How native advertising can help publishers drum up bigger revenues – a case study

This is a case study of how publishers can significantly increase ad spend on their website by using ‘native advertising’, which is content that is provided by and/or sponsored by advertisers. The Internet Works’ sales manager Jonathan Seymour writes:

One online publishing client of The Internet Works, a very well established and respected B2B publisher, dramatically increased their advertising revenues since signing up with The Internet Works. One of the main reasons behind the huge leap in sales on Startups.co.uk was due to a broadening of the approach to advertising that TIW introduced, including increased use of native advertising as part of campaigns.

Before we started working with them, Startups advertising campaigns were almost entirely display-based. The Internet Works introduced more diversity of ad revenues, brought closer relationships with ad agencies and versatility to what we do with clients. A huge amount of work, depth and understanding goes into every proposal that we create for clients.

Old style content-led campaigns would be basic advertorials but now it’s on a far more bespoke basis. A brief from an ad agency will be about what the company wants to achieve from a marketing or sales perspective. From this we then build an entirely bespoke solution, often spanning multiple platforms and formats. The TIW online advertising sales team has built partnerships which include access to our knowledge. A content brief for a publisher will start with a conference call or meeting between the sales director, editorial director and the client to see what they want to achieve and from that a plan is drawn up and articles are commissioned.

For example, Google were looking for new and innovative ways of promoting Global Entrepreneurship Week and approached TIW with a wish to do something more engaging and innovative than just display. We developed a broader campaign that included display but also an online webinar that the editorial director hosted on Google Hangouts with three small business owners to talk about using Google Apps for Work. We supported this on email and activity all week on social media and display advertising. For the publisher, this meant a sponsor was enabling them to produce extra content in an important week.

Seismic shift in advertising

In the last five years there’s been a gradual shift to content, thought-led articles. But the last six months has seen a seismic shift towards what has been branded ‘native advertising’.

According to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), native and content advertising spending reached £216 million in the first half of last year, 21% of total display spend.

At TIW we see that almost every brief for B2B publishers has an element of content now. Native is an integral part of any campaign nowadays.

As shown in this case study, marketers are partnering with the publisher to get access to a market-leading editorial team, known for their quality content. From a marketing point of view it’s about buying the ability to pinpoint a particular market vertical, in this case small business owners.

Marketers come to us when they want to own a particular market vertical and want expertise about how to approach this area using different platforms.

Programmatic advertising is a big deal these days and many advertisers want to get onto Startups using it, but we’re sold out. The only way of getting onto Startups is by working with us on a bespoke premium campaign – there’s no spare ad inventory for programmatic ad sales. That’s why content is so important in what we do.

Native also offers what can be viewed as ‘value for money’ for publishers. For example, for another advertiser, a global tech company, Startups is building out a new section of the website that will be supported by the advertiser. The advertiser will add their own content in amongst the editorial team’s content, adding its expertise on this area, which is useful for the readers.

Another example is Nominet, the internet registry company that owns .co.uk and .uk top level domains, that has done content deals within campaigns before but for a current campaign we’ve developed an e-book. The total package includes some display and email, as well as support on social. An e-book is maybe the modern version of the supplement.

The advertiser came to us with no specific plan for display or content but they had the aim of pushing the importance of their domains over .com and we produced this plan for them. The e-book will be produced by the Startups editorial team on the subject of building great websites and the advertiser will contribute some articles on domains.

Many publishers see native as great added value for the site and its readers.

Native advertising offers benefits all round

Benefits all round – for the publisher it uses a different type of resource not just taking up your display inventory, it increases the options for revenue, while one of the attractions for advertisers is value for money as these articles will be around not just for the weeks of a display campaign but for years.

As well as the value for money benefits of helping fund new content or website improvements, a big benefit for publishers is that it takes some pressure off display revenues.

For example, our publisher in this case can sell out its display inventory every month. But we and they both want to grow revenues every year, so content adds a whole new area for adding revenue. (In effect it creates new space for inventory/creates a whole new inventory.

For the advertiser it can bring amazing results.

One high street banking advertiser came to us as they wanted to do a customer-acquisition campaign for new business loans. TIW worked with Startups to come up with a plan for a dedicated content area on the main site. The package included channel sponsorship and then the editorial team created four articles published over four weeks, which were pushed via email, social and on the news section on the home page. The MPU advert on the article pages had a call-back form and the bank were getting a significant number of calls a week as a result.

A secondary benefit is that companies want to be seen as active across social media. Startups has the biggest Twitter following in this vertical and so the advertiser gets a strong connection on social with a powerful editorial brand.

For advertisers, as native is felt to be more closely associated with the publisher, it is more powerful in several ways. The Association of Online Publishers (AOP) recently published research report, called The Power of Native, discovered native advertising was found to be more informative compared to traditional advertising (32% compared to 16%), more interesting (27% versus 19%), more useful (21% versus 13%) and more helpful (15% versus 10%).

Other key insights from the research show that native adverts garner greater levels of trust among consumers, with a third (33%) more likely to trust native adverting than traditional advertising, and that clicking on a native ad driver on a premium content website has greater impact than clicking via Facebook.

Editorial integrity in native advertising

If the content is useful and interesting for readers, the publisher is doing their prime function. Despite this, some publishers refuse to cede what they think will sully their site.

I respect that, but for the major banking client’s campaign for Startups, the editorial team had full control and the content was useful for readers. The content was also clearly marked as being written by the client.

Fundamentally, if the content is not of any use to readers or not interesting it’s not going to get page views and not going to be of as much use to the advertiser either. So it’s in both parties’ best interests that the editorial team retains creative control, generally with a final sign-off by the client to ensure they’re happy.

It’s about giving access to editorial expertise but not giving up editorial integrity.

Business and financial publishers in the City are starting to optimise the opportunities of native advertising really well, the B2B market in general seems to get the balance right. And in consumer facing, we’ve seen publishers such as BuzzFeed having almost entirely abandoned display advertising in favour of native advertising and content, while Rupert Murdoch’s News UK is launching its own in-house bespoke native advertising unit. (TIW has had its own content team for two years too, of course.) Everyone’s going native!

Official guidelines on native content

The IAB has published its first guidelines for native advertising, stating they need clear branding to show they are not pure editorial.

The guidelines are supported by ISBA (the British advertisers association), the Association for Online Publishers and the Content Marketing Association, as well as meeting the UK advertising industry’s Cap code, which is enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Two of the key guidelines specify that publishers must:

  • Provide “prominently visible visual cues” to show pieces are native ads and not editorial pieces. These could include “brand logos or design, such as fonts or shading, clearly differentiating it from surrounding editorial content”.
  • Label content to show a commercial arrangement is in place, using phrases such as, “paid promotion’ or “brought to you by”.

Alex Stepney, the public policy manager at the IAB, said: “Paid-for advertising units which are deliberately designed to replicate the look and feel of the editorial content that they appear against needs to be obvious to consumers.

“The guidelines help companies involved in developing and publishing such native ad formats to provide the necessary levels of transparency to consumers and uphold the integrity of online advertising.”

Read more: some interesting native advertising links

Written by

The Internet Works is a full service digital agency established in London in 2008, employing over 100 experts across our group of companies in online advertising sales, web software development, SEO and graphic design. Our aim is to help our clients make more money from their web presence.

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