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What is Native Advertising? It’s a Tactic That Delivers Results

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Native advertising is a new buzzword for an old concept in both the online and traditional media environments.

In its simplest form, it can be defined two ways:

1. A customized online presence for an advertiser.
2. An advertiser presence subtly integrated into online content.

The Internet Advertising Bureau says native advertising is “paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong. “

In the early days of online, pretty much every ad was a raw form of native advertising because standards didn’t exist.

Online publishers built customized solutions for advertisers. They placed them throughout the site in a wide variety of locations, sizes, colors and functionality.

Sometimes they disclosed that the ads were advertising and not content and sometimes they did not.

Over time and thanks to experience, these concepts have evolved into standards. They help guide both publishers and advertisers in rolling out a native advertising campaign.

6 Standards of Native Advertising

The IAB has identified six standards of native advertising that applied in the beginning of the Internet and still apply today.

1) The ad’s form looks like the surrounding content. A common example is the ads on search engine results that look almost exactly like the organic listings. They are displayed in the same way on the page.

2) The ad functions in the same way as the rest of the surrounding content. For example, is it text within text (often using the same font), a photo in a gallery of news photos or a video segment in the middle of a video? Paid ads on organic search results again serve as an excellent example.

3) The ad responds to the user in the same way as the surrounding content. This integration standard says that a native ad in organic search results will link to an external site. It should display the URL and provide a title in the same way as the organic listings.

4) The ad is sold in a guaranteed or targeted position. Native advertising shares this characteristic with banner advertising.

5) The ad is measurable. Measurement was a challenge in the early days because it required custom coding. It is somewhat less of a challenge today. The more customized the native advertising, the more work required to track results. Again, native advertising shares this characteristic with banners.

6) The publisher does not disclose that the ad is actual advertising instead of content. This standard raises ethical questions for sites that want to maintain a high degree of objectivity and credibility with their visitors. If abused, it opens the door for sites to be accused of deceiving visitors into clicking on the ads.

Examples of Native Advertising

Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and others use “in-stream” or “in-feed” native ads that appear within the core content of a page.

In-Stream Native Advertising

Yahoo’s in-stream native advertising.

The Yahoo Finance example above shows a hybrid version of a native ad.

It has the same font, text structure and image size as the content above it. The disclosure does exist, but it is in gray type to make it less noticeable.

The AdChoices text is to the right of the ad, which is less prominent than the headline, text and photo on the left.

Native advertising search units

Paid search units like this one from Bing show an ad in the top half of the image and organic results in the bottom half. The two are almost indistinguishable from each other.

Native advertising recommendation widget

This recommendation widget from shows paid links to external sites on the left and links to more Bloomberg stories on the right.

Notice how the font family and font sizes are the same, while the ads have one style of arrow and the Bloomberg headlines have another style.

In addition, the paid links have the name of the advertiser next to the link — in a lighter gray type.

Other examples of native advertising include:

  • Full-length paid posts (essentially a form of content marketing)
  • Paid listings that are prominent on sites such as
  • Numerous customized approaches based on advertiser needs and objectives.


Whether or not native advertising is better than banner advertising depends on many factors.

Anyone who advertises on Google and Bing and knows what they are doing will almost certainly find that click rates are much higher than banner ads on other sites.

In-stream advertising also appears to outperform banners. Various reports indicate that paid posts don’t do as well as regular content posts. Others report click rates as much as 10 times higher than banners.

Consequences of Native Advertising

Whether or not to use disclosure — and how to display disclosure — may be the single biggest decision in deploying native advertising.

Numerous experiences with native ads show there is a fine line between getting results for advertisers and outright deception of site visitors

The above examples reinforce that idea because major online publishing companies are consistently making their native ads almost exactly like surrounding content.

But they also are consistently disclosing the fact that the ads in fact are advertising. That said, the disclosure notice is usually in gray type to make sure it doesn’t stand out too much.

The second factor in rolling out a native ad program is the return on investment in the form of labor and hard expenses versus the revenue.

Site publishers should test the concept before making a full commitment and to price the rate card according to expected results.

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