What Is Native Advertising?

Depending on whom you ask, native advertising is a mutually beneficial convergence between advertisers, publishers, and audiences that will revolutionize advertising…or it’s the death knell of journalism. Like many web concepts, native advertising is squishy and difficult to get your arms around. Different people define it differently, and because the web changes, native advertising is certain to change, too. But there are a few concepts about native advertising that are widely agreed upon.

Native advertising is designed not to intrude on a user's browsing experience.
Native advertising is designed not to intrude on a user’s browsing experience.

First, native advertising is specific to the platform. In other words, native advertising on your site looks different from native advertising on another site. Second, native ads are designed to be relevant to the user’s site browsing experiment. If you’re scrolling through BuzzFeed, native advertising is probably going to be a numbered list on a topic that’s lighthearted or funny and it will not stand out from other content except for design differences stating that what you’re reading is “featured partner” content.

How Does Native Advertising Work?

Native advertising works effectively when it starts with a clear understanding of a particular site and its audience. If, for example, a company makes stethoscopes and is interested in native advertising on a trade site for nurses, the company must first get to know everything about the trade site including who reads it. They should read comments, check out the site’s Facebook page and follow it on Twitter. Only when they’ve immersed themselves in the experience of a site of interest will they be able to develop an effective plan in partnership with the site’s owners. Native advertising may take on the form of a special report, an e-book, a blog post, an article, or a video, but it should fit in well with the other site content.


Benefits to Publishers of Native Advertising

When native advertising is well thought out and well matched with a site’s audience, it provides the site user with an unobtrusive experience, reinforces audience engagement, and does nothing to compromise the trust between the site user and the site itself. Here are some statistics from a Sharethrough and IPG study of 4,770 consumers on native advertising:

  • Consumers look at native advertising 53 percent more frequently than display ads

  • 32 percent of consumers say they would share a native ad

  • Consumers showed 18 percent more purchase intent after viewing native advertising

  • The only metric where banner ads prevailed was brand recall, with 38 percent of banner viewers recalling brand versus 25 percent of native ad viewers

Done well, native advertising gives audiences more content they actually want, and publishers gain revenue that allows them to continue with their content strategy.

Websites benefit financially when native advertising is skillfully executed.
Websites benefit financially when native advertising is skillfully executed.

Implementing Native Advertising Correctly

The dangers of using poor quality content in native advertising are significant. Truly native advertising is content people want anyway, and they will not put up with bad content on sites they know and trust. Native advertising content must match the site’s overall content quality, and it must be relevant to the browsing experience. It should not be obtrusive, yet it must (in keeping with Federal Trade Commission rules) be labeled as sponsored or partner content.

Native advertising imparts value to site users with as little intrusion into the browsing experience as possible. Tone deaf or intrusive sponsored content turns readers off and erodes trust between a site’s users and the site. The real test of whether native advertising is a positive addition to a site is an affirmative answer to the questions “Will readers want to share this content?” and “Would we run this content if it weren’t paid for by an advertiser?”

Native advertising on the web has been decried as “advertorials” that trick readers and corrupt journalism, and it has also been hailed as a win-win-win situation with advertisers, publishers, and site users all benefiting. It is actually both. When slapped together with little regard for content quality or audience needs, native advertising can be a disaster, as The Atlantic can attest. But when native advertising meets FTC disclosure guidelines, provides an unobtrusive user experience, and adheres to the quality standards the site has used to develop its audience, it can benefit all parties.

Native advertising is something that many sites are considering, particularly as print publications make the digital shift and old revenue models no longer work. Traditional site advertising isn’t going away any time soon, and many content sites and publishers also pursue revenue development with affiliate programs, ecommerce, and recruitment advertising in the form of custom job board software. At RealMatch, recruitment advertising solutions for trade publishers are an exciting revenue development option that can bolster site revenues while helping cultivate existing traffic and attract new traffic.

Photo Credits: imagerymajestic / freedigitalphotos.net, Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

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