For respected publishers, native ads (also known as sponsored content) are a true goldmine. According to last year’s FIPP report, more than a couple of organizations out there have generated large portions of their total publishing revenue via native ads. It’s a legitimate business model for online magazines and news organizations that aligns perfectly with the way reader behavior has evolved and how people feel about standard advertisements that often look out of place and interrupt them while consuming content.
However, even though sponsored content is considered to be a much better solution than just placing plain old banner ads on websites, native advertising is still a practice that needs a little time to master. In order for a native campaign to achieve its goal, it has to perfectly match the sensibilities and style of both the brand and publisher that stands behind it.
That’s often easier said than done.
Considering that the goals of every native advertising campaign differ from brand to brand and how every publisher’s audience has different preferences, it’s easy to say that every media organization faces a unique set of challenges in this particular domain.
At Content Insights, we work with publishers from all corners of the globe on a regular basis and help them generate more revenue by helping them to better understand their readers and, in turn, produce higher quality content for them. Over the course of our many conversations with our clients, we noticed that most share the same issues when it comes to native advertisements.
We’ve noticed that there are five native advertising challenges that most online magazines and news organizations tend to face:
1. Precisely analyzing performance and justifying ROI
Most publishers and brands that work with sponsored content still find it difficult to understand if their efforts are successful or not. Partly, this is because they are still using metrics such as Pageviews, Unique Pageviews and Average Time on Page to determine how well native ads are performing, but there’s nothing there that actually tells them about how this links to product sales.
Measuring ROI is still a puzzle for brands. They know native ads can work – after all, it seems like everybody’s doing it – but measuring success? Well, that’s something they’re still not clear on.
As we discussed in one of our how-to guides on our blog recently, publishers need to adopt a more precise and complex system to analyze the performance of sponsored content. Simple browser metrics, though they’ve been the accepted norm for years, don’t really offer much depth, and the insights they provide are superficial at best, misleading at worst. At Content Insights, we understand native advertising as a business model and we offer behavioral models that measure the actual engagement and exposure of your work.
Unlike the Average Time on Page metrics that people are used to looking at in their Google Analytics accounts, Content Insights’ Attention Time measures the real, engaged time readers spend consuming content. The so-called ‘idle time’ is not taken into account, so if a person’s not interacting with the page in any way, our metric will register the lack of activity and it won’t count that time as active.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Our Article Reads and Read Depth are far more precise than Pageviews. We’ve said it before, but it’s something that bears repeating: Pageviews is a simple browser metric. It indicates only how many times a certain page has loaded in a browser, not how many people saw and actually read the specific piece of content. Unlike Pageviews, Article Reads gives the actual number of people who have started attentively reading your content, while Read Depth shows how invested they were in consuming your work.
These metrics offer a more precise way to describe the performance of native advertisements, but it also helps publishers negotiate great prices for their work. But, more on that later.
2. Being transparent about sponsored content without jeopardizing the relationship with readers
The ethics of sponsored content has been widely discussed, especially in the context of journalism. As we know, sponsored content or native advertisements are designed to blend in with the rest of the publication’s content and should match its editorial tone and style. That way, the actual promotion of the product or service doesn’t feel disruptive if the content itself brings value to the reader.
Some disapprove of native advertisements and they see them as a form of trickery, while others think there’s nothing wrong with publishers collaborating with brands as long as this type of content is clearly labeled.
Why does it have to be labelled? Well, despite the concern within the industry, it seems that readers aren’t always that good at distinguishing native ads from ‘regular’ content. On the one hand, this shows that the content team has managed to successfully replicate the tone and style of the mother publication in the native content, but the flip side is that by disguising it so well, readers might feel duped into reading something that has advertising running through its digital veins.
Some research suggests fewer than one in 10 people can recognize sponsored content. That’s a surprisingly low number. Yes, one piece of recent research suggested that 57% of millennials don’t mind sponsored content if it’s done well, but as that article in Futurity suggested, the danger is that if and when readers discover that what they’re reading isn’t an article, their trust in that publication is likely to plummet.
To avoid putting the relationship with your readers at risk, try the following:
- Always be transparent and label sponsored content properly (don’t exploit grey areas)
- Prioritize your readers’ experience
- Pick brands and stories you collaborate with wisely (think about what your audience would like)
- Focus on telling a story and ensure the native advertisements always offer value
Remember: as a publisher, you need to protect your readers and act as a filter. Make sure you find a balance between your own content and branded content.
3. Explaining the value of native advertising to brands
We mentioned the issue of justifying ROI to brands who advertise on publishers’ websites, but this third challenge sits slightly apart from that earlier one. Publishers need to learn how to be both businessmen and marketers, and sell their services effectively.
Most brands still don’t see the correlation between buying a story on a specific news portal or online magazine and making more money. Statistics show that 1 in 3 internet users bought a product under the influence of sponsored content, yet it is still hard for publishers to convince their partners that sponsored content doesn’t just influence sales; it influences their entire brand value and helps people develop trust in their work.
When brands pay news portals and online magazines to write and publish contextual, high-quality content pieces about their business or specific services, they are automatically investing in their brand’s image. If people start to associate you with credible sources they love and trust, some that credibility will immediately rub off on you and people will at least remember your name. Getting your company’s name cited on domains like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Business Insider, and Forbes still means something. It still has its worth.
