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Sponsored Content vs. Native Advertising: What Is the Difference?

Computers and People

Marketers have many options when it comes to online advertising. The two basic methods of ad placement on websites are sponsored content and native advertising. They have much in common, and there are situations in which one is more appropriate than the other. So, what’s the difference?

Native Advertising

The term “native advertising” refers to a type of paid media that matches the form and function of the website on which it appears. It visually matches the website design, and it covers a topic that interests the website visitors. Some native ads blend in so well with the rest of the web content that a visitor may think, at first, that they are written by the website’s editorial staff instead of being a paid promotion.

Native advertising is a big umbrella that covers many different types of ads. These include:

  • In-feed ads, which often appear on social media platforms or publishing websites.
  • Recommendation widgets, which often include the language “You might also like… “ and are run by third-party providers such as Taboola or Outbrain.
  • Paid search ads, which are the first search results that appear when you use a platform such as Google or Bing.
  • Promoted listings, which appear on shopping websites such as eBay or Amazon mixed in with the other search results for the item you want.

For example, if you go to the Google search page, at the bottom you will see several ads in a box labeled “articles for you.” A news website such as CNN may offer links that appear to be news articles but actually are native ads.

The native ad usually contains a brief amount of copy designed to get your attention, and it links to whatever content the sponsor wants you to see. This could be a sponsored article, an item listed for sale, or a business website, for example. 

The most effective native ads provide real value to the reader since they link to content or a product that the reader is truly interested in learning more about. Sometimes they blend into a website so well it’s hard to tell on first glance that it’s an ad linking to an outside source.

Technology using cookies and other tracking methods is able to serve up contextual advertising based on a user’s search history or other engagement. This is why, if you post something about your dog on Facebook, it may present you with ads for pet products.

Native advertising allows you to measure the number of views it receives, as well as clicks and engagement. You can use this information for analysis and use A/B testing to compare two different ads.

Sponsored Content

Sponsored content is a type of native advertising. It also is intended to match the form and function on the web page where it appears, blending in so it seems to be a “native” part of the site. However, it’s not a traditional ad, but a longer piece of content like an article, listicle, or video.

The most effective sponsored content offers the readers useful, valuable information. This could be either by educating them about a topic related to the website where it appears or entertaining them.

Sponsored content is also referred to as “advertorials.” There are two ways sponsored content is created — by the publisher of the website or by the marketer themselves. It can also be created by a third-party company that provides content for its clients. 

Like other forms of native advertising, sponsored content often appears to be a natural part of the website, but it is clearly marked as “sponsored” or “promoted” content. It usually includes a call to action intended to draw readers to click a link leading to the product or service being promoted.

History of Native Advertising

Image via Flickr by LizCraftTherapy

When you’re launching a native advertising campaign, it’s helpful to understand its evolution through history — mainly because many of the earliest native advertising methods are still in use today. This is because it’s effective! Some examples:

  • Print advertising “masquerading” as editorial content began appearing in publications in the early 1900s.
  • Product placement appears in movies and TV shows.
  • Companies often sponsor radio broadcasts and events.
  • Infomercials do more than sell products — they also provide entertainment.

Is Sponsored Content Right for You?

Native advertising isn‘t for every marketer. Whether it’s a sponsored listing, a traditional ad, or sponsored content, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Advantages:

  • Native advertising is not irritating to readers because it is similar to the content they came to see on the website.
  • It’s difficult for ad blockers to block native advertising because it appears to be part of the website content.
  • The ad placement, right in the middle of the website content, means that the potential buyers are already there.
  • They seem trustworthy since the reader already likes and trusts the website they are browsing.

Disadvantages:

  • If the ad isn’t obviously sponsored content, readers can feel as though you’ve tricked them.
  • Readers with a negative experience with a native ad may develop negative feelings toward your product or service.
  • Native advertising can be expensive compared to other marketing methods.

Native Advertising Tips

The use of native advertising has been steadily growing for over a century. When it’s used properly, it can produce amazing results. However, since it’s a big investment, it’s important to do it right. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Make sure it fits well with the existing content so that visitors don’t automatically feel as though they are viewing an ad.
  • Make sure your potential buyers are aware that the ad is sponsored content so they don’t feel taken advantage of.
  • Create top-quality content by skilled writers and editors.
  • Turn your ad into a story, which creates engagement and enjoyment.
  • Consider using video content.

Native advertising can be an important part of your overall marketing strategy, especially when it’s in the form of sponsored content. It can give you a chance to get creative. Engaging your readers with top-notch content builds positive feelings about your brand and leads to brand loyalty, which is tough to come by. When it’s done properly, your potential buyers won’t see it as an interruption, but as a valuable added bonus.

About the author

Pamela Kock

Pamela Kock is an independent copywriter and editor from Springboro, Ohio.