Native Advertising vs. Content Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Brad Keys

Feb 16, 20174 min read
Native Advertising vs. Content Marketing

The world of internet marketing has grown up a lot in the past 15 years. As our digital ecosystem continues to evolve so do the terms we use to define the many parts that must grow along with it. Enter native advertising and content marketing.

While native advertising refers to a single and specific way for marketers to distribute content, content marketing refers to a larger practice of advertising and content distribution as a whole.

Several businesses and marketers erroneously use the two words interchangeably. These content formats have very different meanings and capabilities. Understanding the difference between these definitions is of particular importance in understanding how internet marketing is evolving while planning for the future. This post dives a little into the difference between these two content formats.

Native Advertising

Native advertising is something that all of us are familiar with to an extent.

It’s a type of online marketing characterized by a streamlined and unobtrusive ad placement and the targeted and valuable information that it provides to a specified demographic.

Native ads are placed “ seamlessly” within a website so that they don’t disrupt the experience of the viewer, like in between paragraphs, and usually do not appear like a traditional ad in that they may not directly advertise for a service.Here is what that looks like on BuzzFeed:

Native Advertising Example from Buzzfeed

More often than not, this type of content distribution will use relevant or interesting information to engage with the readers that the business is targeting on someone else’s domain. Often they are using industry standard "headline hacks" like you see above.

In this way, a spot for a native advertisement is sort of like a spot for a TV commercial or a blank roadside billboard. You can tell native ads apart from other banners and the website they are being hosted on by the small label saying something like “ad” or “sponsored content” that appears on each one (though these are becoming more creatively discrete over time). 

There are several platforms here from Yahoo Gemini to Outbrain or Taboola and everything in between.Here is a quick rundown the the top 3 "content discovery" platforms:

  • Taboola

    Founded in 2007, Taboola is a content discovery platform that connects people with content.The company delivers over 550 million unique visitors on a monthly basis and over 200 billion (with a B) recommendations to websites like Business Insider, Bloomberg and USA Today

  • Outbrain

    Founded in 2006, Outrain provides a service for "recommended links" to increase qualified traffic and revenue.The partnership with premium publishing sites like CNN, Mashable, People and MSNBC yield high volumes of quality traffic as a distinct advantage.

  • Yahoo Gemini

    Yahoo's Gemini marketplace for native advertising launched in February of 2015 and is the default audience option for those that advertise with Yahoo.Yahoo leverages proprietary data signals targeting audiences with interest over various Yahoo web properties (like Yahoo Finance) and third-party and apps. Benefits are no click fraud, less competition for cheap branding (if your target demographic makes sense for their interest layering) as well as inexpensive remarketing.

It is worth noting that currently, over 200 million people are now using ad blockers which does not affect these native ad formats.Also clicks cost roughly between $0.03and $0.06 between mobile and desktop respectively.Looking at the display ad revenue it is safe to say that native advertising is only growing and marketers should take note:

Native Advertising Revenue Projections from BI Intelligence

Content Marketing

On the other hand, content marketing is a much bigger idea and has a wider and longer-term focused goal. Like native advertising, content marketing provides valuable knowledge to raise brand awareness while targeting a specialized group of potential customers.

However, content marketing goes further in that its primary focus is moreover to nourish the lead as part of a long-term process with the end result being sales and conversions.It is not a single piece of content but an ongoing process that integrates into an overall marketing campaign.

This process generally includes content assets like videos, guides, newsletters, whitepapers and the very blog you’re reading. Another important distinction is that the media shared through content marketing is owned by the business that is sharing it and can be a valuable asset of theirs, while native ads traditionally run on a “pay to play” basis on platforms that the company does not own.

To do content marketing properly, marketers want to segment their content strategy into top, middle and bottom funnel strategy as outlined below.

Content Marketing Funnel Example

Why Does this Matter?

Understanding the difference between these two aspects of digital marketing allows us to capitalize on them and market better. Native advertising works to interest potential customers through primarily a rented service and lead them back to the type of content that they do own. This content is targeted to keep customers interested, build trust, and drive conversions. 

Readers are necessarily less engaged with advertising vs. editorial content, and metrics show lower share rates, lower engagement rates, lower view counts, etc. in most cases

— Kelsey Libert - VP of marketing at Fractl

That’s not all…

One can see how native advertising and content marketing work hand-in-hand here. Simply put, native advertising and content marketing have different goals and different methods to achieve them. Combined they can collaborate to bring a significant amount of quality content to quality customers.

Native ads plus content marketing presents a very synergistic one-two punch and when coupled with other retargeting funnel tactics mean a strong ROI for those that take the time and investment in getting it right.

What do you think about native advertising? Do you think it has a place in your marketing strategy?

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Brad is the Director of Strategy and Enterprise Sales at 180fusion. He focuses on cutting edge digital optimization tactics to support profitable and sustainable growth strategies for online businesses.