Google announced earlier this month that advertisers are now able to place native advertisements in Gmail accounts. Gmail native ads appear at the top of the Gmail Promotions tab, and when a person clicks on the ad it expands to a full email-sized canvas that allows people to interact with the ad's images and text.
Source: Taboola native ad in Gmail
This announcement by Google is big news in the digital marketing world because it shows the continuing growth and adoption of native advertising.
What Is Native Advertising?
So what exactly is native advertising? According to native ad company Sharethrough, “Native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.”
If you think about it, Google was actually one of the first “native advertisers” when they introduced paid ads into the organic search engine results pages – subtly blending ads with non-paid listings. With native advertising it’s important that the ad doesn’t look like an ad, it should blend in and look like just another piece of content on the page. (Think of native advertisements as a digital version of the advertorials you often see in print magazines.)
The largest social platforms in the world make money with native, in-feed ads, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. The traditional publishing industry is quickly following suit, with companies like "Time," "Wall Street Journal," "Forbes" and "USA Today" offering advertising integrations that match the form and function of their editorial content. Often referred to as “sponsored ads,” this content within their pages sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish editorial content from advertisements.
According to Sharethrough, consumers look at native ads 52% more than traditional banner ads. The fact that native ads blur the line between advertising and content can be perceived as a good thing or a bad thing (depending on who you ask). For a digital marketer this blurred line is a dream come true – but only if done in a way that converts.
Writing Content That Converts
Remember, native ads need to follow the function and form of the editorial content that surrounds it. If you’re using a paid platform like LinkedIn or Facebooks ads or are going through native ad companies like Outbrain or Taboola, you don’t need to worry about the function, because the platforms take care of that for you. So it’s the form you need to pay attention to in order to get users to convert.
If you look online you’ll see both good and bad examples of native advertising. An example of a bad native ad is this one from Proxe. This ad jumped out at me while I was on Facebook reading about how my Aunt Marina’s hip replacement surgery went. Notice how they use the word “FREE” in all caps, the headline looks like a headline with initial caps and the sentence is stuffed with keywords? That’s bad. This ad breaks form because it’s not what I’m used to seeing in my Facebook newsfeed.
Source: Facebook native advertisement from Proxe
On the other hand, here is an example of a native ad I found in my LinkedIn newsfeed. This one is much better because it follows the form of what I’m used to seeing in my LinkedIn newsfeed – professional information, tips, techniques, business discussions, etc.
So the next question you should ask yourself is: what does a person expect to see when they click on an ad like this one? Most of the time people expect to find content. However, when I clicked on the Pardot link, I was taken to a squeeze page where I had to enter my contact information to download a white paper. Now in general there’s nothing really wrong with asking people for info before they convert, but when I clicked on the link I was really hoping to read some information about marketing automation.
Source: Pardot landing page
If you’re going to run a successful native advertising campaign, you should strive to follow the form in which the ad was placed and then give the reader the content they expect to receive when they click on your ad. In this case, Pardot would’ve been better off providing me with a teaser article on marketing automation and then ask me to provide my contact information to receive the buyer’s guide.
Send People to Pages They Expect
After a person clicks on your native ad, it’s best to send them to a page where they can get the information they expect right out the gate. After you provide them with the content they anticipated, you can follow up by having them sign up to receive more information on the topic. One of the ways you can do this is by sending the visitor to a blog post on the topic and include a call to action (CTA) on that page where people can sign up to receive more information on the subject.
Here are some steps on how to write native-worthy content that converts:
- Start by writing backwards
- Be useful but incomplete
- Write the headline
- Write the copy
- Distribute the content
First, start with the end in mind. When you begin writing a native ad, you want to start with the end in mind. What is the next step you want people to take to get closer to your offer? Do you want them to make a purchase, opt in to your newsletter, download a whitepaper, etc.? You can help yourself out by starting with the call to action (CTA). At this point don’t think headlines or content, simply start with a blank slate and the call to action. Everything else will flow backwards from here.
Be useful but incomplete. When people click on a native ad they expect to see content. So don’t ruin their experience by sending them to a squeeze page with no content. What you should do is give them useful content that’s incomplete – something that leaves them wanting more. (i.e. The headline of your ad might be What’s the First Step to Getting More Sales Leads? and you provide them with information on that first step, but in order to get the other nine steps, they must provide their email address.)
Write a headline that looks like a news article or matches the context of the platform you’re advertising on. Native advertising is a content distribution strategy. You have to build trust. If you give people what they want, they’ll give you what you want. Write a headline that looks and feels like a news story – not a marketing piece or advertisement.
Write content that offers value. If a person is going to take the time to click on your ad, the least you can do is provide them with sufficient content that will whet their appetite for more information about what you have to offer. Make sure the content you provide aligns with the headline you’ve created and provides the user valuable information that they would expect from clicking on your ad. It’s better to over deliver – don’t skimp here or you’ll lose the reader’s trust.
Deliver your ad. There are a lot of native ad distribution companies. Taboola is widely recognized as the world’s leading native advertising content discovery platform, reaching 550M unique visitors and serving over 200 billion recommendations every month.
Taboola reaches more U.S. desktop users than Facebook. There are other content distributors like Outbrain, Gravity, Sharethrough, Content.ad, Disqus, Nrelate and buzzfeed.
Native Ad Distribution Tips for Local Businesses
If you’re marketing a local business, go directly to the local newspaper and tell them that you are interested in being featured in their newspaper (and their online edition) by providing sponsored content. Find out the advertising rates for their newspaper and get a quote for running a native ad on their site. Typically you should pay half the standard advertising rate. (Keep in mind that publishers can save up to 30% on commissions by bypassing Taboola or other native advertising companies. Make sure they pass some of those savings on to you as a discount!) Confirm that they agree to allow you to include a hyperlink in your ad, that they do not put any borders around your ad and see if you can get your ad listed in the table of contents in the print publications. Remember that it is VERY important that your native ad look and read like an article – not an ad.
Native ads are getting seen – just like traditional content. In fact, Sharethough found that consumers look at native ads more than original editorial content: 26% vs. 24%. With numbers like that, it’s critical that you create content that inspires, blends in and looks like traditional content. If you create content that compels, you’re certain to get the results you’re looking for!
Have you had success with native advertising? Let us know about it in the comments.