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

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Chris Kirksey


types of native advertising

When it comes to advertising online, the options are endless. Which can make picking the perfect type for your brand or business difficult. Your competitors are doing their best to acquire your customers, so you need to capture their attention with powerful ads and a positive impression of your brand.

Not sure what advertising options are available, or the type of advertising strategy you should use? In this article, we’re covering two incredibly effective advertising techniques: sponsored content and native advertising.

Don’t know what the difference between these two ad types is, or when you’d use one over the other? In this article, we’re covering the ins-and-outs of these paid advertising options, so you can pick the right one for your business.

What are Native Ads?

Native ads are a broad category of paid ads, and they can take many forms. It functions differently than the more traditional paid advertising. Platforms disguise the native ad, making it look like the other original content that the platform hosts. They can appear as feed advertisements on social media platforms and media publications. They can even be promoted listings that appear on e-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon.

Take Google’s search engine results page for example. The first few results on the page are indistinguishable from the organic results unless you look closely. When you do, you’ll notice a few small differences, including the word “ad” below the ads.

Well, native ads take it a step further. Native ads are media ads that look just like the content customers are already seeing on site. They use the same principles as the Google example above but hide the ads within the written content.

Examples of native advertising might include those in a magazine. In such a case, you’d find insertions among the magazine articles. But unlike the other articles, these are written advertisements. They’ve become quite popular in digital aggregate magazines, such as Flipboard.

The content itself fits seamlessly into its surroundings. It takes a keen eye to pick out which is why it’s often mistaken for original content. That’s also why it’s so successful. Click through rates for native display ads are 8.8 times higher than normal display ads.

They’re actually designed to look like the surrounding content so that they can naturally blend into the website. Most often, they’re presented with teaser copy and an image that then links to sponsored, owned, or earned media.

Native Ads look much more like part of the website, thus the term “Native”.

They can also link to a wide range of content types, including articles, product listings, and websites.

Here are a few of the major types of native advertisements:

In-Feed Units

As mentioned above, in-feed units appear as sponsored posts in social media feeds. They appear in-line with articles, posts, and editorial content.

Paid Search Units

Paid search units are native ads for search engines. They’re ads placed at the top of the paid search results page that look like standard search results.

Native ads are more contextual than other types of advertising because they’re seamlessly integrated into the user experience. They look and feel like the medium’s content, unlike display and banner ads which often appear off to the side or at the top of the page.

Promoted Listings

Promoted listings are paid product listings that are designed to look just like other standard media placements. This approach is often used for marketing new books.

Recommendation Widgets

Recommendation widgets are another popular type of native ad. You can find them on social media sites, as well as publisher sites and search engine results pages. They’re most often ads to the side of a page or at the bottom of an article that recommend additional content related to the page you’re on. 

Why You Should Use Use Native Ads

Did you know that native ad spending will account for 61.4% of display ad spending this year? That’s up almost 15% from 2016. And the experts predict those numbers will continue climbing well into 2021.

But why are these numbers climbing? The answer is simple. Marketers found native advertising gives them a greater return on their investment than traditional display advertising.

While they may be paid advertisements, native ads serve up the relevant and educational content customers look for on the Internet. They can be a nice departure from standard ads, which customers have learned to ignore nowadays. They’re also a great workaround for ad blocking measures, which can make it easy for customers to avoid your other ads.

Native ads are also highly visual, and more likely to be shared as a result. They also tend to appear alongside other types of content, which makes them less disruptive to users. And because they look and feel like the content they’re already consuming, customers are more enticed to engage with them.

Effectiveness of Native Advertising

Traditional ads have grown less effective than they were two decades ago. We are inundated with excessive amounts of information, both online and in the real world. As such, we’ve had to learn strategies to pick out the pertinent details and tune out the rest.

But native advertising agencies know this and use it to their benefit. Instead of placing more traditional ads to compete with the declining returns, they’re changing their strategy. They’re restructuring their ads to have the look and feel of digital articles.

Readers are more likely to click on these ads because they don’t look like advertisements. Instead, they look and read like articles. It’s a method by which marketers can increase their revenue. And they don’t need to pump more cash into their search engine marketing campaigns.

The ad is also more likely to be read because it uses subject matter that readers want to learn about. The marketers find keywords that are trending and build an article around that subject. In doing so, they’re guaranteed an audience.

Readers also gain a connection to the ad creator. If the creator builds great content, the reader will trust him. This works to the creator’s benefit, as trust is a key factor in any sale.

This form of advertising also circumvents ad-blocking software and NO-ad subscription-based models. It also moves away from the interruption-based strategy that ads originally relied on. Instead, it focuses on creating content that people already want.

