Native Ads: Why The New York Times is Right — and You Can Be Too

Nate Smoyer
Nov 1, 2016 · 6 min read

Native ads can suck, or they can be awesome. The differentiating factors between the two polar results is determined by a publisher’s commitment to fantastic advertising experiences online (if you’re not quite up to speed on native advertising, go here first and come back once you’re done reading).

In case you missed the recent hoopla, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece about the New York Times and the publisher’s move to native ad formats. Simply put, the New York Times is moving away from standardized “banner” advertisements on its website and the company now plans to replace them with its own proprietary display ad formats(←read: native advertisements).

A Non-Standard New York Times Ad

Whether or not your nose is buried deep in ad tech debates or you’re just trying to increase revenue for your blog, understanding why it’s important to have a native ads strategy is crucial to your publication’s survival today.

If you’re still on the fence, and you’re not sure why you need to make the move, I’ve outlined a few key points you should be considering. If you’ve decided monetizing through ads is the right direction for your site, consider the reasons below. Native is worth embracing.

“Finding WHY is a process of discovery, not invention.” — Simon Sinek

Why You Need a Native Ads Strategy

Reader experience is important.

If you don’t believe that reader experience is the most important thing to consider in your advertising strategy, noisy video sidebar ads and slow load times are sure find their way to your web pages. With better experiences available to your readers, audiences will start spending more time on your site; those audiences will then bounce less (land on a page and immediately leave without clicking around much), and then they’ll start clicking around more — on both additional content and advertisements — as they come to trust a site. In fact, 55% of your visitors are only reading for 15 seconds or less. If you know visitors are bouncing because the experience sucks, wouldn’t you want to work on improving the experience first, and then let the money follow?

Think about it. You only visit a couple of websites every day. Breaking into a readers list of favorite sites is difficult. Providing potential long-term readers with a poor reading experience when they do land on your site for the first time won’t encourage them to stick around much.

Earn trust from readers.

When a friend recommends something, you tend to trust them. Believe it or not, people come to trust blogs, news, and media sites the same way they do with their friends.

Not exactly the most high-quality advertisements…

Despite the fact that most native ads get a failing grade for blending in too much, native ads can still be effective. Users appreciate the move away from in your face, popup advertisements, and they appreciate a more subtle approach to monetization. They’re more willing to engage with sites that respect their intentions. They’re more willing to share articles from those sites. They come to trust those sites.

Growth comes from reader retention and sharing. Readers can only be retained if they trust what they’re getting from you. Trust is important.

Delivering great ad experiences online, while properly disclosing advertisements, is a safe strategy that prevents you from turning away readers who’ve come for the content (and, oh yeh, it’s also required you disclose by law). Creating an ideal reading experience is always in the best interest of the publisher.

Advertisers must have an opportunity to win when buying ads.

Stacking the deck for your advertisers is the most important thing you can do for your partners, as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of your reader engagement benchmarks. If you’re offering a way for advertisers to achieve scale and hit their campaign objectives (before reaching saturation) — you’re going to see repeat buys for your partners.

It doesn’t matter if you’re running an advertiser’s branding campaign or a performance-driven campaign, stacking the deck for your ad partners is greatly in your favor. With native, you’re giving advertisers an increased chance for better engagement, and better ad positioning. And when you stack the deck well for your advertisers, they also get a better return on spend.

Achieve higher engagement rates.

Facebook’s Insights team recently determined in a series of tests they were running that, “We have seen that when advertisers optimize for the screen where the ad is being delivered, creative is able to break through more effectively.” Since native advertising is more adaptive and flexible, it results in higher engagement rates. Higher engagement rates are correlated with higher click through results and better campaign performance for advertisers.

When a fisherman finds a lake that gives him all the fish he wants, does he leave that lake? Yes, but only after the lake stops producing fish. It works the same for advertisers, when they find a site to advertise on that’s helping them win, they’ll spend more money, until it no longer makes sense to spend. In cases where advertisers can’t achieve their goals, they’ll quickly move to the next.

Helping advertisers reach their goals guarantees future success for everyone. Native advertising is the perfect way to increase those engagement rates.

Making money is important.

This should be a no-brainer. When your readers trust you and your advertisers are succeeding with their campaigns, you’ll be maximizing your publication’s ad revenue.

Despite what many of us want to believe, too often we’re just doing others are doing. Some publishers are inserting standard IAB-sized banners in the middle of blog posts, adding tiles with headlines referencing toe fungus and belly fat as “recommended articles,” and intentionally trying to trick readers into clicking on images or videos — without disclosing they’re ads.

This is happening.

Some publishers are trying to pass it off as a strategy for native ads and calling it good, but it’s not okay — it’s damaging publisher relationships with readers.

Facebook’s ads do a fantastic job of blending in with content and user expectations.

The benefits of a solid native ad strategy are in your favor — as well as your readers and advertisers. Think about this. Snap Inc. (formerly SnapChat) is set to reach $1 billion in ad sales in 2017, largely in part to making advertising fun. Facebook, who has mastered the art of the in-feed native ad unit, is expected to report ~$7 billion in revenue — just for 2016 3rd quarter earnings.

Odds are you’re not working on the next Snap or Facebook, but seeing what they’re doing on a grand scale and peeling it back to fit your site can work in your favor. StockTwits is a great example of a platform that’s found an elegant way to monetize with native in-feed units.

You could do the same or similar, so why not do it? When it comes to advertising in 2016, all of the world’s biggest platforms have built native ad experiences to drive revenue growth.

So Why is the New York Times Right?

To start, the New York Times is asking a lot of the right questions. Sebastian Tomich, senior vice president of advertising and innovation at the New York Times said in the WSJ article above, “The big question for us is how do we develop a premium native display business that still has the benefits of automation.”

It’s a valid question for publishers of all sizes. Small teams of one or two and up to major news media outlets. Scale matters. Thankfully a bunch of companies are already working on a solution to automating the sale of native advertisements. Self-serve ad sales portals already exist.

It’s Time to Create Your Native Ads Strategy

To get started, we can help you. We’re helping publishers create their own custom strategy for native ads. We can help you determine what type of native ads you should be running, where native ads should be displayed, and how much to charge.

Take the next step, get in touch with us to learn more about our approach and what we can do for you.


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