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Going Native: The Value of Sponsored Content

Sarah Hale

"Native advertising" may be the latest buzzword, and a tool that you keep meaning to ask your PR firm about. Whether you view native ads as entirely new or a spin on the print advertorials of yore, know that they come with their own list of questions, caveats and concerns.

Spending on native advertising is projected to more than double by 2017. Here are the questions you should be asking your PR firm now, before pursuing a strategy that includes sponsored content.bench-ad

What’s your goal?

While we discourage sponsored posts as a method to inflate either placement or audience figures, native advertising can be an effective way to reach users where they seek content on a daily basis, such as their Facebook feed or news websites.

If your goal is to sell widgets quickly, stick with traditional ads. If your goal is to build brand awareness as you would with traditional media relations, then you’re on the right track.

Does our product or company naturally lend itself to a self-contained narrative? 

Forbes calls its series of sponsored content BrandVoice for a reason – your voice and expertise in your industry should shine through, as FedEx’s does through its Forbes posts. Through FedEx Voice, the company discusses the intersection of the digital and physical worlds, and logistics. FedEx essentially is the content and each post, a call to action.

There are sponsored posts abound that consist of kitten pictures with hastily written and loosely connected product pitches at the end. These companies probably think they're being edgy, but the message tends to get lost and the entire post perceived as sloppy.

How will our audiences perceive sponsored content?

Native advertising has its purpose, but don't mistake the impression it leaves.

If your audiences are particularly savvy or wary of advertising, even an advertorial may be going too far. The Atlantic’s infamous Scientology advertorial is an example of what can go wrong when native advertising masquerades as editorial, angering a skeptical audience.

What about SEO?

Native advertising and sponsored content remain a step below editorial. According to Matt Cutts, head of webspam at Google, the search engine is now distinguishing sponsored and original content. Links included in sponsored content do not count toward PageRank. That’s fine if your goal is to raise brand awareness, but not so much if you want to elevate your search ranking.

Native advertising is truly a hybrid of traditional advertising and editorial, yet defining what it means to your company or product is half the battle. “Advertising” may be half the equation, but always think of the value to your audience. By discussing the issues affecting your customers rather than your product or solution, you’ll demonstrate that you understand their needs and may be an ideal solution to the issue you just described.