Does Native Advertising Work?

Andrew Gorry | July 9th 2015

What’s it all about?

Native advertising is sponsored content an advertiser pays to nest within existing content on a publisher’s site. Native content matches the form and function of the publisher’s site and its neighbouring content in order to heighten user engagement whilst promoting a brand directive.

Native advertising can be separated into two broad categories depending on the type publishing platform used.

Closed platform native advertising

Sponsored updates on LinkedIn or Tweets on Twitter are examples of native advertising on a closed platform. These can be well targeted, there are no issues with maintaining look and feel of the publisher and relevancy to the user is generally very high due to accurate targeting methods.

Open platform advertising

Open Platforms on the other hand aim to distribute content via a large network of independent publishers. One of the largest issues facing native advertising on an open network is scalability – the need for native content to take on the look and feel of its publisher makes it difficult to roll out the same piece of content over thousands or millions of independent sites whilst remaining relevant for the user.

Recent developments in native advertising bring about the rapid growth of open platforms such as Outbrain and Taboola, who aim to solve this scalability issue by extending the potential reach exponentially throughout millions of publisher sites, whilst still remaining relevant and engaging to the user and consistent with publishers’ existing content.

That’s the basic concept, but does it work? We ran our own native advertising campaign to find out.

Our Results

We ran our native campaign using Outbrain alongside our usual social outreach strategies through LinkedIn and Twitter. The content being promoted was a blog on the working relationships of travel bloggers and travel brands.

As a channel for driving traffic Outbrain outperformed both Twitter and LinkedIn combined. All reported metrics are stronger, with the standout metric being impressions – an impressive 425% increase. The reach of Outbrain’s open platform is clearly huge, but is it still relevant? The advantage of our Twitter and LinkedIn campaigns over Outbrain is our ability to target exactly who we want. We found the targeting methods offered by Outbrain to be very restrictive; we could only specify users’ location and device type.

After we delved a bit deeper into engagement metrics such as bounce rate and time onsite, we discovered that the quality of traffic driven from Outbrain wasn’t up to the same standard as that driven from our social campaigns. This isn’t surprising due to the targeted nature of our social campaigns verses Outbrain.

Pros of using Outbrain:

  • Wide reach
  • Relatively low CPC
  • High volume traffic

Cons of using Outbrain:

  • Little to no control over targeting
  • Questionable traffic quality/relevance
  • High bounce rate
  • Poor onsite engagement

Who’s it for?

Advertisers looking to drive traffic, gain a wide reach and promote their brands to a nonspecific audience, generally B2C with a very wide and diverse customer base, will benefit from native advertising.

If your offering is targeted at a specific demographic, current native platforms aren’t yet suitable.

The future of native

Current open platforms such as Outbrain or Taboola offer a valuable service for large brands with a general offering wanting to reach a wide audience, provided the content being promoted is of good quality. However smaller brands who require tight targeting and relevant traffic will struggle to gain traction through the use of open platform native publishers.

The future is likely to bring about a shift in the quality, relevance and targeting methods of open networks, allowing advertisers to gain the full benefit of native advertising through a better control of placements.