Staying ahead of the curve isn’t always easy. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of native advertising best practices for you.
These are based on our experience and recommendations from the major ad networks.
It can be tricky to make native work, especially if you’re new to the game. Native requires you to follow some different roads compared to search or social.
On the other hand, even if you’re experienced, it doesn’t hurt to know what’s working before launching your next native campaign.
Both new and experienced advertisers can benefit from these native best practices.
Let’s hit the road!
What Does Native Advertising Look Like In 2023?
It doesn’t look too different from previous years, as far as the core best practices go.
By core, I mean the things that have always made native different than other channels. Things such as the use of lifestyle images, content landing pages, or mass-market appeal products.
Despite not changing too much, a few key players have been making big moves. More on that later.
If we think about marketing in general, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that video is booming. The same applies to native advertising.
This year, the industry expects an acceleration of video content, which isn’t a surprise considering its favorability among consumers.
Going back to industry players making big moves…
More native ad networks are considering video as a crucial element of their offering.
A good example is Outbrain’s acquisition of video intelligence AG (vi) in 2022. The deal sought to bring media owners and advertisers in-stream, high-viewability placements in brand-safe environments, creating more value for all parties.
More recently, another native content recommendations giant, Taboola, announced an exclusive partnership with Reach, offering advertisers additional opportunities to engage audiences with high-quality branded video.
Native Advertising Best Practices & Trends
As we move into the native best practices and trends, you’ll notice how different native is from what you’re used to, especially if you’re new to it.
Some things never change when it comes to native advertising. Others are a reflection of the whole industry and where consumer experiences are heading.
Don’t Copy-Paste From Other Channels
One of the biggest native advertising mistakes brands make is taking a shortcut with their native strategy.
In other words, they simply copy and paste creatives, funnels, and offers from social or search. I understand the perspective. They want to save time. But in the end, more time is wasted because native is different.
By different, I mean consumer intent. People visit publishers to find interesting content primarily, not buy something.
There’s nothing wrong with repurposing something and adapting it to native. Copying it entirely can be a costly mistake.
When your creative strategy changes from social to native, for example, so does your funnel strategy, which needs to be more informative and value-driven.
As mentioned previously, the main reason for the strategy change is the users’ mindset or intent.
People who browse publishers’ sites are typically in what we call discovery mode. They want to discover new and interesting content. Purchasing a product or service isn’t a priority at that stage.
Some of the folks you can target on native are not even aware of a problem, let alone your solution. That’s where high-quality content comes in.
Pick The Right Ad Network
Much like other advertising platforms, not all native ad networks are created equal.
Some are very specific for a certain industry or vertical such as Dianomi.
Others will have massive reach, such as Taboola, with over 500 million daily active users.
While a few, for example, Outbrain, focus on reaching audiences on more premium publishers through native recommendations.
There are a lot of variables to consider when choosing the right ad network. Here are the most common ones:
- locations you want to target
- industry specialization
- audience reach
- audience targeting and bidding options
- access to premium inventory
- ad network support
- ability to integrate with DSPs and/or DMPs
- integrated reporting
- advertising costs
Focus On Value Instead Of Cost
In the previous native advertising best practice, I left costs for last purposefully.
You’re probably cursing at me right now! Take a deep breath. Let’s consider this first.
Common pothole marketers fall into is focusing entirely on front-end advertising costs. Most advertisers play in the Ad Network A arena, which can limit their ability to scale profitably long term.
Ad Network A
Ad Network B
Average CPC: $0.50
Average CPC: $1.40
Conversion Rate: 4%
Conversion Rate: 1.2%
Customer Lifetime Value: $75
Customer Lifetime Value: $225
Cost is probably the main concern of executives and marketers. However, the cost is not what you’re getting when you purchase a car, for example.
You only purchase something if you love it or if it solves a problem. I would say the latter is really the only reason people buy anything.
Some ad networks will give you crazy cheap traffic. That doesn’t mean your user value is higher than a more expensive network with access to premium inventory.
Sometimes, it’s hard to fully commit to an ad network until you waste some money figuring out the best one for you.
Set Clear Campaign Goals
Often the easiest battles are also the easiest to lose.
