There’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding surrounding the native advertising trend. Don’t feel bad if you don’t fully understand native. You are not alone.

Native advertising is still new and evolving quickly. While some organizations and consultants try to make us think otherwise, there are no true experts in the field. Instead, there’s just a whole lot of people trying to figure this thing out. Count me as a charter member of that club.

All of this said, native advertising represents the best opportunity to date to charge a premium price for online advertising. It’s worth making the effort to understand how to use native as an important online revenue-generation tool.

Isn’t Native Just Advertorial in a New Suit of Clothes?

This question comes up a lot. The quick answer to this question is No, native advertising is not just advertorial dressed up.  One major difference is obvious. While native advertising can appear in print it thrives online by leveraging how all things digital work. The second major difference is probably more important:

Advertorial puts an advertiser’s interests first. Advertorials sell an advertiser’s products or services hard, often employing outrageous and unproven claims to get the point across.

Native advertising puts the reader’s interests first.  It is as if the advertiser gives a gift to the potential customer: useful information, entertainment, something that makes them smile, helpful tips. The content must be truthful, accurate and above all honest, without exaggeration or deception.

The advertiser certainly hopes for something in return. At a minimum the advertiser wants to win recognition and goodwill. However, as I will cover in later blogs, the advertiser also reaps many other long-tail benefits native to digital for taking this seemingly altruistic approach.

The Six Types of Native Advertising

Last December the Internet Advertising Bureau published The Native Advertising Playbook in an attempt to define native advertising and establish best practices. In it the IAB identified The Core Six Types of native advertising. This confused a lot of people, including me.

According to the IAB the six types are:

  1. In Feed Units — Stories that look like they are part of the news feed.
  2. Paid Search Units — Ads that appear in search
  3. Recommendation Units — Paid content recommendations based on what you are reading and your searches
  4. Promoted Listings — Products promoted on such sites as Esty or Amazon
  5. In-Ad (IAB Standard) with Native Element Units — This seems to be native within an ad, but I honestly still can’t explain this one cogently. Someone help me,please.
  6. Custom / “Can’t Be Contained” — This seems to be a catch all for anything the IAB can’t categorize. It’s a sort of you-know-it-when-you-see it type of native.

I don’t question these six types. I do question if they matter. There is no right or wrong type of native advertising. What is right is what works for you. The more you innovate the better.

I’m a simple guy and like to make things easy. To me, Randy Bennett, formerly of the NAA and now Director of Entrepreneurship and Partnerships at University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, which must be some kind of record for lengthiest titles, gets it right when describes native like this:

“…native advertising typically is content created for an advertiser with the same look and feel of the publisher’s content, but includes hooks back to that advertiser.”

I like this definition because it is clear and pretty simple. It also offers a pathway for local publishers to follow in planning their own native advertising programs:

  • Display native advertising as part of your news feed
  • Make it look and feel like your own content
  • Clearly label it “Sponsored” or “Paid” or “Presented by…” so you don’t mislead readers
  • Make sure the content includes links to the advertiser (more on this in a later post)

Here’s how this looks on the home and landing pages at The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C. Post  (and to fully disclose they are one of our clients):

P&C Home Page Jump Page

Rather than over thinking native advertising and making it more difficult for folks (like your advertisers) to understand, let’s focus on what all types of native advertising have in common:

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

It is helpful if you approach native advertising as a way for your advertisers to give a “gift” to your readers. It’s a partnership between you and your advertiser to deliver information readers want, can use or will entertained by — better yet, give them all three. Online it is truly better to give than to try to receive because site visitors don’t like being sold. (Does anyone?) They want to be engaged.

Really Make Native Line on Your Site

It is better to skip the native trend altogether than to try to do it halfway, wimp out or apologize for it. Fully integrate your native ad into the look, feel and flow of  the news feed on your home page. This is particularly crucial for your mobile presentation.

Tell your readers/site visitors what they are looking at with clear, prominent labels. Create original content for your advertisers that is really good, interesting and truthful, content that provides real value to your reader. If your native content is as good and as truthful as your newsroom content, then you have nothing to worry about or apologize for. In fact, native advertising can help you give your readers what they want and need. It can help you and your advertiser in search. Google loves original, local, quality content.

Make the Digital Link

It should be easy for your site visitors to share native ads via social media. This amplifies the advertiser’s message while delivering more traffic to you, a win-win for everyone. Make sure your native content includes links to your advertiser’s site. I’ll talk about “no follow” links, where you should link and social media, the ultimate key to digital linkage in tomorrow’s blog.

Making native seem complicated keeps the consultant in business, I guess, but it gets in the way of action and makes selling more difficult (more on that later this week).

I fully realize that for a blog post, this one seems longer than “War and Peace.” Thanks for reading this far. Please let me know your views, if you found this useful or if you have questions. Comment here or email paul@contentthatworks.com

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