5 Research-Based Findings Show Content Marketing Beats Native Advertising

Columnist Kelsey Libert delves into the data that show why you should be looking to content marketing to drive SEO value and boost your rankings.


Based on HubSpot’s “State of Inbound 2014–2015” report, the companies with the highest ROI focus on blogging, organic search, and content amplification.

As the need for these three revenue-generating tactics has grown, Google Trends shows interest in content marketing and native advertising mirrors the growth of interest in these areas.



The lifeblood of the most talented content marketing agencies is the ability to create data-driven campaigns that naturally earn high-authority press. Now, these same high-authority publishers are beginning to offer their own content creation via native advertising.

But do businesses truly understand how the efficacy of these two similar approaches differs?


In the past month, Fractl teamed up with Moz in an effort to create a research-based report on the efficacy of content marketing versus native advertising. (Full disclosure: Fractl is a content marketing agency.)

The foundation of our study was a 14-question survey of over 30 different agencies specializing in content marketing. For the second part of our analysis, Relevance provided us with its native advertising cost data from close to 500 digital publishers. We also curated cost data from an additional 100 top-tier publishers. (Note: The prices used were the minimum rates quoted by the publishers — final negotiated rates with actual advertisers might differ.)

After dedicating a month to gathering the raw data, we began our analysis. Here’s what we learned.

1. Content Marketing Drives SEO Value And Boosts Organic Rankings; Native Advertising Does Not

Forty-eight percent of clients measure content marketing success by the number of leads, high-quality links, and total social shares generated by each campaign.


While content marketing ROI can be tracked through increased organic rankings as a direct result of earning a diverse, high-quality link portfolio, native advertising reach is limited to the number of paid publisher partnerships (e.g., a single paid placement on BuzzFeed), and these “sponsored links” are not allowed to pass value.



2. Infographics And Articles Represent Almost 60% Of Production In Content Marketing Agencies – Content That Top-Tier Publishers Want

When Fractl surveyed 500 top-tier publishers, we discovered that articles, infographics, mixed-media pieces, and data visualizations were the types of content that top-tier publishers wished they saw more of. Based on our industry survey, articles and infographics represent almost 60% of the campaigns that content marketing agencies produce.


On average, 65% of content marketing agencies produce between one and 10 campaigns per month for each client.


Each one of these campaigns presents an opportunity for the media relations team to secure a diverse portfolio of press coverage, whereas native advertising campaigns often secure only the placement by the original publisher.


3. Content Marketing Secures An Average Of 27 Links Per Campaign; Native Advertising Secures 1

According to Compete data, BuzzFeed secures more than 32 million unique visitors per month. However, when we used Buzzsumo to analyze 38 BuzzFeed native advertising campaigns in comparison to 58 Fractl content marketing campaigns, we found BuzzFeed native advertising campaigns earned an average of one BuzzFeed link per campaign and zero syndications.


*The BuzzFeed campaigns were calculated using all the posts on a Brand’s Publisher page (e.g., Kindle), whereas the Fractl campaigns were calculated using all the campaigns executed for each of our clients during 2014.

In comparison, we found the average content marketing campaign earns 27 links; meanwhile, each agency’s “most successful campaign” generated an average of 422 links and a median of 150 links.



So what does it cost to secure all of this press?

4. 70% of Content Marketing Agencies Offer Monthly Retainers

Seventy percent of content marketing agencies offer monthly retainers, which tend to fall into four brackets: $1,000-$5,000, $5,000-$10,000, $10,000-$50,000, and $50,000-$100,000. Sixty percent of agencies offer a retainer less than $10,000.

Below, we see that retainer cost can largely impact a campaign’s success since a larger budget enables an agency to invest in innovative, larger-scope campaigns that are more desirable to influencers.

For example, a press release about your company’s latest product launch may cost $1,000, but it would get very limited reach and engagement — in comparison, a research-driven, interactive campaign comparing user sentiment around your products might cost around $10,000 to produce, but it will drive an engaging discussion that will earn your brand more press mentions and social engagement.


5. Average Cost Of Launching A Native Advertising Program With A Top-Tier News Publisher: $54,014.29

Based on our research, these top-tier publishers require the following minimum spend to engage in a native advertising partnership with brands:


Using additional cost data, we found the average cost of launching a native advertising program with a top-tier news publisher was $54,014. When we analyzed the cost data for all publishers who have a domain authority (DA) greater than 80, we found the average value of launching a native advertising program was $35,482. (Note that these cost averages were calculated from original cost totals and not the averages listed below.)

When we evaluated all publishers and blogs below a DA of 80, we see the less valuable publishers (lower reach) offer a significantly reduced cost. For sites with a DA less than 80, the highest cost was $20,000 and the lowest cost was $10.


When analyzing the cost data above, we see a clear distinction that native advertising cost is largely associated with a publisher’s authority and, in turn, reach.


However, since we also saw that a publisher’s audience size isn’t a guarantee and the costs can be exorbitant for most brands, we can’t help but wonder if the cost of native advertising has been inflated as a means for publishers to recover traditional ad revenue.

Whether you use publishers or marketing agencies to produce your content, you’ll always need to refine your processes to increase user engagement. For more information, you can check out past columns on content creation and pitching best practices.

In closing, we want to give a special thanks to Relevance for providing us with the raw native advertising cost data from more than 500 publishers. We’d also like to thank the 32 content marketing agencies that participated in our report.

What do you think about the convergence of content marketing and native advertising? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Kelsey Libert is a public speaker, Harvard Business Review columnist, and VP of Marketing at Frac.tl, a company that specializes in the science behind viral marketing.

(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)


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