The native advertising sector is growing fast. Businesses know that banner ads are now largely ineffective, so they are increasingly turning to native ads to get in front of their prospects.

Platforms like Facebook and Buzzfeed have slowly been training their users to accept native ads. Ads are seamlessly integrated within organic content, and provide an interesting, value-added content experience; a far cry from a traditional promotional advertisement.

If you're investing in great content for your content marketing campaign, getting it in front of the right audience is an important part of your strategy. Native advertising, when done right, can be an extremely effective method to do this. Following are five essentials to ensure you have a successful native advertising campaign.

1. Make sure your numbers add up

As with any type of advertising, the best way to gauge effectiveness is through monitoring metrics like click-through rates and pageviews. Unfortunately, there can be a great deal of variation in how ad platforms track these metrics. This often means that what you're seeing in your own Google Analytics dashboard may be very different than what the ad platform tells you.

According to Walter Dublin, Director of Publisher Development at Revcontent, this discrepancy can be significant: "Some of our partners have seen discrepancies in their tracking as high as 40% with other content recommendation providers, which severely cuts into revenue, performance, and growth. The fact that our widget impressions track in line with our partners at Google Analytics makes us an anomaly in the content recommendation space."

When deciding on a platform, inquire as to how they track clicks and views, and how these numbers typically compare to Google Analytics data. Finding a platform that accurately tracks these metrics is imperative for gauging the success of your campaign.

2. Know your audience and serve up expected content

To increase your ad clicks and views, your ad needs to have a similar look and feel to the organic content of the site you're advertising on. From the image you use, to your headline, to the content itself, ensure you're providing a consistent experience for viewers.

At the same time, your content needs to be consistent with your own voice and brand. Finding this balance can be tricky, but is key to achieving high click-through rates and maintaining the trust of your readers.

3. Native ad content shouldn't promote your company (at least not directly)

Business owners who haven't used native advertising before may initially be more comfortable using old-school ad models - models whereby their business or product takes center stage. They can't quite believe that simply promoting a piece of useful content will achieve results, and they would prefer to go straight for the hard sell.

Unfortunately, treating your ad like a press release is unlikely to be effective, and may actually have the opposite effect: alienating and annoying your readers.

Instead of thinking primarily about how your ad is going to drive sales, think about how this piece of content is going to meet the needs of your prospects. What content can you provide that will interest, inform or provide value to your audience and leave them wanting more? How can you then generate leads through that content? (e.g., direct readers to a landing page where they can download a free product).

4. Be aware of the impact of disclosure wording

Large publishers have gotten pretty good at clearly disclosing promoted content. Labels like 'promoted post', 'presented by' and 'sponsored by' indicate advertiser content. The problem is, many readers aren't familiar with these terms and may not actually understand that they indicate paid content.

Referring to a study they performed, Contently Editor in Chief Joe Lazauskas writes, "How sponsored content should be labeled has been a hot-button issue, and that two-thirds of respondents reported having felt deceived by sponsored content shows that publishers and brands need to do a better job of indicating when a story came from a sponsor."

This leaves advertisers and publishers in a bit of a sticky situation. They know that disclosure is necessary - both legally and for maintaining the trust of readers - but they also know that certain labels decrease views and clicks.

According to research done by the Association of National Advertisers, the terms that most clearly indicate paid content are 'advertisement', 'ad' and 'paid content'. Unfortunately, these terms may also result in decreased clicks and views.

More ambiguous terms like 'promoted by' or 'sponsored by' may result in higher clicks and views, but readers may feel deceived after reading the content and assuming it was influenced by an advertiser (which may or may not be the case).

5. Know your format options

As native advertising has become increasingly sophisticated, advertisers have gained the opportunity to choose from a variety of effective ad unit formats. The Interactive Advertising Bureau, or IAB, outlines a total of 6 core ad unit types in their Native Advertising Playbook. They are:

  • In-feed units: These are ads you'll find in-line with other, organic content
  • Paid search units: Paying to bump up your content in search engine results (e.g., Google AdWords)
  • Recommendation widgets: In-feed or sidebar ads that display links to advertiser content
  • Promoted listings: Paying for more prominent placement on an e-commerce marketplace (e.g., Amazon)
  • In-ad with native element units: Ads located near organic content that link to outside content
  • Custom or "can't be contained" units: Unique ad formats specific to a particular site or platform (e.g. Spotify ads)

Different publishers offer different ad formats, so it's important to be aware of your options. Think about which formats best suit your needs and which ones your audience is most likely to gravitate toward.

Conclusion

I've written before about the challenge of content distribution. Creating content is only half the battle; getting that content in front of the right people is the other half. Native advertising can be the key to bridging this divide, in a way that's beneficial both to businesses and their customers.