Columnist Susan Esparza weighs in on native advertising, advising marketers to create ads that provide value to users.
In magazines, it’s called an advertorial. In academia, it’s a sponsored study. In search, it’s paid placement.
But whatever the name, the goal is the same – produce content that looks and feels unbiased but is actually an ad for a particular service or product. This is what we call native advertising, ads that blend in with the non-sponsored content almost seamlessly.
Online, we’re still at the dawn of native advertising, with different vendors providing competing standards and everyone having an opinion on the definition of what exactly it is. In addition, every publisher has a different view on the value of this new ad format, as well as different implementation goals and concerns.
- Will native advertising supplement or replace traditional advertisements?
- Will it alter the relationship between advertisers and users?
Identifying A Native Ad
Native advertising is located within the main feed of the website or mobile app/site content and looks eerily identical to the type of “official content” that the user has come to the site to consume. It is generally identified by a small disclosure labeling the ad as such.
Each site on the web has different standards for the image sizes, number of characters, etc., and for their content. Native advertising vendors have adopted their own set of regulations across their set of publishers, each claiming to be the industry standard.
This has resulted in a lot of non-compatibility among sites and has created extra work for advertisers wishing to dip their toe in the “native advertising” water.
From the publisher side, are publishers ready to standardize their site in terms of look and feel to enable them to incorporate this type of native advertising seamlessly?
Yahoo proclaims it has a solution with its new Gemini platform, professing the flexibility to handle all types of formats. Google has been moving in this direction, as well.
Learning From Paid Search
Native advertising should be inherently useful, in terms of its placement on the site as well as its format, to the user of the site.
For example, Google has on many occasions discussed that sponsored search results (also known as AdWords) should be just as useful as the organic search results (the AdWords ranking system incorporated signals of quality to achieve this).
Google typically would test ads in the right rail to see what click-through rate these ads achieved, then challenge the advertiser to earn their spot in the main line of search results. Publishers should follow suit and have a similar goal for native advertising.
Yahoo has recently been at the forefront of native advertising, testing the new format for its advertisers and then serving these native ads on their pillar media properties. These ads are injected into the main stream of properties such as Yahoo Finance and seem to be the domain of direct response advertisers rather than content-marketing type advertising.
This results in delivering questionable value to the site visitor. However, Yahoo, which had a contrary policy to Google search in trying out search ads in the main line and then demoting them to the right rail, is again letting advertisers both of high-quality and low-quality acquire premium placement on its most valuable pages.
In the long run, will this lack of discretion lead to native advertising being viewed as content to be avoided on web pages due to it being low quality?
We have a chance here to tip the scales and reinvent advertising to be relevant and valued content that is inherently useful (albeit paid for) that a user welcomes on a web page.
Sadly enough, approaches like the one Yahoo is taking, with its bias toward direct response content, is leading to users ignoring this content in the same way they do the ads and frivolous clickbait on the fringes of pages.
In search, when paid search was introduced, many users did not know that the top search results were paid and search companies with lower quality paid results such as Yahoo lost significant market share.
By contrast, Google with higher quality paid search results gained market share. The danger is that we will see a similar scenario with the publishers that adopt direct response native ads instead of seeking content-marketing-based ads that offer added value.
Leveraging Quality Signals
In display advertising, where the signal of intent is not as strong as with search queries, the signal comes from both the context within the content as well as the knowledge the brand has about the user.
Is it possible that we can use quality signals across multiple publishers to ensure that native advertising remains relevant to the user?
This form of advertising could result in delivering a new frontier of ads and “retraining” users on how they should view and interact with sponsored content.
With Google entering the fray, will it show Yahoo how it is done with its learnings from the search market with AdWords and AdSense? This will be exciting to see play out.
Native advertising offers a good opportunity for all types of online marketers; but, it is important to focus on creating ads that will provide value to users.
This requires time and human intervention, making it a more expensive proposition at the moment. However, the benefits may well justify the cost — and native advertising is certainly not going away any time soon.