Advertising Digital Publishing
4 mins read

Should publishers ditch native ad content promotion for good?

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The internet is filled with tricks and tactics to reach your target audience.

There’s the e-newsletter blast, the banner campaign, the native ad widgets. There’s Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. These methods are constantly changing and requiring publishers to adapt to new rules and regulations, but one thing remains constant: if you want to reach your audience, you’re going to have to pay. Given that paid promotion is a part of most content programs these days, it’s vital that publishers are getting the best bang for their buck – or else their margins will suffer.

In recent years, platforms have cracked down on organic traffic, forcing publishers to adjust their spend accordingly in order to drive traffic to their sites. It’s also changed how we sell products like content. You can no longer put an article or video on your page and sit back as the views roll in. Instead, campaigns need a dedicated (and usually significant) amplification budget to deliver the results the client expects.

Considering this, it’s important to ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your promotion buck. Otherwise, you’ll end up breaking even — or worse — on something that should be a significant revenue stream for your business.

Two of the most common tactics are Facebook and native ad network promotion. Each has its pros and cons (scale, price, engagement), which we’ve explored in the last five years at Pressboard. But after more than 3,000 stories, we’ve stopped using native entirely and have shifted our whole client content promotion budget to Facebook. Here’s why.

The Native Ad Problem

Native ad networks have been praised for their ability to deliver a nondisruptive ad experience to viewers. In fact, research from the Native Advertising Institute suggests that readers prefer them over pre-roll video ads and banner advertisements, probably because they blend into the page more seamlessly.

And while they do succeed in sending traffic to a site, native ad networks face one major challenge: quality.

In order to outcompete other native networks and provide advertisers with adequate scale and inventory, many native networks have had to expand their reach beyond premium sites. As a result, quality of traffic has naturally given way in favor of quantity. The readers on these sites are often less qualified, which means they’re less likely to click on and engage with your stories.

At this kind of scale, native ad tactics also inevitably encounter brand safety issues. We’ve all seen those cringe-worthy headlines popping up in “Stories You Might Like” panels; it’s even worse if your sponsored content is sitting next to one of them.

Why Should Publishers Care?

Not all native ad networks are created equal. There are networks with built-in quality control measures, like minimum time spent, that ensure the audience they reach is, well, actually human. They can also lead to massive revenue if done thoughtfully.

But at the end of the day, there are better ways to deliver the results your clients want to see.

Content is different than banner ads or other kinds of advertising. While a banner needs 0.5 seconds to communicate its message, content needs audiences to engage with it to be effective. That connection is incredibly powerful: branded content leads to 59% greater recall than other digital ads. Beyond this, advertisers need to show that their investment in content is making an impact, and their clients are increasingly concerned about engagement rather than clicks. Therefore, it’s vital that the people who click on your ad intend to read and scroll through your content.

In a recent study, we compared how two traffic sources — Facebook newsfeed and native ad networks — compare when it comes to engagement and click-through rate.

The data came from over 1 million unique reads promoted through Facebook or native ad networks and tracked using Pressboard’s platform. We analyzed engagement metrics including time spent, scroll depth, and click-through rate on links in the article to determine which tactic was most successful. The results?

The Facebook Solution

After reviewing the results, Facebook is the clear winner when it comes to both engagement and conversion. Readers spend an entire minute engaging with content when they reach it from a Facebook ad. That’s almost two times higher than traffic coming from a native ad network. They also convert at double the rate of what we’d expect from a reader who reached the content after clicking on a native ad.

Even when we considered cost, Facebook outperformed native ad networks. Sure, native drove cheaper clicks and impressions, but that advantage changed when we looked at verified reads. Fewer clicks on native ads reached the content we were trying to promote, whereas the Facebook audience was more likely to reach our content. As a result, each actual read that came through Facebook cost $0.34, while reads earned through native ad networks cost $0.59.

Anyone that invests in content promotion knows the importance of every dollar. And while clients aren’t concerned about the publisher’s bottom line, they are invested in the performance of their content. Finding a platform that delivers strong conversions and engagement and at relatively affordable cost is a win-win. Until something inevitably changes in the AdTech space, we think we’ve found it.

By Leah Bjornson, Manager, Content Studio– Pressboard@LeahBjornson

Republished with kind permission of Digital Content Next, advancing the future of trusted content