The Native Advertising Mistake (Almost) Every Marketer is Making

bigfoot
Finding a native ad attached to a landing page is like spotting Bigfoot. Image source.

Many marketers seem to be confused when it comes to native advertising.

This became clear to me recently while moderating a panel on native advertising featuring digital marketing, advertising and PR professionals, a conversation that mirrored what I later read in a native ad study conducted by Hexagram and Spada.

The study revealed that 53% of respondents considered native advertising to be “sponsored content,” while 38% thought native ads were better defined as “company branded pages” (I’d argue that both answers are true).

Copyblogger’s State of Native Advertising Report further showcased this ambiguity:

Native Advertising: Copyblogger Graph
In Copybloggers’ State of Native Advertising Report, 73% of respondents self-identified as being hardly familiar or not familiar at all with native advertising.

If this was just a problem of definition, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But it seems that marketers are still struggling with how to tie native advertising campaigns to tangible marketing goals. As I was researching this post, I found it remarkably difficult to spot a native advertisement attached to a proper landing page.

This is a huge missed opportunity.

If you’re going to invest in content that’s good enough for people to click through on their favorite blog or Facebook feed, why wouldn’t you jump at the opportunity to carry the conversation forward? Native ads without landing pages aren’t much different than banner ads. Sure, they build brand awareness but they barely stand a chance of converting.

Landing pages are the key to wringing measurable results out of your native advertising campaigns. But before we get any deeper into the value of attaching landing pages to your native ads, let’s start by addressing the industry’s definition problem once and for all.

What is native advertising?

Perhaps marketers are confused because there are so many types of native ads.

A native ad could be a sponsored blog post or series…

Native Advertisements: SAP example
SAP sponsored the creation of this native content.

It could come in the form of a branded social contest or campaign…

Native Advertisements: Elle Magazine example
ELLE Magazine released native editorial content that was sponsored by Proctor & Gamble.

It could take the shape of a viral video…

Native Advertising: Doritos example
Native video ads, such as this ad by Doritos, generally have shareable, “viral” content.

And it could appear on mobile or social (as in a promoted tweet on Twitter)…

Native advertising example: mobile and social ads

Through all the confusion, native advertising authority Sharethrough’s definition of native advertising is inclusive and concise:

“A form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.”

I like this definition because it pinpoints what separates native ads from their traditional counterparts and is broad enough to include the diverse and emerging forms of native advertising.

Best of all, it explains why landing pages are the key to successful native ad campaigns.

Why landing pages are native advertising’s new BFF

Steve Hall recently wrote on HubSpot’s blog that native advertising is destined to fail if it isn’t approached within the context of a smart inbound marketing strategy:

“Current native advertising placements contain no call-to-action, no link to a landing page, no compelling offer to capture an email address and convert the prospect into a lead, no lead scoring or lead nurturing to convert leads to customers, no marketing automation to manage the process and no closed-loop reporting to determine what worked and what didn’t.”

In other words, marketers who fail to tie their native ads to campaign-specific landing pages are missing an opportunity to continue the conversation post-click. Here are some other reasons why native ads and landing pages should go together like peas and carrots:

More precise tracking

If a native ad isn’t linked to a landing page, tracking its impact on conversions and revenue isn’t easy.

Landing pages allow you to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns. When a prospect lands on your page and fills out a form, clicks through to your product page or makes a purchase, you know that your native ad was more than a digital billboard or advertorial.

And because you will have clean conversion data, you’ll be able to optimize your page and marketing funnel through A/B testing.

In other words, tracking the success of your native ad by attaching it to a landing page will not only help you drive conversions and ROI but also provide insight for your next ad campaign – native or otherwise.

Transparency

Many consumers and journalists have accused native advertising of blurring the lines between editorial and advertorial content on the web.

As freelance writer Jonathan Paul wrote in the DX3 Digest:

“People might not care about the commerciality of the content, but they damn well do care if it’s pretending to be something it’s not. That said, it’s critical for brands to be transparent.”

Landing pages are nothing if not transparent. Sending traffic from a (clearly labeled) native ad to a dedicated landing page tells the reader, “I am brand X! That was my branded content and now, user, you are on my landing page.”

Landing pages make it clear where the content ends and the call to action begins.

Capturing your leads

Native ads exist within the context of an established blog, website or social media platform. That’s what makes them “native.” But it also means that they are surrounded with distracting links, images and other juicy content.

If a lead is engaged enough to click on a native ad, a well-optimized landing page will make their next step very clear.