Some marketers disregard the importance of setting clear campaign goals only to be disappointed in the end.
Newcomers can easily lose their minds with native advertising. With incorrect goals or even worst, no goals, they start wondering what’s wrong with the channel or platform instead of looking at their strategy.
I encourage you to follow the North Star approach to campaign goal setting.
In a nutshell, this approach is about setting one goal per campaign and measuring success only against that goal.
So if you’re promoting an article to get engagement on native and retarget users who are most likely to convert on social, for example, you’re not setting return on ad spend as your goal on native. Instead, you could set session duration or bounce rate.
Use The “100 A Day” Rule
Lack of space is one of the reasons native campaigns fail to deliver on those goals.
What does that mean exactly?
When your native campaigns are budget constrained, they tend to not deliver the best results. In some cases, no results. The algorithms lack space (budget) to properly optimize.
Hence, why there’s the “100 A Day” rule.
This rule should be followed at all times on pretty much any native ad network. It states that your minimum daily budget should be at least $100 a day per campaign.
Another best practice is to set your native campaign budget 5-10X your target CPA. So, if for example, your average cost per lead is $20, your daily budget should be between $100 and $200.
It may seem like a lot but it’s the only way to truly maximize performance.
Dipping your toes with a couple of bucks a day will likely get you disappointed. Here’s another rule for native ads: fail a lot and fast.
Understand Awareness Stages
One of the biggest reasons native campaigns fail is the marketer’s assumption that traffic is all the same.
If you’re more advanced, you might think of traffic as cold, warm, or hot. However, that doesn’t give us the whole picture.
The advantage you have as an advertiser is understanding your prospect’s frame of mind at every stage of their buying cycle. That’s called awareness stages.
This isn’t a new concept, by the way.
Consumer awareness stages are believed to be pioneered by the advertising copy legend Eugene Schwartz around the 60s, with the publication of his now rare book, Breakthrough Advertising.
Because native performance depends in large part on the headline and content, meeting people where they’re at becomes crucial.
Once you know what awareness stage your audience is in, it’s easier to follow the next best practice.
Lead With High-Quality Content
An enticing headline won’t matter much if people are misled or if your content fails to deliver. In most cases, that’s exactly what happens.
Advertisers often take the “easy route”, using clickbait tactics. But that isn’t the solution as it tends to not drive genuine engagement.
In a nutshell, your content should:
- be relevant to the readers, tapping into their problems and desires
- provide value by giving the reader insights, being entertaining, or showing how to do something
- inspire action toward the next step of your relationship with the reader
Advertisements have to fulfill their promises with relevant content.
Here’s an example of a publisher with engagement goals.
And an example of a lead generation funnel, with a quiz offer.
When we say quality content, it doesn’t just refer to good native ads. The landing page must be part of the equation too.
Above all, the ad-to-landing page flow needs to be congruent.
When the user clicks on your ad, they have a certain expectation. It’s up to you to meet it with high-quality, relevant content.
Test Multi-Step Funnels
Advertisers that understand awareness stages are able to skillfully use multi-step funnels to their advantage.
This is especially important for unaware or problem-aware audiences.
Since these have not considered a solution yet and they may or may not have a desire yet, you have to provide insights and educate them before presenting a solution.
A multi-step funnel can be the perfect solution (no pun intended). Here’s an example.
Think of it this way. The less aware your audience is, the more hoops you have to get them to jump through.
It’s similar to any other sales conversation you see online or offline.
For instance, less aware audiences will need a longer landing page or VSL with more information before making a purchase.
Video Sales Letters Still Work
Speaking of VSLs… yes, they still work. In fact, now more than ever.
We’ve already discussed the rise of video content and that it’s the preferred way for users to consume media online, these days.
Typically, native platforms won’t let you use a long video as the ad. But that wouldn’t be the right approach on native anyway.
The purpose is to create ads that get clicks so that the VSL on the landing page can do the selling.
Video sales letters like these serve as inspiration for any marketer.
Video not only increases time on a page but it’s also easier to tell a story and influence an audience.
