Pete Campbell is managing director of search, PPC and content marketing company Kaizen SEO. Pete will be sharing his advanced knowledge on native advertising tactics at this year's Performance Marketing Insights conference in London, but ahead of this, he offers an all-inclusive guide to how you can get off to a flying start in this fast-growing sector of marketing.
Native advertising is all about getting your content right under the cursors of people who are most likely to care about what you have to offer.
In brief: your content is advertised next to editorial content on popular websites. It is displayed in a “natural”, non-aggressive way. This could mean its inclusion as a “related link” beneath a relevant article on a news site, or a promoted post in a Facebook timeline. You buy these unobtrusive yet effective “sweet spots” on a CPC (cost per click) or CPE (cost per engagement) basis from the platform in question. Minimum spends vary widely from platform to platform. You may need to invest as much as £650 for exposure, elsewhere you will be able to get the ball rolling for no more than £1.
Where to advertise
You will find native advertising opportunities all over the web, making it easy to show off your stuff on the sites and platforms your target audience are likely to be looking at. From sharing sponsored stories on news sites and displaying sponsored videos on dominant online platforms, to promoting a sponsored playlist on Spotify, there are all sorts of native advertising opportunities ranging from the relatively broad to the very, very niche.
This diversity allows you to capture very specific audiences who are much more likely to care about what you have to share. Here is a helpful infographic which demonstrates where and how you can conduct native advertising which captures an already engaged audience (click to enlarge):
Why go native?
This approach does not just ensure you get the most clickthroughs and interested visitors for your ad spend. Native advertising can also be good news for the audience you are targeting. This approach to digital marketing shows browsers content they are more likely to enjoy and be interested in, enhancing their online experience. Unlike other advertising alternatives like remarketing ads, native advertising is non-aggressive and much softer, despite its precision and effectiveness. A factor which plays well with today's web users.
This ad type is also cost-effective and increasingly popular amongst digital marketers. According to eMarketer.com, social ad spending on native advertising in the US has grown year-on-year for the past three years and is predicted to hit £3 billion by 2017. Your ad spend can start from as little as 9p cost per click, which makes using native advertising incredibly scalable and affordable. Here are a few impressive statistics which really demonstrate native advertising's potency:
- Browsers are 53% more likely to click on a native ad instead of a banner ad.
- 81% of US marketers are actively looking to boost brand visibility and engagement with native advertising.
- 32% of native ad viewers said they would share the sponsored content with a friend or family member. For banner advertising this figure dropped to just 19%.
- This company achieved a whopping 8% CTR (Click Through Rate) and won 416,000 click throughs with native advertising.
- By contrast, the average CTR for traditional display ads has dropped from 9% back in 2000 to 0.2% in 2012.
Hate advertising, love native ads
If you are involved in search engine optimisation (SEO), you are probably borderline allergic to in-your-face advertising. You probably prefer the slow, cumulative burn of a powerful organic SEO campaign. Unfortunately, no matter how good your organic, on site content is, if a tree falls in the digital forest – it rarely makes a sound (whatever the philosophers may have to say on the matter).
You need to publicise the great organic stuff you have been working on in order to generate the views, shares, coverage and links it really deserves. Failure to get the word out about your amazing content is tantamount to Picasso locking all of his paintings in a big, dark cupboard the minute they are completed.
And that is where native advertising comes in. This type of advertising is the perfect complement to great content marketing. It is not aggressive, it brings in an already-interested audience who are much more likely to share your content, and it can cost practically nothing. It is the ideal way to get the online ball rolling.
Native ads in action!
Let's take a look at how this all hangs together in practice. Earlier in 2014, with Valentine's Day just around the corner, I developed a very basic microsite. On this site I hosted a piece of romantically themed content: 14 Crazy & Adorable Marriage Proposals. The goal? To win links and coverage for my bingo client: Two Little Fleas.
I had a very humble ad spend of just £150. With this budget I earned valuable, visitor-generating links from Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan along with nine additional sites, and gained more than 400 social shares
How to advertise content
If you are keen to start putting native advertising to work promoting your content via news and magazine sites, you need to get familiar with the three biggest content advertising services out there:
- Outbrain – Great for sport, business and entertainment.
- nRelate – Good for leisure, dining, food and high-end tech.
- Taboola – A good all-rounder with a very diverse collection of publishers. I have found that this platform comes out on top for me in terms of links and shares.
Each of these platforms has a unique portfolio of websites (known as publishers) on which your content can appear. They also all have their own unique features you will need to get to grips with. I highly recommend having a whirl with each of these three platforms. You will generally find that the platform which works best is the platform which has the most relevant publishers for your website (or your client's website). This means that a good working knowledge of them all will allow you to pick and choose in order to achieve the best results for different content.
If you would like to have an introductory dabble in the world of content advertising through native ads, Outbrain is probably the best place to start. Sign up through their US website to manage your own campaign with no minimum budget getting in the way.
The other two platforms will require you to use an account manager and have a minimum spend of £650. If you are handling a number of clients and want to have a whirl with Taboola or nRelate, remember – you can split your £650 minimum spend over numerous client accounts to lessen the cost and the pressure. Average CPC is about 25p.
To get started there are a couple of options. You can choose to pop entire RSS feeds from your sites into the platforms, or you can handpick the best stuff by creating a URL list of your most impressive content. Geo-targeting is a good feature if you want to narrow down your audience, but I usually prefer advertising by language as this tends to garner the greatest exposure.
Once you are up and advertising, your content will be advertised contextually using dynamic, nofollow URLs. You will need to accompany each URL with at least 300 characters of descriptive, tempting text which contains relevant keywords to make sure it appears on the most relevant publishing sites. Remember – all of the links generated through native advertising are earned indirectly.
What content should you share – and where?
Personally I have found that interactive content, videos and images work best through social ads via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit and their ilk. Steer clear of this content when it comes to “traditional” content publishers and instead use these platforms to promote your written content: blogs, guides, whitepapers, listicles etc.
Bear in mind that these tips are general rules of thumb. No two pieces of content and no two publishing sites are identical, which means that you'll need to use your expert insight into your audience, your chosen platform and your content to generate the best possible effect. For example, some of the most in-depth and intriguing articles I've ever read have come to my attention via Twitter. Overall, however, the best tactic is to always ensure you're advertising where your ideal audience typically spend time online.
How to advertise through social media
If you are planning to promote your content via Facebook and Twitter's native advertising systems, you will be working on a CPE (cost per engagement) basis. An “engagement” in this case qualifies as:
- A click on your advert
- An exit to your URL
- A share
- A like
- A tweet/retweet
The amazing (albeit slightly sinister) thing about native advertising through Facebook is just how specific you can be about who you want to target. If you are keen to get your content in front of 21 year old men in Hampshire who support Arsenal and religiously watch Game of Thrones, you can. The data is that detailed.
One of the best techniques for promoting your content is to boost a relevant post on your brand page. Sponsored stories can also have a good effect. A further option is to use the right hand bar to switch off advertising and show your ad slap bang in your followers' news feeds.
Keen to use Twitter to capture the attention of your audience? Be aware that this is not usually the cheapest option. You will need some resources and a decent budget behind you to make native advertising through Twitter do the trick.
Both Twitter and Facebook have £1 minimum spends and can be self-managed, but with Twitter you will find that most of your spend goes towards traffic instead of shares. This means you will spend most of your budget on getting people through to your content and site, but you will not get as much joy in the way of retweets. On average I find I spend around £1 on likes and favourites and £2.50 on retweets.
If you decide to go ahead, you will be advertising your content in Twitter users' feeds. The users who will see your promoted tweet will be targeted thanks to the keywords and hashtags they have used in their recent tweets.
How well is your native advertising doing?
