Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen more and more advertisers opt out of using traditional advertising techniques. We’re also seeing fewer sales letters, videos, and opt-ins.
What are they investing in instead?
Because content is the name of the game these days, and native advertising has proven more effective than your average ad, which typically goes ignored in such a cluttered online arena.
Also, you can see how native advertising has not only been completely adopted as the updated marketing strategy to advertorials, but its growth trend over just a few short years alongside content marketing has been tremendous.
With Business Insider reporting that spend on native advertising will reach $7.9 billion this year, in addition to an expected growth of $21 billion by 2018, this might be the most powerful marketing format since search.
But, as the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Being Mindful of Native Advertising’s Dark Side
Many have taken this opportunity and used native advertising’s unique power to create content for the sole purpose of selling. Providing little value to the experience of potential prospects, it leaves audiences with that “ugh” feeling upon clicking away from the page.
It’s a feeling of deception that will not only reign supreme over their product or service offerings but also taint the editorial stream.
I’m sure you’ve seen them, those shady “advertorials” cropping up all over the place, often meant to dupe the reader into thinking they are looking at a piece of organic content.
As brands and publishers fight to build their reputations as trusted sources of information, they end up looking like conniving car salesmen in the mind of their visitors and larger online audiences.
In order to keep new and loyal readers happy, we need to raise the content standards.
Only by infusing the practices of content marketing into our native advertising can it become a successful monetization tool to help businesses flourish in a world increasingly frustrated by digital ad experiences.
Like pop-up ads, shady native content has a short shelf-life, and it’s going rotten very quickly.
If publishers start embedding more ads directly into the editorial feed, users will respond much like they have before — they will be trained to look away. – Matt Crenshaw
You don’t need to sacrifice sales for transparency, value, and often legality–native advertising can sell while still meeting those standards.
In fact, that’s often the best way to make more sales.
Because the “churn and burn” approach to customer acquisition and life cycle no longer works, or really never did. Building long-term, meaningful relationships established by trust is what yields real success.
Below, I’ll dive into the “do’s and don’t’s” of sponsored content so you can make your prospects happy they’re reading an “ad” while also converting them into leads.
Why Sponsored Content Is So Effective
Native content offers a few advantages over traditional techniques.
To name a few…
Piggybacks off of Content Discovery and Consumption Patterns
Where banner ads and traditional landing pages may fail to gain an audience member’s attention, sponsored stories will coincide more with the current consumption pattern of readers when they are in discovery mode.
That means they will be more likely to click and read your content when hosted on an authority site or premium publisher page that runs native advertisements. Because that content is linked from a credible and trustworthy news source, you can expect higher click-through rates (CTRs) and on-page engagement.
Sending prospects to a sales page or piece of sleazy content will disrupt that experience, making visitors much more likely to bounce from the piece of content and never come back.
A well-crafted piece of native content will correspond with their expectation of being linked to another article or related piece of content.
This is one reason why publishers should start to scrutinize over the content that shows up in their native stream. A bad piece of content reflects poorly on all parties involved and runs the risk of alienating loyal readers.
That is a real concern brands and publishers cannot afford to face.
Simplicity of Content Creation and Testing Variety
Native articles are often like writing a normal blog post.
That makes it easy for you, your in-house team or agency to create a valuable piece of content people will enjoy reading.
No expensive video sales letters (VSLs) or long-form $25,000 worth pieces of copy. Writing sponsored content is much more cost-efficient, and it’s a better builder of brand trust.
Following the format of a blog post or news article also makes them simpler to design. While they don’t have to be masterpieces, all it takes is ensuring they blend into the regular content stream.
Bottom line–you can get your native content up and running much faster.
This streamlined creation process also makes testing a variety of elements including headlines, tone, message, and visuals much easier to measure.
Availability to Both Small and Large Advertisers
Many native ad examples you see are articles bought on large publisher sites.
A recent example was this sponsored article from Dell about millennials which was featured on the New York Times:
Akin to buying a full-page ad in the print version of the New York Times, this option, while effective, can be quite costly.
But you can still achieve a similar effect without the huge price tag.
By amplifying your own native content on paid media platforms like Outbrain, you can achieve similar impact, and scale over the long-term at a more economical cost.
Creating Value with Sponsored Content
The key to effective and ethical native advertising is to provide valuable information within the content.
That might mean offering tips, and knowledge the reader may not have known prior, which are communicated under the assumption that they might not convert right away.
Think long game.
Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them. Everything you do should tie back to user experience and how to bring potential prospects through the content funnel.
Below, find the do’s and don’t’s of designing a piece of content that’s more likely to establish a connection with the reader and give your brand reputation a boost.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Native Advertising
Do: Properly label your content
Back in early 2015, the Federal Trade Commission stated they would hold the publishers themselves responsible for misleading native advertising.
What does this mean?
That the regulations put in place by the native ad networks and publishers are getting stricter, specifically when it comes to labeling content as “sponsored” or “advertisement.”
Each ad network has its own rules.
