“Native advertising is paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel, function, and quality of the content of the media on which it appears. Frequently this advertising content topic is not directly about the advertiser’s brand, but rather is about a tangential or supporting topic or topics that may create a ‘halo effect’ on the brand.”
In the simplest of terms, native advertising is paid content made to look like the usual articles or stories that commonly appear in a particular publication. It’s “advertising” because it promotes a product or brand. And it’s “native” because it matches the form and function of the publication in which it appears.
This means that the ads are visually similar to the publication so they would use the same fonts, layouts, and graphic design as the experience they live within. And they function just like natural content. A consumer reading the paid material will have the same type of experience as they would with any other article in the publication.
Some people prefer the terms “sponsored content” or “advertorials.” Whatever you call it, brands are using it to promote their products in every type of medium, including print, online, video, and social media.
In this post, I’m going to dig into everything you need to know about native advertising, including the how it’s different from content marketing, the 6 different types of native ads, the key ingredients for successful native campaigns, and an action plan for working native advertising into your content marketing strategy.
Ready? Let’s get started.
I’m Already Doing Content Marketing. Aren’t Native Ads the Same Thing?
The short answer is no. According to the Content Marketing Institute, rather than being a form of content marketing, “native advertising is simply one way marketers can distribute content.”
Content marketing refers to a strategy in which brands create copy, images, or videos to influence consumer behavior. The goal is to inform or entertain their target audience and convert them into customers.
One other defining characteristic of content marketing is that it occurs on a medium that the marketer owns, such as the company’s website. On the other hand, in native advertising, a company “rents” space from someone else’s content distribution platform in order to promote their material.
Some other key points to remember:
1. Oftentimes, publishers–not the brand itself–create native ads
Again, it all comes down to quality content. The key to a successful native advertising campaign is for the content to resonate with the readers of the publication in which it appears. And who knows that audience better than the publisher? No one. Consumers are far more likely to engage with an ad–and give you that ever-valuable click-through–when their experience flows seamlessly from journalistic to paid content.
Think about it. When you are scrolling through a blog and you come across a banner ad, you probably scroll right past it, don’t you? Your brain almost automatically blocks it out as unimportant, or not relevant to what you’re reading. But what if you saw a Kraft Foods-sponsored recipe opposite an article on quick and easy weeknight dinners? You might pay attention. After all, your brain is already in meal-planning mode, and you’re thinking about what you’ll cook tonight. And if the Kraft recipe is written in the same tone and format as the rest of the material in the publication, and it targets the same audience, even better. That’s why publishers so often create native ads for brands. They know their audience best.
2. That doesn’t mean that a brand can’t be involved in creating their own native ads
A good freelance writer can help you write quality content for use in native campaigns as part of a comprehensive content marketing strategy. Once you decide on which site you want to publish your ad, the right writer can use an SEO tool to determine which topics you should mention, and which keywords and keyword variants you should use.
3. Native advertisements don’t necessarily plug a specific product
Sometimes, the goal of these ads is simply brand-building. Companies want to position themselves as authorities in their fields. They can do this by producing high-quality content that educates, entertains, and engages their target audience.
It’s basic psychology. When you see dozens of articles about health care attributed to Kaiser Permanente, and those articles are thoroughly researched and well-written, you tend to think of Kaiser as the healthcare experts. How else would they be publishing so much valuable content on the subject? So the next time you’re looking for a doctor, they might be the first people you think of to call.
4. The FTC closely monitors native advertising, and it has strict rules about its placement in publications
The agency’s goal here is to protect consumers from misleading ads disguised as news.
“For us, the concern is whether consumers recognize what they’re seeing is advertising or not,” said Mary Engle, Associate Director of Advertising Practices for the FTC in a presentation for the Clean Ads I/O Conference in New York City, June 3, 2015. Although the goal of native ads is to provide the user with a seamless experience, allowing him to move from journalistic to advertising content with ease, native ads can’t be presented as straight editorials. The publisher must disclose the paid nature of these ads with labels, visual cues, and other techniques.