You can think of it like this. Traditional advertising works like a clown jumping out at you and scaring you into an ally. Native advertising, on the other hand, works like the scent of fresh waffle cones leading you into an ally.

With native ads, readers are usually in a happier mood, and inclined to buy.

Native Advertising Vs. Content Marketing

In many ways, these two approaches are the same. They both rely on popular content to connect to prospects. They both focus on building trust and gaining an audience.

Their differences come from their reliance or non-reliance on money.

With native ads, marketers pay platforms to slip their ads among the non-paid content. These ads are then guaranteed to land in front of as many people as the marketers pay for. After that, the platforms remove the ads.

It’s a quick way to guarantee a certain outcome. But you only get what you pay for. No more, no less.

Content marketing is less certain. It typically takes longer to land in front of an audience. Several factors determine any given article’s success:

  • Domain authority
  • Audience size
  • Article advertising
  • Topic popularity
  • Article originality
  • Writing ability

Companies that rely on content marketing build long-term campaigns. A year or longer is considered average. During that time, the goal is to create and distribute amazing content that draws prospects back to the company’s website.

As a prospect visits the site more and more often, they continue to build trust. Soon the company is also considered an authority on the article subject matter. As such, the prospects are more likely to purchase from them.

The articles also stay in the digital ether. Unlike native ads, these articles aren’t removed from a platform. They live on, attracting readers years after their original publishing date.

But the biggest difference is the cost. In theory, content marketing costs nothing. That’s not precisely true because they need a website and costs included therein. But compared to native ads, the costs are negligible.

The Ad Development Process

First, a company locates a platform through which they’d like to advertise. Then they buy an ad package from the platform. Afterward, they create content that matches similar content on the given platform. Remember, the goal is to blend in.

The company then hands the ads over to the platform. After the content is approved, the platform tags it with a warning of sorts. Words like “Advertisement” or “Paid Advertisement” are usually added below the headline.

The law requires platforms to point out paid ads. They must be transparent, so they have to give readers clues about what’s original content and what’s paid.

The ads run until they reach the number of people that the company paid for. Then the platform removes them.

What is Sponsored Content?

Sponsored content is actually a form of native advertising. It’s not a traditional ad unit though, but rather a more enriched piece of content like an article, listicle, or video. They offer readers useful, relevant, and valuable information that can entertain or educate them or both.

Sponsored content can be created in one of two ways. It can be created by the website publisher or the marketer. The content can also be created by a third-party company that specializes in providing content for clients.

Like other types of native ads, sponsored content is naturally integrated into the website. The major difference, however, is that this content is clearly flagged as “sponsored” or “promoted” content so customers aren’t misled.

This content typically includes a call to action that entices the user to go to the product or service page being promoted.

Why Use Sponsored Content?

Sponsored content is great because it offers up content for customers who are interested in it without distracting or disturbing people who aren’t. It’s ideal for today’s consumers who will abandon websites if they’re hit with advertisements they can’t quickly dismiss.

Sponsored content also empowers brands and businesses to tell engaging stories.

There’s only so much you can say with a banner ad or quick video clip.

Articles, infographics, and long-form videos can help businesses showcase their brand, expertise, and point of view in a way that speaks to users.

Additionally, sponsored content is engaged with more than other types of ad content.

Customers will spend more time reading an article than they will while interacting with a banner ad.

Sponsored content is also often interactive and shareable, which makes people more like to engage with and then share it with their network of peers.

Today’s customer doesn’t always trust ads, and many of them actually dislike ads altogether.

But high-quality content can earn their trust and convince them to keep coming back for more.

Thinking about possibly creating sponsored content? If you do, make sure that your sponsored content is:

  • Well-written
  • Well-produced
  • Relevant to your audience
  • Engaging or interactive
  • Shareable
  • Trustworthy

Whoever is creating your sponsored content should be an expert who understands your brand or product and distribution channels. They should know how to create content with your target audience in mind as well.

Be Everywhere You Can Be

It’s harder than ever to capture the attention of customers.

That’s why you need to implement paid ads like sponsored content and native ads.

They’re engaging, relevant, and useful to customers, which is what they’re looking for in today’s digital age.

Native content marketing is a fantastic tool, but it’s not built to be used alone.

It’s a short-term, paid form of advertising and works best when combined with long-term marketing.

That’s why it works so well in conjunction with content marketing.

If you’re serious about marketing, use native to get short term wins. Then build content for long term gains.

Remember that expert marketers rely on several strategies across many channels to ensure success.

Are you struggling with your advertising efforts? Looking to earn quality leads for less? Contact us to find out how you can make the most of your advertising and boost your online revenue!

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