depends on your understanding of your audience, as well as a clear objective for the piece. On the other hand, placement is important too.
Find a few different publications and social media sites, and compare their reach to the cost. This will help you decide which native advertising networks to use.
Make It Measurable and Repeatable
Oftentimes, publishers and platforms will provide advertisers with a ton of metrics geared at painting a full picture of how a campaign is performing. However, not all metrics matter for every campaign. It is wise to decide what success looks like before you launch your native ad campaign by setting specific goals and stating which metrics are the ones that matter the most.
Unlike traditional banner advertising, where the tracking is fairly straight-forward (a user clicks the image and is directed to another website, thus creating an easy to measure path from view to conversion), native editorials rely on more subtle metrics to prove success.
Typically in native advertising, the main metrics to measure fall into three categories:
- Share of Voice (also known as “SOV”), which is defined as “A brand’s share of the total advertising dollars or impressions for a product or commodity classification.” (WARC: Source)
- Engagement which can include softer, harder to measure metrics like scroll depth and time on page.
- Conversion which might refer to a link click or form fill.
Here are some additional metrics that relate to native advertising and can help you evaluate the performance of your campaigns:
- Time on page
- Pages per session
Native Advertising as Part of Your Content Marketing Strategy: Final Thoughts
Sometimes, researching, creating and publishing rock-solid content is not enough for a brand to succeed.
In today’s digital landscape, you’ll need to execute additional strategies to not only stand out from the noise but capture the right audience you want. With an average CTR of 1% for many industries, every business and marketer should be baking native advertising into their overall content marketing strategy.
Paid advertisements amplify your content marketing to achieve a myriad of benefits from increased traffic to higher sharing and engagement to ultimately more sales and conversions.
Native advertising is becoming more and more popular, so you’ll want to get in on the action.
Let us help you tell your story. Reach out to learn more: