Everything a noob needs to know about native advertising
It’s funny to think back on how naïve we all were as we built our first web page or wrote our first blog post. In my case, I had what I thought was a clever URL and a landing page comprised of affiliate links. And not much more.
In my defense, that was more than a decade ago. Back then, like many first-time website owners and bloggers, I assumed that millions of people would simply stumble across my site. They’d be amazed at what I had to say, and would have no problem clicking on my offensive collection of blinking headlines and questionably phrased advertisements so that I could profit from them.
They didn’t find my site and I didn’t profit.
That floundering attempt at internet marketing was valuable, however. It taught me the two ironclad truths of internet marketing:
- First, that creating a website sits a very distant second to marketing a website.
- And second, that people don’t like ads. They really don’t like ugly, glaring, obtrusive ads.
Enter Native Advertising
Those early flashing banners and cleverly deceptive word-play have been giving way to something more subtle. Something smooth. Something more effective.
The most beautiful thing about native advertising is that you probably already know what it is, but you just didn’t realize the concept had a name.
Native advertising is simply advertising that doesn’t jump out on the page. It doesn’t assault the senses. It doesn’t expand over the article, forcing the reader to pay attention.
Pictured – NOT native advertising, via GIPHY
Native advertising is an advertisement or link that feels just like the other content on its page.
The ad is related to the website content. It continues a conversation; it doesn’t interrupt it. People are comfortable with native advertising because it isn’t flashy and forceful. It extends the reader’s experience – it doesn’t replace or hijack it.
Links and images are placed to lead to other content-rich websites that continue a reader’s experience. Phrases like “Recommended for you” or “You may also like”, accompany the links.
In fact, native advertising has increased the click-through rate on websites by more than 40 times.
Not only do people like to see what “suggested articles” have to say, they like to share them with others as well. Native advertising boasts a 64 percent increase in consumer engagement and a 12 percent increase in sharing.
It’s done by simply giving website visitors more of what they already want.
The Native Advertising Breakdown
The Interactive Advertising Bureau, or IAB, formed a task force in 2013, charged with identifying and unifying the terms associated with native advertising. Their efforts have made it easier to sort through the possibilities. There are six main classifications of native ads, according to the IAB:
- Also called “in-stream”, these ads simply show up in in the newsfeed of sites like Forbes, Facebook and Twitter. They don’t cover content, they are in line with other results, and offer a “suggested” or “sponsored” post for readers to see and enjoy. The in-feed content may appear anywhere in a newsfeed as a reader scrolls up and down.
- These have been around a bit longer, and the labeling is very precise for legal reasons. A paid search result will show up in search engines as sponsored results that look like regular results. The only way they can be identified is to be tagged with clear language like a disclosure stating “ads related to” a particular topic. With a paid search, the position and appearance of the ad bought and paid for so there is little or no fluidity on placement.
- The name is a big giveaway here. A recommendation widget is going to show up as a widget on the screen. These ads may be labeled with phrases like “You may also like”, “Elsewhere on the web”, or “You may have missed.” The widget placement on the screen depends on what the widget it and what website it is showing up on.
- Promoted listings are similar to paid searches in that they are simply search results that have been bought and paid for. They should be labeled, of course, to be shown legally (more on that in a little bit), but internet giants Etsy, Amazon, and Google all include promoted listings. In practice, these are results that are designed to look like a product and service already offered on the website. Look for the phrasing like “Sponsored Content” or “Product Ads from External Websites”. Otherwise, they are truly seamless.
- At the other end of the spectrum, in-ad advertising includes clearly defined borders around content that suits the message of the page. The placement and phrasing of the advertisement are paid for and clearly defined. In fact, in-ad native advertising is the closest to the traditional. These differ only in the clever content, which must also be labeled as an advertisement.
- Then there are the outliers. Some native advertising is developing at such a rate and in such specific parameters that it defies definition. So we define it anyway and call it “custom.” These are customized ads that are simply too narrowly-defined to fall into other categories.
Making Native Advertising Work
The internet isn’t new anymore. Customers are getting savvier and less patient with interruptions and delays. This is why native advertising is becoming so effective.
When advertisements are in line with the rest of the content, they aren’t distracting.
When those advertisements add pertinent information, or offer further content, they aren’t offensive.
That’s what makes this type of advertising work.
By trying to avoid big, flashy sales tactics, advertisers are actually finding tremendous success by speaking naturally to customers and offering them something in-line with what they were already searching for or enjoying.
Native advertising is especially effective as a form of brand advertising. In a native ad, you wouldn’t mention the terrific sale you’re having in your digital store. Instead, you’d provide a link for customers to follow so that they could learn some tips about how to use the digital items you just so happen to sell in your store.
The goal is to speak naturally to the customers and share information with them. When possible, rather than enticing them to come and help you with clicks and sign-ups, you are helping them by providing useful information or items they can enjoy and put to use.
Challenges of Native Advertising
Of course, there are challenges as well. Native advertising may not be the fast sell. It requires clever thinking and investment in well-developed content to use as part of the ads. But most importantly, it requires the right voice.
Native advertisements rely on fitting in. This means the voice of the advertisement must ring as true and authentic for the intended target. For many would-be advertisers, developing the right voice for their brand is the biggest hurdle as they adapt to native advertising. To work, the ad must be relevant. It must fit.
But there can be too much of a good thing.
The Legal Issues with Native Advertising
It’s not a big step from creating advertising that fits in seamlessly into content to creating content that intentionally deceives a user into thinking it’s authentic.
Well-placed, authentic native advertising can build a relationship with customers. Intentionally deceptive ads can build serious legal cases against you.
That the FTC, or Federal Trade Commission, got involved in native advertising is not at all surprising.
The FTC issued guidelines about websites and search results in 2002 and amended those guidelines in 2013 to protect consumers from deceptive practices. The guidelines state that “consumers should be able to easily distinguish a natural search result from advertising”.
The ruling boils down to the requirement that all marketing be identified by “language that explicitly and unambiguously conveys whether a search result is advertising.” Furthermore, that language must be “large and visible enough for consumers to notice it”. Finally, it must be close to the ad it is identifying.
Sadly, there are many website advertisements that aren’t following the letter of the law. There are quite a few who are working very hard to pretend there are no laws at all. This creates concern for the integrity of the industry as a whole.
Authentic native marketers have are clear on what is right and what is not. It’s not advertising if the disclosure is too small to read or shoved so far to the side it might as well be on the next screen. It’s deceit.
Quality advertisements, the ones the customers are willing to use as a means to build a relationship with your brand, include clear disclosures that content “may not necessarily reflect the opinions” of the website owner or they include clear shading and links to answer “What’s this?” beside each ad to protect themselves and customers.
Native advertising informs and opens lines of communication. It doesn’t hide behind shady dealings.