Native advertising has come a long way.

Just a few years ago, it was reported that almost half of those surveyed were clueless about what native advertising is: Only 3% nodded in the affirmative. Today, this innovative method of promoting brands is being used by top organizations, including Yahoo and Facebook. In fact, most major brands use native advertising to some degree.

Though native advertising is certainly effective, too many marketers are using the terms "native advertising" and "content marketing" interchangeably.

What a shame. If you don't distinguish between the two, you won't get the most out of either.

Let's fix that.

The Difference Between Native Ads and Content Marketing

Native Advertising

Native advertising is a form of paid ad that is dressed up like an editorial and designed to match the publication where it's published. The ads are required to be clearly labeled, and they often contain self-promotional references and links to the advertiser's site.

Do they work? Absolutely.

Native ads are 53% more effective at drawing the eye than traditional paid advertising. Furthermore, native ads have the potential to be shown on many of the site's pages, instead of just on a few "highly relevant" pages, which is the case with content marketing guest posts. Therefore, native ads should be a welcome addition to your overall content marketing plan.

Advantages of native advertising:

  • More exposure: Your ads can be "recommended" to every person who visits the site.
  • Unassuming: Though clearly labeled, native ads don't trigger a prospect's defenses like a blatant ad might. Since native ads are camouflaged to look more like regular content, leads are more likely to click and get hooked.
  • Targeted: Ads show only in relevant areas of the site.
  • Lead-ready: Native ads allow you to access an already established audience, making your job of enticing the click much easier.
  • Effective: According to one study, consumers looked at native content more than they looked at the editorial content.

Content Marketing

"Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on the creation and distribution of valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action."

Content marketers publish blog posts, guest posts, e-books, articles, infographics, images, and anything else the audience finds riveting and motivating with the goal of building awareness and trust by providing useful information that solves the prospect's problems, instead of trying to pitch its products to the reader directly.

Though native advertising can also involve those types of content, content marketing is primarily driven by owned media, such as the brand's own newsletter and blog. With content marketing, the brand's tone is consistent across content; with native, the tone can change to match that of the host site.

Advantages of content marketing:

  • Lasting relationships: Content marketing is "owned content," which means you own it and control it. By attracting and nurturing leads with your content, you build familiarity and loyalty while—along with native ads—further positioning your brand as an industry leader.
  • Targeted: Though native ads target prospects who land on publisher sites, content marketing articles can be placed on article directories and the brand's own website, allowing marketing teams to control how content is distributed and therefore cast a much wider lead-gathering net.
  • Permanent: Content placed on the brand's platforms become a permanent part of the online ecosystem, driving awareness and traffic for years. Furthermore, content marketing is not dependent on a monthly ad spend with any publisher.
  • SEO boost: When you control the content, you control where the links lead and whether to pass on valuable links. Native ad publishers sometimes block links from passing SEO value (i.e., they use only nofollow links). Since content marketing primarily consists of "owned content," you can choose how to treat links.
  • More keywords: Continually publishing blog posts on your site builds the number of keywords your site ranks for. That, in turn, drives more organic search traffic, which has the highest ROI of just about any other marketing technique.

A Match Made in Marketing Heaven

With all the ad blockers out there, native advertising is steadily catching on as the paid promotion of choice among brands. When you consider that display ads have, on average, a CTR of 0.17% and native ads' CTR averages 1.5% (according to Marketing Land), the reason is clear.

Used together, native advertising and content marketing can cover more ground when gathering leads. Marketers are creating more content each year, but the sizes of the audiences are staying the same. With all the content out there, your brand will be struggling to get your marketing message in front of hungry buyers before anyone else does. Unless you also incorporate native advertising into your content marketing campaign.

Just as marketers have used content marketing and display ads in conjunction to capture a wider segment of their target audience, native advertising has a higher chance of getting noticed amid the noise. If you think of content marketing as casting a wide net, you can think of native advertising as an unhindered extension of that net.

For your native ads to stand out, you should...

  • Focus on quality only. Hold your native ads to a standard just as high as (or even higher than) your other content's. Your native ads should inform, engage, and speak to the users' problems, just as with content marketing.
  • Use the right platforms. Like content marketing, native advertising should be well-researched, targeted, and placed in a spot your target audience is likely to hang out online. It does little good to put a paid ad where no one will see it. Keep an eye on your competitors' native ads, and emulate their processes until you find the channels were native advertising seems to work best for your brand.
  • Label your ads properly. To get your native ads approved and published, be sure to label them clearly as advertisements. Transparency is key if you hope to build trust with your audience. Sadly, 40% of publishers ignore FTC guidelines regarding native advertising. Expect harsher guidelines and strict penalties.
  • Test your audience. You may not have considered this, but native advertising is ideal for testing markets as you fine-tune your content marketing strategy. A/B-testing headlines, copy, and images can give you valuable metrics for finding what's most resonating with your audience. Testing will make your content marketing strategy more honed and precise, and produce stellar results.

Should you be using native advertising and content marketing together because nearly everyone else seems to be? Of course not. Other brands are using native advertising and content marketing as a means of reaching audiences where other ad types like AdWords are falling flat.

It's best to think of native advertising as yet another powerful element of your content marketing strategy, and it's designed to do the same thing—help to build a relationship between you and your consumer, one piece of content at a time.

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Content Marketing and Native Advertising: A Match Made in Marketing Heaven

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image of Ryan Gould

Ryan Gould is VP of strategy and marketing services at Elevation, where he helps clients solve their problems and achieve their business goals through integrated marketing solutions distinguished by research, storytelling, engagement, and conversion.

LinkedIn: Ryan Gould

Twitter: @ryanscottgould