graphic of marketer at computer broadcasting content to audience on smartphones

What is this native advertising of which you speak?

As the content marketing juggernaut continues to build steam, more and more advertisers are looking for ways to give their content the competitive edge. Somewhere along the way, somebody hit upon the tactic of creating paid content that would blend in with content already on the host site. This is native advertising, and it’s been highly successful. But it’s success has not come without controversy.

When done well, native advertising feels discrete to the user. Which is, of course, the point: it should blend in with original content so as not to create a jarring mismatch with the site. However, when done badly, this can feel like a sneaky trick. How can you do native advertising right so as to improve your click-through rate and retain credibility for your brand? Here are some guidelines.

Don’t deceive.

Ever go to read an article only to realize partway through that it’s trying to sell you something? Native ads tend to have higher click-through rates and better engagement than more obvious advertisements. However, native advertising can backfire when the reader feels like they’ve been suckered into consuming paid content.

This can also damage the credibility of the content host. If you’ve worked hard to establish yourself as a great content source, and then your readers realize you’ve been accepting money to have some advertiser slip their content into your content stream… well, it smacks of bribery. Native advertising should always have something labeling it as paid content. They should also include something disclosing the identity of the advertiser. Exactly how these elements appear is up to the publisher. It’s also best practice to include a small disclaimer somewhere which states the connection between the publisher and advertiser.

Match tone and manner.

Good native advertising works with the host brand to create a non-intrusive ad that matches the native content in tone and manner. If the whole point is to be non-intrusive, then you fail if your writing or image style are misaligned with that of your publisher. Buzzfeed articles can be particularly egregious examples of this mismatch. A couple times a week I’ll click through on an interesting headline only to find a horribly corporate article that can’t even conform to the listicle format Buzzfeed has popularized so well.

On the other hand, sponsored content on The Onion tends to blend in with other content so seamlessly, that if you notice at all you certainly don’t care.

Be relevant to the host publication.

Good native advertisers pick their publishers with care. Not only do you want to put your content where your ideal customers are most likely to see it, but you want the presence of your content on the host site to make sense. Pick a company that shares some of your values, or which matches your target demographic. You can either supplement their content (they’re a popular cooking blog, you’re a kitchen appliance manufacturer), or else complement it (they’re a retail chain targeting trendy professionals, you’ve built a personal efficiency app). Either way, make your presence relevant.

Make sure your content is top-notch.

The best native advertising produces content that provides as much value to the reader as the content they’ve come to expect from the host site. After all, your click-through rate doesn’t mean anything if your content fails to convert. Make excellent content an end in and of itself. You’ll do more to establish the quality your brand than you will by just pushing fluff.

Published 12/16/16 by Laura Lynch