You can read all about how to build a high-converting landing page in Unbounce’s Ultimate Guide to Landing Page Optimization, but at the very least it should include these 5 elements, as outlined by Unbounce co-founder Oli Gardner:

  1. Your Unique Selling Proposition (What do you – and only you – have to offer?)
  2. The hero shot (images/video showing context of use)
  3. The benefits of your offering (and not the features)
  4. Social proof (“I’ll have what she’s having”)
  5. A single conversion goal – your Call-To-Action (CTA) (with or without a form)
five-elements-of-lp
The five elements of a high-converting landing page in action.

Native ads don’t always come cheap so if you’re going to invest in them, take the time to design your landing pages properly. You’ll see your hard work pay off in terms of captured leads and conversions.

Rare native ad landing page sightings in the wild

What’s that you say? You can’t seem to find a good example of a brand actually doing this?

Yeah, you and me both.

As I mentioned earlier, finding a native advertising campaign attached to a perfect landing page is like spotting Bigfoot.

In my search I did come across some brands who came close. Let’s look at some examples of native ads that lead to landing pages – and see where they nailed it and where they missed the mark.

1. Maybelline New York

This is a rare example of the exotic branded playlist in its native Grooveshark habitat. This Maybelline-sponsored playlist can be considered a native ad because it mirrors the experience of the music streaming platform.

Native advertising: Grooveshark Maybelline example

Once the user clicks the “Listen Now” button, they are taken to a third-party site belonging to the advertiser.

Native advertising: Maybelline microsite

The microsite offers many actions for the lead to take, including watching videos, making a playlist, sharing “pumped up” moments on social media, participating in a live event or purchasing mascara.

While they did a great job of keeping the branding and design consistent from ad to landing page (design match, anyone?), they could have improved their conversions with a dedicated landing page – with one intended action and only one CTA.

2. Durex

This is a sponsored post by Durex Canada that’s native to BuzzFeed.

Native Advertising: Durex Buzzfeed example

When the user clicks on the hyperlinked brand name in the introduction of the article, they’re taken to a Facebook page dedicated to their social campaign:

Native Advertising: Durex Facebook page

Durex has done a good job at creating a branded page with a clear CTA.

And while embedding the page on Facebook is an interesting tactic that gives people the opportunity to check out Durex Canada’s Facebook page, there may be too many actions that distract from their “Buy Now” goal. It would be wise to test this Facebook-native page against a standalone landing page.

3. Shiner Beer

Shiner Beer created a native ad video on the Onion and connected it to a social campaign.

Native Advertising: Shiner Beer example

If you click on the logo under the video, you are taken to a Shiner Beer page on Facebook that continues their satirical social campaign:

Native advertising: Shiner beer Facebook page

Shriner linked to a page on Facebook like Durex, but here the the intended action is social media interaction. Still, the intent of their campaign is muffled by the possibilities of liking their page (or even clicking through to one’s own feed – away from the brand message entirely).

If you want maximum effectiveness out of your native ads, a dedicated landing page with one action only is probably the way to go. But don’t take my word for it. Always test test test.

4. Le Collège CDI

In my search for the rare native ad attached to a perfect landing page, I kept being sent to Facebook landing pages. I decided to turn to Facebook to see what its native ads had to offer. The first one I came across is perhaps the best example yet:

Native Advertising: College CDI example

This Quebec college sponsored an in-feed native ad. Let’s click through to see where it takes us…

Native Advertising: College CDI landing page

Finally! A native ad campaign attached to a dedicated landing page.

Personally, I don’t like the layout of the page, the amount of text or the number of form fields, but there are a few things that CDI has done well.

First, they have one clear call to action without any menu or additional navigation to distract you. They could emphasize the intended goal even further by removing the phone number in the upper right-hand corner.

Next, CDI has attempted to reduce the friction of their super-long form by offering to auto-fill the form for you using Facebook, knowing that it was this social network that drove you to their landing page in the first place.

Thank you CDI for this rare sighting!

Coming in for a landing: Final thoughts and action items

In a world where display ads are often blocked, skipped and ignored, native ads offer marketers a chance to connect content and conversion in a compelling way. The problem is that the native ad space is largely unchartered territory and there are no universal definitions or best practices.

This means that publishers aren’t quite sure what a native ad is worth to advertisers, and marketers aren’t sure how to measure their campaigns or how much of their budgets they should be allotting to them.

Landing pages allow marketers (and publishers) to track the success of their campaigns and further engage with the audience-consumer. There’s no excuse not to use them.

