Native Advertising Best Practices For Brands’ Sponsored Content

July 28, 2015 Dx3 Digest Contributor
Burger King sponsored content native advertising
Burger King used The Onion studio to create a native advertising campaign that would fit with other Onion content.

Native advertising is big business. Major brands are spending more money to reach their desired audiences with tailored content about a wide range of topics, from the serious to the silly.

For those unfamiliar with the term, native advertising refers to “a form of display advertising that is usually content-based and which is delivered in-stream. In other words, a native ad is a piece of sponsored content that feels like an organic part of the consumer’s experience.”

Business Insider found that spending on native ads will reach $7.9 billion this year and grow to $21 billion in 2018, rising from just $4.7 billion in 2013.

Publishers are creating in-house studios and agencies specifically for the purpose of developing content and meeting the demand for unique articles, listicles, slideshows, podcast segments and videos.

Whether it’s for comedic pieces like The Onion Labs or more serious fare like The Wall Street Journal’s Custom Studios, these strategic moves into sponsored content are proof that brands prefer their messages delivered through native advertising platforms.

Native Advertising Best Practices

Some brands may hesitate to jump on the native advertising bandwagon because they’re not sure how to create the best content and measure its success. These native advertising best practices from iProspect give some general guidelines for the strategies and techniques to employ while developing a native advertising campaign:

Design & Create Valuable Content

Whether the content in question is an advertorial, video, or another kind of visual content, it must deliver real and intrinsic value to the consumer. Native ads should never overtly sell. Instead, they should inform, educate, and entertain. They are meant to complement and enhance the consumer’s experience, not interrupt it.

Always Use Appropriate Labeling

Lexus-sponsored native advertising on Buzzfeed.
Lexus-sponsored native advertising on Buzzfeed.

Clear and obvious labeling of sponsored content is unquestionably a key requirement. Telling your readers that an article or videos is sponsored is the minimum disclosure to engender trust with your audience and create a distinction between this type of content and others.

For native ad units such as recommended content widgets, the labeling is typically more subtle and includes language such as “You might also like” or “From around the web.” Though these labels are less plain, the placement and nature of this type of native ad unit helps to make it clear that the content is promoted.

When it comes to labeling, it is advisable to err on the side of caution. Gray areas will only lead to negative repercussions. In order to stay out of trouble with both industry watchdogs and wary consumers, brands need to be sure that there is transparent delineation between editorial and paid content.

Be Careful When Linking

Links from a Pimco sponsored story on Quartz
Strategic linking from a Pimco-sponsored story on Quartz

Native advertising should not be viewed as an opportunity to load content with keyword-rich anchor text links. Google considers such links to be transactional and in violation of their editorial guidelines. Links should only be included after careful consideration and only if they make sense and add value for the consumer. Even then, using nofollow links is the best way to reduce risk. It is also strongly advisable to link to a variety of sources.

On a related note, it is permissible for the pages themselves to be indexed via Google’s standards. However, without varying the text and content at least somewhat from its primary placements, it could incur some duplicate content penalties where the content was originally placed or shared. Publishers may, however, choose to noindex the content on their end.

Use Strategic Measurement

Pimco-sponsored story on Quartz
Pimco-sponsored story on Quartz

Perhaps most important to the success of a native advertising campaign is developing a strategy that ties the sponsored content to business goals. Native advertising gives brands the ability to bridge the gap between content marketing and measurable results, but only if it is approached with the right mindset and plan.

For more information about native advertising and how it can help spread your brand message, download the full white paper Native Advertising: A Powerful Performance Driver from iProspect.

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