Unfortunately, many readers are still deceived. A study from researchers at the University of California found that 27% of respondents thought that an ad for diet pills was written by a journalist, even though it was labeled “sponsored content.” And your customers’ perceptions are important, not only to your bottom line but also for liability purposes. The FTC can bring cases concerning practices that deceive a significant minority of consumers.
If you are considering buying a native advertisement, be sure to check the site on which you want to publish. Read their current native ads and disclosure policies. If it looks like placing your content on that site could deceive your customers, it’s best to just steer clear.
5. Consumers like native advertising
Despite the inherent risk of customer deception, a study from the University of Antwerp and Belgian publisher De Persgroep shows 86% of readers “are OK with native advertising.” The researchers found the most positive results when the ads were clearly labeled, and when the brand messaging was secondary to the storytelling.
According to the Native Advertising Institute, news media executives even say that some native advertising regularly surpasses journalistic content as the “most read.”
6. Types of Native Advertising
There are 6 different types of native advertising. The only one I focus on in this article is the in-feed units. But for reference sake, here is a list of all 6.
- Content recommendation widgets: Links that appear at the end of an article under a subtitle labeled “You may also enjoy,” or something similar.
- Promoted listings: E-commerce sites, such as eBay, feature sponsored products first on a category page.
- Paid search ads: This is similar to promoted listings. Brands pay to have their links displayed first in search results, as with Google AdWords.
- In-feed units: This is the main category of native advertising that I discuss in this post. It is when a paid ad appears within the regular feed of a publication’s articles.
- In-ad with native elements: This looks like a standard ad, but it contains content that is contextually relevant to the publication, and it is found outside the regular newsfeed.
- Custom ads: This is a miscellaneous category that includes any native advertising that doesn’t fit into any of the other categories.
How to Work Native Ads into Your Content Marketing Strategy
“Content is king, but distribution is queen and she wears the pants. It’s not nearly enough to create a good piece of content. You have to understand how content spreads across the web.”
As mentioned above, native advertising isn’t a form of content marketing. It’s a tool that marketers can use to distribute their content. How do you do that? I’ll walk you through it.
First of all, it’s important to think of native advertising as an extension of your content marketing, or a boost to your content distribution. It’s not a strategy unto itself. However natural, informative, and engaging it may be, it is still paid advertising, and it can’t replace SEO tactics such as topical authority in your owned and earned media.
Second, you must commit to full disclosure of the paid status of your advertisements. It’s not cool to trick your audience into thinking they’re reading natural content. For one thing, it’s dishonest. But it’s also counterproductive. Your customers are going to figure it out eventually, and they’ll feel duped. (With good reason!) This makes it pretty much impossible to gain their trust OR their business.
Also, just like content that you create for your own website, native advertising must be high-quality. It should focus on your customers’ pain points as it informs, engages, and entertains. In other words, it should be something that your audience wants to read.
This means that you have to create great content and tell real stories. Start by researching your target audience. What are their interests? What are they missing? How do they interact with your products and services? Now that you’ve answered those questions, write a piece of stellar content that addresses each one of them.
In addition to knowing what your audience wants, you also need to know the best way to reach them. This may sound obvious, but you want your native ads to appear in media that your future customers actually read. This information will help you to go beyond your owned channels to reach a bigger audience. Different demographics prefer different types of media. For instance, 18-24-year-olds have a strong preference for videos and infographics, while people aged 65-74 favor email.
And finally, one last way to use native advertising in your content marketing strategy is as a testing ground for the content you produce for your owned and earned media. Many advertising platforms will allow you to A/B test elements such as headlines and images. Since your audience for native advertising likely outnumbers that of your owned media, you can leverage this information to determine what type of content will resonate best with your readers.
I hope it’s obvious that I am truly excited about content marketing strategy and its many elements, including native advertising. I would love to talk to you about your business’s unique needs in this area, so get in touch with me today to see how I can help you reach your content marketing goals.
About the Author:
Nicole Roder is a freelance writer and mother of 4. Her work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun and the Huffington Post, among others. Visit her online at https://nicoleroder.com.
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