In order to measure the success of your native advertising campaign, you must have an ultimate goal to use as a yardstick. Remember, this type of online advertising is not about direct sales. Instead it is about bringing in an interested audience who will like, share and link to great stuff on your site. This in turn will grow your audience, boost your search rankings and help you do ever better business online.
With this in mind, the best way to gauge your campaign is to keep an eye on your CPL (cost per link) and CPS (cost per share). Monitoring these measurements is easy. Simply use a tool like Majestic SEO's bulk URL checker or SharedCount to see which content is getting the most links and shares from which platforms.
Next, take a closer look at how your visitors behave once they reach your side from a piece of native advertising. Fire up your Google Analytics account and, with your conversion goals firmly in mind, take a look at crucial on site metrics like:
- Total time on site
- Bounce rate
- Page flow
Armed with your data and insights, it is time to take action. Any content or platforms which are not performing well can go. Any which are going great guns should inform the future content you create and the future platforms you use to advertise your content.
Keep coming back to content
This may be an article all about native advertising but, at the heart of the matter, there is no getting away from the fact that no native advertising campaign is worth running without something decent or novel to share with your audience.
Native advertising my be the lassoo which brings your content to the attention of the people who matter to your online business, but your content will not take off and stand on its own two feet unless it is worth checking out, sharing and linking to.
Your content does not have to be earth-shattering to do well with some help from native advertising. It just has to be decent and, more importantly, attract attention. In fact, part of the secret to native advertising lies in how you present your content on publishing sites. The headline you choose, therefore, is all important...
Read all about it!
In my opinion, it is impossible to overstate how powerful a good headline can be. Sites like Upworthy regularly A/B test 25 different versions of their headlines before picking a winner. But what is the point? Here's what Upworthy have to say on the matter: “You can have the best piece of content and make the best point ever. But if no one looks at it, the article is a waste. A good headline can be the difference between 1,000 people and 1,000,000 people reading something”.
So, it is time to put this all into practice. Before you start using native advertising, mastermind a big list of different, attention-grabbing, must-read headlines for your ads. Then A/B test them to drill down to the ultimate version. To get started, kick off with some classic headline fodder which is a sure-fire route to clicks:
Headlines which show that the reader will come away with a new skill or a new piece of knowledge often do well.
Posing (or offering answers) to questions is a powerful way to pique curiosity.
Refer externally to the subject of the article. This leaves readers guessing and makes them want to read more to get in on the story.
Time after time, research shows that including numbers in a title brings in readers
Get your reader involved in your content by referring to them directly in your headline
Looking the part
Once you have gone to all that trouble promoting your content through native advertising, you need to get the most juice out of it as you possibly can. Your new visitor may have been intrigued by your snazzy headline but, now they are here, they can contract TL;DC syndrome only too quickly (Too Long; Don't Care).
That is why it is so important to employ user-friendly formatting to help sustain your visitor's attention for as long as you possibly can:
- Keep content short and sweet.
- Chop long paragraphs up into small, bite-sized chunks.
- Use regular, eye-catching subheadings to draw attention.
- Use bullet points to break up mundane blocks of text.
- Use multimedia to keep visitors engaged.
- Ensure your content is responsive for mobile/tablet users.
Sharing is caring
Now you have won them (through native advertising), and won them over (with your good lookin' content), it is time to get your visitors to share your content or link to it. Do not let them hit that back button until they have had lots of chances to distribute your content to family, friends and followers alike.
Using HTML embed codes is a really important and oft-overlooked way to win links to your content. Add them to every single piece of visual content you create (do not worry if it is not an infographic). If the code is too complicated to embed, make yourself an image thumbnail which asks viewers to click to visit the full version.
Meanwhile, setting up default tweets will seriously boost your shares. Open Graph Tags will give you the power to pre-populate text for G+, Twitter and Facebook. This means that share-minded visitors can post your content on the social platform of their choice with no muss or fuss in a matter of seconds.