As an example, part of the content guidelines for Outbrain advertisers submitting content reads:
If the primary goal of the content is to generate a lead or a sale, Outbrain requires clear and conspicuous disclosure of such (i.e., a prominent “Advertorial” or “Advertisement” label must appear at the top of the page).
Based on what the FTC has communicated, proper labeling is extremely important. It must be obvious to the audience that they’re reading an ad, not an organic news story.
This labeling protects publishers from potential repercussions and allows advertisers to keep using sponsored content as a relationship building tactic for prospects.
*Side note: IAB even established its Native Advertising Task Force, releasing the “ IAB Native Advertising Playbook” in hopes of eliminating marketplace confusion and thereby helping sellers sell and buyers buy.
Don’t: Use inaccurate, misleading, or overly sensational headlines or ad copy
These can be headlines that exaggerate, embellish or do not accurately depict the content.
This sponsored article tells you how to get a discount on auto insurance if you drive less than 50 miles a month, or if you have never been convicted of a DUI.
Do you think this information is useful? Certainly!
However, would it leave you “furious and shocked?”
Probably not, and even slight misrepresentations of content can hurt your credibility.
Do: Draw from social media when determining what types of headlines to use
If a specific news article is getting a lot of likes and shares, you can be sure the headline has something to do with it.
The example below might not be fair because everyone seems to love Bill Murray, but it does create a sense of curiosity that ties interest in a popular topic to information you may not know about:
Just make sure to avoid producing clickbait stuff, as Facebook started cracking down on these articles, even changing their algorithm so this type of content would be shown less in the Newsfeed.
When you respect and surpass reader expectations, viral headlines work very well and make everyone happy.
Don’t: Write headlines that are “too good to be true”
Eye bags gone in 90 seconds? A wrinkle eraser?
While this great direct response headline would have worked back in 1992, it won’t fly today.
Headlines like these are way over the top, and anything too good to be true never is.
These aim to take advantage of audiences who are less savvy and able to make critical assessments of content, which is why the Federal Trade Commission absolutely despises them.
Do: Channel headline styling from other native advertisers
Check out the native ads section on Bleacher Report and POPSUGAR:
You’ll start seeing some trends from advertisers promoting their native ad content via recommended widgets across the web.
When you see the same ads coming up over a long period of time, you can suspect this style of headline is working for the advertiser, as they continue running successful campaigns with it.
Don’t: Create articles with duplicate content based on other affiliate offers
Seems pretty basic, right?
Well, you would be astounded at the number of affiliate marketers who use the exact same landing pages, copy and images as other advertisers.
Check out these two advertorial landing pages from two different advertisers:
Pretty similar, right?
Copying another advertiser’s landing page is not just unethical, it’s also deceptive and results in a poor user experience; the visitor is seeing the same piece content disguised under a different domain.
Duplicate content is also bad for SEO, as Google hates duplicate content.
They do not want users to see the exact same content on different domains and will punish sites who rip-off content with a lower ranking or by stripping them completely from the SERPs.
It’s perfectly fine to use another advertiser’s landing page as inspiration, however, it’s not okay to create an identical version and advertise it as your own.
Do: Use your body copy to fill in the gaps and smoothly lead the reader to your intended next step
Complete the body copy by providing the valuable info your audience is looking:
This can come in the form of:
Interesting facts, figures or statistics
Anecdotes or a well-woven story
Reporting on a specific event
Online reviews or testimonials
Pictures, videos of text in the form of how-to content
The possibilities are endless and are limited only by your creativity.
This native article is aimed to help women deal with thinning eyebrows:
The reader should leave the page having learned something useful. Even if they didn’t move to buy, consider this the first digital touchpoint with them in the content funnel.
The sponsored article above gives a few tips for what readers should not do when it comes to their eyebrows. It then goes on to explain the easiest way to achieve proper results with their product.
Again, even if the reader doesn’t buy the product, they now know what they should not be doing if they want to achieve the eyebrows they desire.
This knowledge helps create powerful brand ties that could result in purchase decisions later down the road.
Don’t: Encourage accidental clicks by implementing ads (or images) that appear to be organic content
Don’t try to dupe visitors into clicking on images or ads that look like organic content or tailored links.
What do I mean by this?
Check out this auto insurance lead generation tactic:
The image on the right-hand side looks like it is supposed to function as a selection box relevant to the piece of content.
The problem is that this image is just one big link, and the reader isn’t actually taken to a specific page tailored to their selection.
It’s just a click tactic to move users to the next step in the lead generation funnel, but one that offers them little to no value.
Shady, shady, shady.
Regardless of what critics say, native articles don’t have to be misleading, scammy or sensational.
You can write yours in a way that provides value to readers, helps build long-term relationships with your online community, and sells in an ethical way.
As native advertising and content marketing continue to grow in popularity, make sure if you are hopping on board, that you are part of the larger movement to create seamless reader experiences.
If you follow the guidelines above, I believe you’ll find successful results.
Have you ever tried amplifying your content before? Share your experience and tips you’ve picked up along the way in the comments section below.