The downsides of video content are obviously the higher costs and turnaround time. For native landing pages, we recommend more professional editing, as opposed to what you’d see on Facebook or TikTok feeds.
Test Different Offers
You’ve probably heard it – “native is difficult to crack!”
One of the reasons is that it requires more testing compared to social or search, for example. There are more variables at play.
The biggest variable is your offer.
Don’t expect to “knock it out of the park” with just one. Yes, you might get lucky at first but you’ll have a hard time scaling your campaigns.
Not only do you have to test more but also different offers. Here’s what I mean.
This goes back to thinking that all traffic is the same.
Not everyone in your audience will resonate with quizzes. Some people want to try the product first at no risk.
So, by only “throwing one type of hook”, or in other words, promoting one marketing offer, you’re missing out on sales opportunities.
Testing different offers allows you to scale your native campaigns more easily than relying on just one, which can and will lose effectiveness over time.
Mass Appeal Products Work Better
Some brands have a really hard time with native. They might say something like “well, we’ve tested it but didn’t get much.”
In these situations, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong without some context. However, we can assume they skipped this best practice.
Mass appeal products work better on native because they tend to give you cheaper traffic.
Besides, it’s easier to scale profitably with a bigger pool of traffic.
For instance, an ecommerce store selling men’s shoes will have an advantage over a B2B brand with a very specific target audience.
The cost per click for the B2B brand might be 10X higher than the ecommerce store, making the cost per acquisition too high for the former to make sense of the ad spend at scale.
Easier To Scale With Bundled Products
Now that we’re on the subject of native ads for ecommerce, we can’t avoid talking about bundles.
A bundle is a package of different products with higher perceived value. The keyword is “perceived.”
The psychological effect of bundles on consumers’ choices is well documented. People assume they’re getting more value with a bundle as opposed to just buying one product.
It’s also easier for the brand to “mask” individual prices when products are bundled together.
Obviously, product bundles are more expensive than one-off products. This makes it easier for advertisers to afford the cost of traffic as they spend more.
Simply put, they’re able to be profitable at scale.
Keep in mind that as you spend more, traffic tends to become more expensive as well because you’re reaching new audiences that aren’t even in the market for your product yet.
With bundles, advertisers can generate higher AOV from native campaigns. For the right brand, it’s not too hard to outspend its competitors and grab market share.
If the brand’s competitors are not even on native, that’s a double advantage.
Leverage First-Party Data
You’ve probably heard this in some other context but it also applies to native campaigns.
Some advertisers will jump into targeting interests that “make sense” for their products without considering the most valuable targeting, their own customer base.
Some native platforms allow you to connect your Data Management Platform (DMP). At the very least, many accept customer file uploads that can be used to build lookalikes.
Good news if you’re using Google Analytics. You can integrate it with your native account and optimize campaigns based on website behavior.
Always try to leverage first-party data to get things going.
It will help you maximize your chances of success by letting the platforms know you want users similar to your customers.
Once you get some traction, start expanding to other targeting options, such as interests, contextual or broad targeting.
Test Broad Targeting
Speaking of broad targeting, it’s often overlooked, even by experienced native advertisers.
As we’ve said before, the majority defaults to interests because most are used to social media platforms.
Before we go any further, let’s define broad targeting.
It simply means having no targeting. I know it sounds a bit crazy but here are some reasons you might want to use it.
- Maximum reach. You’re not limiting the campaign’s performance to one interest or a set of interests.
- More opportunities. By targeting interests, you are potentially missing out on people who do not fall into that category but may be a good fit for your product.
- Easier to scale. With more options, the platforms will send you higher volumes of traffic, making it easier to scale campaigns.
- More useful data. With broad targeting, you get more insights into your audience that can be used to build targeted campaigns.
Give Contextual A Shot
Contextual targeting is being thrown around a lot these days.
Perhaps, the biggest reason is the demise of third-party cookies, making advertisers’ put more emphasis on first-party data and cookieless solutions.
The advantage of contextual is the possibility of targeting users without relying on third-party or behavioral data.
Unlike behavioral targeting, with contextual, your native ads are served depending on the content topics.
For example, a stock trading app might choose to show ads only on content related to finance.
