Native advertising has been receiving plenty of buzz over the past year, even though native ads -- a particular type of advertising in which the advertisement matches the form and function of the host channel -- aren’t really all that new.
Sponsored stories on social networks are examples of native advertising that have been around for a few years. Infomercials are a type of native advertising as well. Heck, even the newspaper advertorials selling everything from appliances to medications to development plots in the late 1800s and early 1990s can be considered native advertising.
Where the subject is gaining attention today, though, is the placement of sponsored content on sites such as Huffington Post and Buzzfeed.
These tightly integrated pieces serve two primary purposes: driving revenue for media services without other clear alternatives for monetization and giving brands a way to help their messages cut through the noise online and get in front of their target audiences.
Revenue generation through native advertising
On the first front, native advertising has been a huge success. According to some estimates, Buzzfeed is expected to rake in more than $120 million in native advertising fees in 2014, pushing the average cost of its native advertising campaigns to $92,300 a piece.
In addition, eMarketer suggests that native advertising will become a $4.57 billion market, quickly approaching the $6.4 billion it believes will be spent on display ads.
While some people object to native advertising’s potential to mislead consumers (as an example, see the excoriating critique issued by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver), it seems clear that this promotional strategy is here to stay.
And that brings us to the second half of the value proposition described above -- the opportunity for content marketers to get their messages seen.
Cutting through the noise with native advertising
Internet Live Stats suggests that more than 2 million blog posts are published on any given day. If you’re a publisher looking to get your content seen amidst all this noise, you’re in for an uphill battle.
At the same time, the once popular strategy of guest posting for links and viewership has come under fire recently, based on statements by Google’s web spam team leader, Matt Cutts.
For these reasons, native advertising represents a potential solution to the challenge of getting content-marketing pieces seen by target audience members.
Instead of fighting to get traffic to your website through search-engine optimization, social-media marketing or any other “boots on the ground” promotional approaches, simply pay a fee and your viewership is guaranteed.
Of course, no advertising technique is that simple, and native advertising is no exception. Keep the following guidelines in mind as you explore this strategy to avoid losing money on unsuccessful campaigns:
Consider your channel
Potential native advertising channels for content marketers include:
- Sponsored stories on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter
- Sponsored blog posts on sites such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post
- Sponsored link placements through services such as Taboola and Outbrain
- Sponsored playlists on services such as Spotify and Pandora
- Sponsored ads on content curation tools such as Flipboard
In-feed and paid search units can also be considered types of online native advertising, though these particular structures may be of less interest to content marketers than the types listed above.
As with any type of paid advertising, the specific channel you choose should depend on the people you’re trying to reach and the message you’re hoping to send them.
If you know your audience spends time on Facebook, but not Twitter, you’d obviously want to spend your native-advertising dollars on the former network. At the same time, if your audience is too old for Buzzfeed, pass that opportunity up in favor of others better suited to your niche.
Multiple channels may be appropriate for your business, but until you take the time to learn about the different options that are available, you could miss out on some of these opportunities.
Set your goals
Content marketers tend to go after “soft” goals such as brand sentiment, perceived authority or share of voice online. But when you’re putting money on the line through paid native-advertising placements, you’ll want to be able to demonstrate measurable growth on some key metric in exchange for your ad spend.
If it’s possible to tie your native ads into your conversion rate calculations, do it. If not, at least be sure you're attaching some benchmarks and metrics to the goals you set for yourself, even if these measurements alone don’t capture the full value of your native-advertising investment.
Determine your budget
Finally, if the more than $90,000 figure referenced above for Buzzfeed campaigns didn’t already make this point, it’s important to keep your budget in check when seeking out native ad placements.
My recommendation? Start small.
Toss a few hundred bucks at a sponsored link published through Outbrain (or at whatever other channel is appropriate for your business). If you see positive results according to the goals you set for yourself, expand to bigger and better campaigns through other channels (while keeping an eye on your return on investment, of course).
You may not see great results right away, but what’s important is that you not ignore the potential power of this strategy. When executed correctly, native advertising could be the tool that goes hand-in-hand with content marketing to help get your brand in front of the customers you need to build your business in the most efficient, effective way possible.