Publishers can help brands better understand what they’re getting in return when they pay for sponsored content by being more transparent about their audience and what specific sections, columns, and positions on their website has to offer.
With Content Insights, all of this information is accessible in just a couple of clicks. When negotiating with potential advertisers, our client The Local uses the app to identify possible partners with an in-depth perspective of their audience and reveal how engaged they are with the publisher’s content. Their experience has proven that the more people know about their audience, the bigger the chances they have of selling them sponsored posts.
If brands develop a better understanding of the fact that native isn’t the same as advertorial and how this form of sponsored content influences their brand positioning and credibility – the money they’ve spent on sponsored content will definitely feel a lot more justified.
4. Suggesting the right topics and identifying in-house authors who are up to the task
The success of any type of sponsored content is directly related to audience engagement, so publishers need to define which factors indicate the level of engagement, as well as the exposure of sponsored content.
In order to achieve that, they first need to analyze their entire website through multiple dimensions, and do so in great detail. As a starting point, it’s imperative to locate premium real estate on the website. There is no use selling sponsored content in a section where only a handful of readers visit and skim through the text. In order for a specific piece of sponsored content to be impactful, it needs to be placed in front of the publisher’s best and most engaged audience.
Finding premium real estate on your website is quite easy with Content Insights. Just look at the CPI scores of your topics and sections. Analyzing these two dimensions through all three models of CPI and you will easily spot lucrative real estate on your website where you can place native content and sell it to brands with a better guarantee they’ll get satisfying ROI.
Time for a real-world example, because sometimes things can get a bit technical.
Let’s say that you have a strong sports section on your website that generates a lot of loyal and engaged readers. For example, maybe you cover basketball really well and people are constantly coming to consume more content. For specific brands that offer sports gear and other sports-related equipment, this section is extremely valuable because it means that you not only have access to their desired audience – but you have your readers’ attention and trust, something you can communicate to this would-be advertiser clearly, easily and impactfully.
This, of course, will increase some brands’ interest in promoting their business on your website. By showing your potential clients how well you influence their target group, you can easily encourage more brands to do business with you.
However, once you generate their interest and get them to pay for this type of service, it’s of great importance that you do your best to make it worth their while. Since you need to disclose that you’re publishing sponsored content, it’s of crucial importance that you produce something unique and worth reading. You need your best writers for this job.
Even though you might have an idea who’s your best writer, our experience has shown that your gut feeling might not be 100% right. Most writers are kings in their own domain, they’re specialized for specific topics and they generate loyal followings for what they do and know best. However, once you take them out of their comfort zone and get them to write something different – the end result could be disappointing. That is why it’s really important to find the best possible writer for the best possible topic on your website.
Within the Content Insights app, you can see the Authors report and explore their individual performance. Just by following the behavior badges you will be able to spot your star writers for specific subjects.
Badges come in two different colors: red and green, depending on the performance of specific author’s articles. If the badge is red, that means that a specific author’s articles are performing below average; if they’re green, that means they’re doing good.
Badges also follow all three types of CPI. For instance, if authors have a green ENG badge, it means that they did really well at writing engaging articles. If they happen to have a green EXP badge too, it means they are also awesome at attracting new audiences. This powerful combo could reflect the perfect writer’s profile for producing native pieces.
5. Controlling the tone of voice and the overall quality of stories provided by the brands themselves
One of the biggest reasons why most sponsored content fails is a lack of trust between the brand and the publisher. Most brands want to aggressively push their agenda in their native content and they have little to zero regard about how their efforts will resonate with the publisher’s audience. They lack a foundation or core values about what they stand for or what they want to do, and they are not flexible when it comes to tweaking their approach and listening to new voices.
This is a total nightmare.
Without a clear vision in mind and a deep understanding of the publisher’s platform and audience, there’s no way a single sponsored post could grab anyone’s interest.
When it comes to sponsored content, brands can either pay someone (an agency, native studio, or publisher) to produce compelling content for them or buy media space on news portals and online magazines.
At Content Insights, we recommend the former, especially when the publisher itself is given the opportunity to produce sponsored content for its own audience.
In order for any sponsored piece to be effective, it needs to come in the form of a combined effort between the brand and the publisher. A publisher shouldn’t simply be seen as hired help or a blank canvas, but rather as true and equal partners that can be trusted to create content with the clients’ best interests in mind.
All native advertising stakeholders (brands and publishers) need to agree on what’s most important and proceed with caution. Native should not be seen as a short term strategy for getting the word out, but rather as a platform for building great relationships that significantly impact the top of the funnel interactions for brands.
Part of the challenge of going native is communicating how a data-informed approach is ultimately the best way to approach this new breed of advertising to ad agencies and brands, who have long been enthusiastic proponents of clicks and views. Volume alone is a poor indicator of success, but it’s our hope that with a clear, transparent and intuitive way of reporting success of content pieces, it’s possible to win over even the most skeptical brands with our approach. After all, we’re all after a win, right?
So, now, over to you. Are you experiencing the same struggles with your sponsored content? What metrics do you look at to determine the success rate of native campaigns? We’d love to hear your story and experience, so get in touch if you want to learn more about Content Insights and how we help our publishers generate a better ROI through their sponsored content!