5 Ways to Improve Native Ads While Maintaining Reader Trust

[reprinted from my blog post on www.pubexec.com]

Native advertising is now a major revenue driver for publishers, and its share of the advertising market will continue to grow. Revenue earned from native display advertising in the U.S. is expected to surpass $34 billion in 2017, and by 2021 it will make up 74% of U.S. display ad revenue. In 2014 Doug Anmuth, an internet analyst at J.P. Morgan, explained one reason behind this massive growth, “Native ads are quickly becoming the de facto ad format on mobile and increasingly moving into desktop. Publishers are increasingly shifting inventory to the format.”

While there are huge opportunities in native advertising, publishers must acknowledge the risks associated with the format and build greater trust with readers. Native advertising that is not distinguishable from content can make readers angry and discredit a publisher’s brand. Native advertising that is not relevant to them will lower reader’s opinion of content. Cluttering a website with low quality or poorly targeted native advertising forces readers to ignore the ads or abandon properties, which loses publishers money. In short, there are right and wrong ways to execute native advertising, and I’ll explore some of those in this post.

What Is Native Advertising?

But first, we should define exactly what we’re talking about when we discuss native advertising. According to a Cision white paper, native ads can take on a variety of formats. They can straddle social engagement (paid search ads or promoted content on social media), owned media (outlets or channels controlled by the brand or advertiser), and paid advertising (advertising and promotion placed in media through paid partnerships). Each format can help advertisers reach a variety of goals, whether that’s brand awareness or lead generation.

How Can Publishers Work With Advertisers to Improve Native Ads?

Ask advertisers about their objectives. For example do they want to convert sales and build leads? A recent study revealed that native ads generate higher click-through rates than traditional ads. And with targeting and retargeting, advertisers can achieve a cost-per-lead that is down significantly from direct response marketing.

Or do your clients want to use native ads to build a social brand? Native units are most helpful to brands that already have a presence on the social networks and who know how their users respond to content.

Alternatively, brands may want to establish themselves as a thought leader in a certain industry. Native, branded content is a great way for a brand to share their expertise.

Once you understand the objectives of your advertisers, you can better serve their needs while maintaining the trust that you’ve built up with your audience. Following are a few native ad guidelines that will help you balance serving the advertiser’s goals and maintaining the reader’s trust.

  1. Choose brand partners wisely. Because the user experience is seamless, a reader loses trust when publishers carry ads from a brand they consider to be untrustworthy If the brand is not relevant to your audience or lacks authority, readers will consider that brand untrustworthy. According to a study conducted in 2016 by Contently, “consumers trust the publishers they read to make responsible decisions about the partners they choose and the content they run.”
  1. Provide a seamless ad experience that engages readers. Successful native advertising follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed. Mimic the content around it; match the appearance, tone, and function of the page and platform where it appears. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, most advertisers and publishers aspire to deliver paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that “the viewer simply feels that they belong.A good example is the award winning 2016 campaign that created by Politico, Hacker Avenue.
  1. Deliver relevant content. Native advertising relies on strong headlines and relevant content that people want to read. An excellent example of quality paid content that received wide recognition two years ago is Netflix’s “Women Inmates, Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work” promoting Orange is the New Black, which was published on NYtimes.com.
  1. Incorporate video. The Native Advertising Institute cites video as the most popular native format right currently. Publishers can incorporate native video in three ways:
    1. Native Autoplay Preview (a short-form video preview)
    2. Native In-Feed Video (click-to-play format that is user initiated)
    3. Outstream Autoplay Video (video that automatically plays outside of a video player, often in between text paragraphs)
  1. Label native advertising. While labeling can be tricky, don’t trick your audience. Generally, a consumer should be able to distinguish between what is paid native advertising and what is the site’s editorial content. Mediaradar recently reported that 70% of publishers are not following FTC native ad guidelines. It should be noted, however, that the FTC guidelines are open to broad interpretation and many in the industry are asking for the guidelines to be clarified. TheNew York Times, which uses a color bar and the term “paid posts,” and Forbes, which labels native content with “brand voice,” continue to tweak their labeling in an effort to create good brand experiences while also giving readers clear signs they’re reading ads. Type should be large and visible enough for a consumer to notice it in the context of the overall page regardless of the device it’s viewed on.

With the revenue opportunity, native ads must be carefully developed and delivered to realize benefits for advertisers and avoid confusing or angering your audience. Done poorly, native advertising can break consumers’ trust in the publisher’s brand – it misleads consumers into reading content that’s actually an ad. Done well, native advertising can move the publisher’s time-on-page and engagement numbers up as well as generate new ad revenue.