– Chandal Nolasco da Silva


About The Author

Photo of Chandal Nolasco da Silva

Chandal Nolasco da Silva works at AOD Marketing, with a focus on client strategy. She has consulted and collaborated on a variety of digital marketing strategies, developed websites and written content for a number of brands. Chandal has worked for Canada’s federal government, completed various teaching contracts, is a published author and writes a web column in her spare time.
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Comments

  1. Great post – I use Facebook native ads a lot for myself and my clients but would never consider running them without having a dedicated landing page set up behind them (usually a squeeze page.) It’s amazing to see that so many ‘big names’ don’t do this!

    Just a comment on those brands sending people to Facebook tabs and your comment that they should be testing this against sending to a landing page – ho do you know that they’re not? And that you’re not in the group that’s being sent to Facebook whilst half the traffic is being sent to their specific page? Or that they have tested and found that the Facebook option works best for them?

    Just a thought – but thanks for the insights!
    Julia

    • Totally agree about the need for landing pages in many cases. A lot of that depends on the goal, is your FB ad intended to “wet the appetite” to learn more from a longer-form page or is it for something more specific like signing up for a webinar or buying a pair of shoes.

      If your goal is more the latter, you can track success with Google Campaign URLs as well. We are soon running three ads, each at a different time of the day, on a business news publication’s online site. Rather than needing three landing pages to judge the effectiveness of each, I had the marketing folks give the publication three unique Google Campaign URLs for each so they can be individually tracked for effectiveness.

      In higher ed (and I’ve worked with two different marketing offices at two schools), a lot of money is spent and ads are taken out “where it seems to make logical sense” rather than a focus on tracking the effectiveness to better allocate resources. In my above example, if we do three ads at different time of the day and we find that almost no one was interested in the evening ad (maybe fewer people read a business news site late in the day), our next time around we could use that data to decide to only do the morning and afternoon ads and use the evening ad money for something else. And really, the campaign URLs are a super easy/free way to get some fine-grained results data on your ads effectiveness.

      • Chandal says:

        Hey Kevin,
        Thanks for sharing! Great tactics and advice. Sounds like you know what you’re doing – keeping the landing page layout the same while scattering the times you deploy the ad, will certainly shed some insight on when is the best time to advertise/post for your audience and your content. We’d love to hear about the results of your Analytics tracking for this campaign. Cheers!

  2. Mallory says:

    This is one of the most thorough marketing articles I have read in a long time. Awesome examples!

  3. Chandal says:

    Hi Julia

    Thanks for your feedback! First great news that your clients are attaching landing pages to their native ads! Second and simply put, I don’t know if either Durex or Shiner did A/B testing before opting for a Facebook landing page. That said I hope they did and FB had a higher conversion. Again though the point is just that other brands should test before making that decision.

    Send us a link to your client’s native campaign if its still live! We would love to see more examples :)

    I really appreciate your thoughts. Thanks very much for sharing.
    Chandal

  4. Chandal says:

    Hi Mallory,

    Thats so nice to hear! Glad you enjoyed the read and the hard to find examples! Thanks for also being awesome by leaving a comment :)

    Chandal

  5. Enstine Muki says:

    Thanks for the awesomeness in this post, I know many of the new marketers are prone to doing these mistakes.

  6. Thanks for sharing, Chandal. Native advertising is an important form of advertising, and we are glad you helped clear up the confusion. We at http://www.ProseMedia.com agree with your five tips to capturing leads. Our landing page utilizes all 5 (although I think we combine our benefits and hero shot into one video).

  7. Chandal says:

    Thank you Enstine for your awesomeness in feedback! And thank you Justin for sharing – sounds like Prose is on the right track!

  8. Hi,
    Your article is very useful. i am new to this kind of marketing through blog. Though i keep it simple and try conect the advertiser and my content. your article will be very useful for me.
    with regards

  9. Sam Mudra says:

    So, they are actually complementary to each other. With few native ads running on different location on web in different formats and attract the traffic to your landing page or social campaign page and finally capture the leads and make the conversions. This is the concept.
    Those five points are really awesome, actionable and surely boost the conversion. Especially, I completely agree on the point where you say about minimum form fields. I used two steps opt in CTA forms successfully for many of my clients and that really works.
    I need one suggestion. I found people talking about not providing any internal or external links on your landing page can boost the conversion. I used this technique but have not noticed any thing remarkable. What will be your take on this or what you guys do on your landing pages?

    • Chandal says:

      Great question Sam! Have you done any a/b testing? I’m going to leave it to the experts at Unbounce to provide you with the best advice – they’re on it right now…

    • Amanda Durepos says:

      Hey Sam, I agree with Chandal – you generally want to keep your CTA in the spotlight as much as you can. That said, if you have a case for adding an external/internal link, it’s a great opportunity to test and let the numbers speak for themselves.

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