Does native advertising really work?

I’ll set out my stall straight away, I don’t particularly like native advertising. 

However, I’m seeing this as an exercise in trying to dispel my own confirmation bias.

I would love nothing more than to rant endlessly about an advertising practice I’ve described before as no better than “autoplay video, Spotify ads and downloading spyware onto your browser” or, horror of horrors, downloading a U2 album into your iTunes.

But… as you will have noticed from time to time, we run sponsored articles on SEW and I would come across as somewhat hypocritical. Just like how I accused pop-up ads of being “contemptible” yesterday and yet you were probably presented with one on your first visit here.

The balancing of user-friendliness, our own editorial judgement and the need to make some actual money is a difficult thing to get right. I’ll save the pop-up conversation for another time though, let’s get back to native advertising… 

Despite any personal feelings, they are part of our business model for the time being, and they help this site continue to exist.

There’s no doubt that we’ve gone on far too long expecting everything on the internet to be free, advertising needs to exist in order to support the existence of the sites you love visiting so much. The sooner we retrain people’s expectations, the better. 

But, display ads don’t really work anymore; overlays, push-downs and full-screen pop-outs just piss people off. Is there an argument to say that sponsored content is a better alternative? Surely an article among the rest of your content, that carries some advertorial leaning is better than endless interruptions from display ads?

Sponsored content NEEDS to be clearly labelled as such, carry the same editorial tone as the rest of the site and be just as informative, useful or entertaining as the non-sponsored posts on the site.

But there in lies the problem, if you’re scrolling down a homepage and see ‘sponsored content’ you’re going to ignore it, just like you’ll ignore the banner or MPU.

And why the hell would you read an article on the best debut albums of 2015 by Microsoft?

Or am I completely wrong? Maybe people don’t give nearly as much of a damn as I presume? Let’s take a look at as many different stats as I can possibly find to see whether native advertising really works or not.

I promise to remain impartial.

Native advertising stats 

Over at Inc. there’s an infographic by MDG (ps… there’s a great big ol’ pop-up when you click that link) with loads of juicy stats.  

  • 70% of people would rather learn about products through content than traditional ads 
  • 52% of people who click on native ads have a higher purchase intent then those clicking banner ads (34%)
  • Forbes claimed that 20% of its 2013 revenue came from its native ad platform 

The following stats come from Dedicated Media:

  • Native ads are viewed 53% more than banner ads
  • Native ads generate an 82% brand lift 
  • 32% of consumers say they would share a native ad with their friends and family 

What does this tell us so far? People prefer native ads to banners mainly, and that they can work as a brand awareness tool as well as generating revenue.  

I reported last week that fewer native ads are due to run in 2016. 45% of marketers say they’re going to use native ads in 2016, a dip of 5% from 2015, but I’m not sure this really reveals much about their worth to visitors.

But hey, while we’re poking around for stats, why don’t we reveal some data from under our own hood.  

The following figures from Google Analytics are for our last sponsored post, published October 7.

pages-google-analytics

With 3,695 unique pageviews accrued between publication date and 13 January, this is only 1,000 unique pageviews less than our top performing post that same week, but between 1,500 – 2,000 above other guest posts. 

So in terms of traffic, it did very well. As for the content itself.. well, you can judge for yourself, but personally I think that although it does contain some insight, it falls too heavily on the ‘advertorial’ side of native advertising. 

Are you likely to trust a review where the subject is the sponsor? Then again, this is no different to any brand’s marketing copy trying to show off the benefits of the product, if you’re in the market for this type of thing, then great! But then again, are you coming to Search Engine Watch to buy a rank-checking tool, or to get independent, objective advice on which is the best one to buy?

It’s here that I return to my earlier thoughts, surely this sponsored article is still better than a display ad though? It’s less irritating or invasive. One thing’s definitely for sure however, the article should have been clearly labelled as ‘sponsored’ at the top, as this information isn’t revealed until you scroll to the bottom. This is where native advertising becomes as irritating as pop-ups, people want complete transparency about the motive behind they’re reading. 

People don’t necessarily mind seeing adverts, in fact some people will go out of there way to see them, so I don’t believe there’s any need to ‘cloak them’ as anything else.

So I’ve not really drawn much of a conclusion other than native ads probably aren’t going away anytime soon, people don’t really seem to mind them, they can be as successful as non-sponsored content and with a little bit more adhesion to guidelines (transparency, quality content) they don’t have to put people off coming back to your site.

Next week: an argument in defence of YouTube pre-roll ads. 

Not really.

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