Alternatively, the same app could target users based on interests (behavioral targeting), however, the ads may or may not appear in content related to finance.
Split Campaigns By Variables
From the list of native advertising mistakes, bundling everything into one campaign is probably the biggest one.
Less experienced advertisers often copy their campaign structure from social or search.
Native is a unique channel. You need a different approach to maximize your results.
So, what does it mean to split campaigns by variables? And what variables? The biggest variables, at least.
- Avatar. Splitting campaigns by avatar or buyer persona can help you tailor the message making your ads more relevant. Some brands might only have one avatar, for example, women over 55. In that case, you don’t need to worry about this.
- Geo. Regardless of how many avatars you have, you should split campaigns by location. The reason is that publishers’ performance varies significantly depending on the country, state, and even the city.
- Device. Having one campaign per device type is recommended. User behavior is different on mobile compared to desktop or tablet. If you mix them all together, it will negatively affect performance and reduce your ability to properly optimize the campaign.
Avoid Clickbait Tactics
If you’ve read any of my articles before, you know I’m not a fan of clickbait stuff. Perhaps, most people are not either.
But still, a few advertisers insist on using them, and sometimes with success. Good for them!
For the most part, clickbait tactics don’t drive genuine engagement.
You could make a case and say “well, I’m just looking to drive as many clicks as possible to my page, in whatever way.”
Yes, clickbait stuff can give you a lot more clicks. It can also get you in trouble with the FTC by making unsubstantiated claims. However, for most brands getting clicks isn’t enough. Quality clicks matter most.
Let’s see how we can make this copy less clickbaity and more genuine.
With some editing, instead of “shocking”, you can use “surprising” and replace “won’t believe this” with “might surprise you.”
Test Different Angles
Some folks go fishing with the same bait over and over again. I’m not a fishing expert but I’d assume that’s why some say they never catch a “big one.”
Most advertisers are like this.
They try to reach an audience with the same old angle over and over again, expecting better results. Do you want better results? Test more copy angles.
Copy angles are simply different ways of making your audience understand the same ad concept or idea.
For instance, let’s say we’re promoting a product that helps business owners generate more revenue. Think of a rocket as an ad concept.
From that concept, we can extract three angles:
- Skyrocket revenue
- Explosive business growth
- Hit revenue goals faster
As you probably know by now, not all traffic is the same. Not everyone in your pool of traffic will resonate with angle 1. Some might resonate better with 2, others with angle 3.
So by only using one angle, you’re missing out on potential customers. Not to mention, you’re reducing your campaigns’ ability to scale.
Lists are very attractive.
It’s hard to resist a good headline with “12 ways to…”, “5 mistakes to avoid when…” or “try these 7…”
I’m yet to validate the reason listicles work so well.
My theory is that people know exactly what they’ll get before they even click on the ad, making the content have a higher perceived value.
You might not want to follow this native advertising best practice because you think it’s overused.
Yes, it is overused… because it works!
Try to incorporate listicles in your content strategy. Sometimes, all it takes is rephrasing your article headline and adding numbers to the content. An easy way to boost engagement.
Here’s another tactic to boost native ad engagement.
Unlike the previous one, I am more certain about why it works so well.
Part of this comes from the 1-1 sales world. When you ask a good question, you tend to get a good answer. Most importantly, the buyer feels that you care – the spark that creates trust.
Copywriting is nothing more than salesmanship, in print, and these days in digital.
So, ask a good question in your native ad.
Questions also help to fuel curiosity, which can give you higher CTRs.
Remember that your question needs to be answered in the content.
Don’t ask a question just to get the click (or you’re back to clickbait), actually provide a solution in your content.
I see so many native ads where the headline promises one thing and the content gives you another. Not a good best practice since people tend to remember negative experiences more than positive ones.
Try Negative Words
What makes the news so attractive to human beings?
You’ve guessed it. Negativity. Crashes, murders, celebrity drama, and disasters sell more newspapers than “fairy tale” stories.
As a native advertiser, you can take advantage of this ingrained human condition of being attracted to negativity. But in a way that provides value.
So, let’s make it a bit more practical.
Instead of saying “The Best Foods To Eat At Breakfast”, try “The Worst Foods To Eat At Breakfast.”
