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Native Advertising Background
The RealtyShares marketplace connects real estate borrowers (or sponsors) with real estate investors. The borrower side of our platform exploded from 2014 into 2015, but we quickly needed to meet supply with investor demand. We stumbled upon native advertising and ended up finding great success. I’ll share some of that below. But first, some background on using native advertising to kickstart growth.
What is Native Advertising?
Native advertising refers to an advertisement that appears in the natural user experience of a website. It is thought of as one of the most engaging and potentially profitable ad channels because it affords a high level of engagement, which makes the ad unit effective. Because the advertisement has the look and feel of the content on page, it is highly viewed. A study by Nielsen showed that promoted content, the most well-known type of native advertising, is viewed 25% more than standard banner ads.
Native advertising registered an 18% higher lift in purchase intent in the same study. For that reason, The Wall Street Journal, Pinterest, Forbes and Twitter all use native advertising. Some of the first native ads you may have come in contact with were in Facebook’s Newsfeed.
One of the most popular types of native advertising is content promotion, which is generally viewed by users in content recommendation engines. These units usually sit below the hero piece of content, so as the user finishes reading the article they are presented with the opportunity to click through a native ad. Content promotion advertisers include Outbrain, Taboola, Revcontent, Yahoo Gemini, Lockerdome and TripleLift. All of these companies have relationships with publishers and own a huge inventory of ad space on the publishers’ site or app. Marketers buy this ad space and test different creatives and audiences to acquire users cost effectively.
We have used content engines quite effectively at RealtyShares. We have had most success historically with Outbrain as a platform. Though my friends who work in other industries appear to do well with the other platforms. We just began testing into Yahoo Gemini, Lockerdome and Triplelift and we’re seeing promising results there as well.
If you have had a great press placement recently that resulted in tons of customer acquisitions, you know the power of long-form content. Native content promotion capitalizes on high user engagement. As a marketer, you are responsible for the headline and picture for the ad unit as well as the long-form content that the reader lands on after clicking. This makes it fun for a growth marketer to manage the channel – it is unique in that most ads involve simple lead capture. This channel requires the marketer understand and optimize long-form content, so it tends to be pretty creative!
If you’re thinking about promoted content native advertising for your own company or brand, I have some words of warning:
- It’s easy to spend money very fast. Make sure to cap your budgets in the beginning so you don’t wake up tomorrow morning having spent $10,000 on unoptimized ads.
- I think it is an ad format that is most effective for products with broad appeal. Optimization is not nearly as simple or precise as a channel like Facebook, which means you will waste a lot of money reaching a very specific audience. Targeting options are limited. It is likely not the best ad unit for a B2B software company that has an addressable market of 5 or ten thousand customers.
How to do Native Advertising
Again, native advertising involves managing three distinct variables: ad unit title, ad creative and content. The most important piece of the equation is definitely the content of the article, but the title and ad creative matter too.
The content promotion engines like Outbrain and Taboola are generally cost-per-click platforms (CPC). This means that your goal is to get cheap, qualified clicks. Make sure that your ad creative is appealing to readers, but not overly sensational. You don’t want to pay for clicks that are not qualified and lured by your real product offering.
Start your foray in content promotion with Outbrain or Taboola. Both platforms operate similarly. The major differences exist in the dashboard and reporting. The methodology and ad creation is basically the same.
Important to note that both tools require placement of a pixel.
The process for making your first native ad:
- Define your conversion goal. RealtyShares’ conversion goal was completion of a signup (email capture).
- Define your audience. Remember, you can basically reach anyone who uses the internet with native advertising. It’s important that you limit your universe of potential engagements to just your qualified audience. In our case, we were going after an affluent audience. We elected to test certain states and cities with high income residents. We also have a decidedly male audience, so we adjusted accordingly. In the campaign creation dashboard in Outbrain and Taboola, you will pick a few variables like male vs female, geography and some qualitative features as well like “news readers” or “sports fans.” I’m not convinced the qualitative targeting is very good. But go ahead and give it a try.
- Decide which pieces of content you would like to promote. Pick articles that are performing well according to your analytics. Whichever article is sending you the highest volume of converting traffic – start there. Make sure to pick articles with links to your website or product (it’s much easier for potential users to end up on your website while reading the article if there’s a link). It’s even better if you have a few options of articles to promote. If you have a blog or the ability to make your own content, feel free to use that as well. We used a tool called Instapage to make a bunch of native “feeling” pieces with call to action buttons and exit-intent popup email collection modals. The content was balanced, well-written, but of course had small elements of RealtyShares self promotion. We wanted to make investors understand our value proposition – invest in real estate with as little as $5,000 – without sounding like salespeople.
- Make the ads that will link to this content. Create ad units with one title and one image. You should replicate and test at least 9 variances of these units. If you don’t test enough variances, you miss out on the opportunity to test for the best combination. Plus, if you don’t test 9+ variances, your campaigns will be very slow getting off the ground. I don’t know why that is, but both platforms, Outbrain and Taboola, seem very sluggish to take off when you upload only one or two variances in a campaign. Simply change your hero image to something else eye catching and try a few titles that are of varying degrees of grandiosity: “Forget REITs! Invest in Real Estate with Crowdfunding” performed very well for us. You will upload the title, photo and URL on the ad builder page.
- Once you upload your content, you will need to give it some time to collect results. After you get a few hundred thousand impressions, you will start to spot trends. We discovered that photos of Mitt Romney worked well – I guess people trust Mitt with their money and were willing to read an article about us and subsequently sign up to invest on the platform.
- Outbrain and Taboola react best to massive content uploads and constant optimization. We layered on state-specific audiences (California to start) and tested sending traffic to two of RealtyShares’ press placements and two of our custom landing pages. We found winners right away. You will find a couple of gem campaigns that will likely become the vast majority of traffic and you will kill the rest.
- It’s important to note that Outbrain and Taboola content gets stale quickly. So while you may have found some amazing combinations of titles, pictures and content, you will need to constantly rotate new campaigns in.
- Test retargeting! Just like with display advertising, native advertising has retargeting, meaning you can show ads to people
- There’s a few other native ad networks worth testing. For RealtyShares, we were getting plenty of scale from Taboola and Outbrain, but we did test the Yahoo Native Network and TripleLift with some success.
Content promotion can be game changing for very large scale lead capture. If you can make your product or offering eye-catching and compelling, then you have a real chance at making native content promotion work for your business or brand. If you’re making Facebook advertising and/or display advertising work, I’d bet you can get the content promotion engines to work as well.