Without even knowing it, you’ve probably encountered several native ads today. Advertisers are becoming more adept at blending their message into the content you consume every day. According to a recent survey, native ad revenue will account for 74% of the total display ad revenue in the US by 2021 – a projected 18% increase from 2016. Clearly, native ads are an important part of any digital marketer’s toolbox. In this blog post, we’ll share best practices to help you optimize your strategy, as well as the importance of tracking the calls generated by your native ads.

An Overview of Native Ads

First, let’s break down what constitutes a “native ad” (those of you who already know, feel free to jump to the next section). A native ad is an advertisement designed to seamlessly blend into the page in which it’s placed, its content complimenting that of its host publication and adding value for its audience. There are three main types of native ads:

  1. In-Feed Ads: These native ads are integrated directly into a platform’s user feeds. For example, Forbes can pay to promote its tweets to a targeted audience of non-followers. These promoted tweets blend seamlessly into user feeds (though the fact that they are “promoted” is clearly disclosed).
  2. Recommendation Widget Ads: These ad units are delivered via a widget on a publisher’s site. For example, numerous third-party news outlets pay to post links to their articles in a widget on CNN’s website, under the header “From around the web.”
  3. In-Ad Units: These fit inside a standard ad container (i.e., a 300×250 box ad) and provide relevant information to the article or content piece in which they appear. For example, on a MarthaStewart.com dessert recipe, Frosted Flakes posted a banner ad that showed similar easy-to-make dishes (all of which included Frosted Flakes as an ingredient).

Which Native Ad Type Is Best?

The same survey evaluated the effectiveness of these three different types of native ads and the best use cases for each.

On the supply side, the study found recommendation widget ads generate the highest profits — about 20% more than in-feed ads and 75% more than in-ad units. This makes recommendation widget ads like the one below the ideal choice for direct response campaigns.

On Demand Web Advertising

On the demand side, the study discovered in-feed ads are the highest performer. The click-through rate of in-feed ads is two-and-a-half times higher than that of recommendation widget ads and ten times higher than that of in-ad units. This heightened user engagement makes in-feed ads the natural choice for branding campaigns like this example from Tempur-Pedic on Facebook:

The survey concluded that in-ad units are the most cost-effective of the three. These ads are the easiest to implement and they scale on standard banner placements. Additionally, since these ads are customized to compliment the host content, they’re significantly more effective than traditional banner ads. For example, data security company Okta, ran ads around content about protecting your data:

Natives Ads- Custom Content Advertising

So, as a marketer, what’s the best native ad type for you to use? The answer is: a combination of all three. As you can see, each has its advantages. By A/B testing all three, you can determine which native ad combination provides the highest returns for your specific business objectives and audience.

Best Practices for Native Ads

1. Quality Content

The most important part of native ad content is your message. Rather than blatantly selling to your audience, your goal is to entice web users through content that legitimately adds value to their experience and aligns with their lifestyle. Native ads must serve the customer first and the brand second — therefore, it’s crucial that you understand the wants and needs of your core demographics. For instance, if you’re a B2B technology company targeting CTOs, you can write a guest column providing technology thought leadership:

Native Ad Content

If you’re a B2C financial services corporation, you could guest write a helpful article that answers a common consumer question and demonstrates your expertise:

B2C Article

2. Thoughtful Placement

Next, you’ll need to carefully research a placement for your native ads. Studies have shown placing native ads on “credible” apps and websites boosts the consumer response rate by 33%, proving the value of a native ad is closely tied to the publication on which it appears. Therefore, it’s clear that the value of a native ad is closely tied to the publication it appears on. Not sure how to find the right publication? There are a variety of native advertising networks like RevContent, Outbrain, Taboola, and Nativo that can help you target your audience.

The most successful native ads are those that integrate seamlessly with the host site’s content. Ensure your native ad headlines and copy match the font size and font color of the host site, as well as the writing style and tone. Inconsistent or templated native ad content can turn away potential readers.

You should A/B test a variety of images and headlines for your content — these are what drive the initial clicks. All internet users suffer from creative fatigue, so it’s important to find a combination of images and text that cuts through the noise and entices your core audience.

A recent benchmark report by Polar shows that consumers are most engaged with native ad content when they’re on their smartphones. Users will engage with branded content for, on average, 119 seconds on mobile, 99 seconds on a tablet, and 73 seconds on desktop. Therefore, you’ll need to test your native ads on mobile devices and tablets to ensure they display correctly on all screen dimensions.

Polar study engagement per ad type

3. User Engagement

When judging the success of your native ad campaigns, it’s important to focus on the user engagement after the initial click. For instance, do they navigate to another page, fill out a web form, or call? Native ads are effective because they allow you to deliver your message in the form of value-added content that enriches the user experience. If the user is clicking away without reading much of the content you so carefully crafted, these ads are not effective. The content must resonate with the audience in order for your ultimate call-to-action to succeed.

4. Be Transparent

Finally, it’s crucial to disclose the fact that your native ad content is “sponsored.” Your goal is to connect deeply with your audience through engaging content — therefore, it’s essential that they don’t feel duped. By including the words “Sponsored Advertising Content,” “Sponsored By,” or “Brand Voice,” you’ll ensure transparency with your audience, while adhering to FTC regulations.

Advertisement adhering to FTC Regulations

How Call Tracking Can Help Prove ROI of Native Ads

Native ads are designed to drive traffic to an advertiser’s main site and hopefully, from there, convert visitors to customers. Getting accurate attribution for every conversion influenced by native ads is important to gauge ROI. Web analytics tools like Google Analytics can help you measure online conversions. A call tracking solution can do the same for conversions that occur over the phone. Together they enable you to prove the full ROI and impact of your marketing efforts.

The right call tracking solution should also analyze what happens on the call to give you insights into call duration, caller intent, lead quality, and if they converted to a customer. Studies show that inbound calls are over ten times more likely to convert to revenue than web leads, so being able to connect what happens on calls back to the native ad that influenced the call is important. Without a call tracking solution, your marketing team runs the risk of misallocating budgets to underperforming native ad campaigns. Additionally, you risk eliminating ad spend on successful campaigns that drive quality calls but few online conversions.