Another one, you could replace “What To Always Eat Before The Gym” with “What To Never Eat Before The Gym.”
Again, make sure that your content delivers on the ad headline.
Don’t have a native ad with the best foods and an article with the worst foods. Sounds simple but you’d be surprised how many get it wrong.
Call Out The Avatar
You can use this tactic even if you’re only targeting one avatar.
If you’re reaching multiple avatars, splitting campaigns by this variable and creating ads becomes much easier.
“Calling out the avatar” in plain English means including your ideal customer in the ad headline or description.
It’s one of the most simple and effective tactics in advertising. With native, you don’t even need to change the content.
Speaking of simplicity, here’s a simple example.
You might have a headline that reads “Try These Summer Running Shoes.”
How do you make it more appealing to your avatar (assuming it’s men)? It could be rephrased to “Men: Try These Summer Running Shoes.”
Of course, you can get a lot more creative and include the avatar in the middle, or end of the headline. For example, “Best Summer Running Shoes For Men.”
Test Dynamic Location Insertion
The previous tactic’s purpose is to create relevance. This one is no different.
All we’re trying to do here is create a better ad experience, making the ad more relevant to the user and driving better performance from our campaigns.
Some native ad networks allow advertisers to insert what’s called a location macro in the headline and/or description.
Location macros can include country, region, DMA, or city.
So what’s the practical application?
For example, when a user from New York sees the ad on a publisher, the macro automatically populates with the user’s location.
It would look like this, for someone in that state: New York Drivers Are Saving With This Insurance.
This is especially useful for local businesses, insurance companies, dealerships, or any other business type where location matters a lot.
Regardless of that fact, other advertisers can also benefit from using location macros.
Just be sure to check your spelling before launching the ad with dynamic location or any other dynamic macro. Sometimes, it may make your ad not make sense, if that makes sense!
Match The Ad Copy
Now that we’re on the subject of making sense…
Some native ads out there are a bit confusing. I think it’s because advertisers try to be clever instead of being clear.
The rules of advertising in general also apply to native. Always try to match what you say in the ad copy with the image.
That way, the whole ad makes sense to the user. In other words, it’s congruent.
Might be a bit exaggerated but you can’t talk about eggs in the headline and have a picture of a dog if your content is just about eggs.
Here are good examples.
And here are not-so-good examples (no disrespect to anyone).
Avoid Display-Like Creatives
It’s called native advertising for a reason. It matches the look and feel of the surrounding content.
Some native ads look more like display ads…. yes, the ones people tend to ignore due to a condition called “banner blindness.”
Guess what your native ads should look like? Exactly, native.
So, lifestyle images or stock photos work better than creatives with text or graphics. You can get away with text but please do not use graphics, leave that for display.
Use Close-Up Shots
Another common tactic from native ad PROs is using close-up shots instead of far-away shots.
The reason is simple. Close-up shots take up more of the ad space thus grabbing more attention.
But there’s more to it, from a psychological standpoint.
Far away shots feel cold, distant and untrustworthy. Close-ups feel warm, personal and welcoming to the user.
From the list of native advertising best practices, this can be one of the most effective to drive higher CTRs and build trust.
Showcase The Product
One of the great advertisers of the 20th century, John Caples, said that if you’re selling a product, showcase it.
This can work wonders for ecommerce brands.
He also added that it’s better to have pictures of someone wearing the product. So that makes it more real for consumers and easier to see themselves using it.
Sometimes, people don’t physically use the product. It can sit on a shelf or be software, so not really something they can wear like boots.
In these cases, it’s fine to just showcase the product or service in some way.
Native Advertising Changed But Not Too Much
How much has native advertising changed since last year?
I would even risk saying that it hasn’t changed much, in terms of the core fundamentals, since the 1800s, when the first native ad showed up in a newspaper.
Of course, technology changed the way we buy, create, and optimize ads a whole lot. But these native advertising best practices remain timeless.
After all, they’re based on human behavior, which never changes, unless you sell to robots, one day.
Still selling to humans? You probably are.
So how much do you think native has changed since last year? Let us know your thoughts.