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sponsored content

What Are Advertisers Looking for from Sponsored Content?

Clicks, comments, shares — when it comes to sponsored content, any form of engagement is a positive. But as brands get more selective in deciding where to run their sponsored content, publishers are asking more questions about what their advertisers really want to see.

Sponsored content, branded content, and native advertising are all terms used to describe roughly the same thing. That is, advertisers paying for content that looks like traditional editorial content, but is actually being paid for as a way to drive traffic to the advertiser’s website.

How much traffic advertisers expect to generate from sponsored posts and videos depends on how large of an audience the publisher has and how much the advertiser is paying for the content. It can be difficult to track how much advertisers spend on sponsored content because of the way sponsored packages are sold, but it’s fair to say the practice is picking up steam.

According to a report from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, more than half (51%) of local online news sites now sell native advertising or sponsored content, as publishers across the board experiment with new advertising formats.

The controversy over sponsored content has dissipated, at least for the most part, as the practice has gone mainsanatream over the past decade. Well-known digital publishers like HuffPost, The Atlantic, and Business Insider have been running sponsored content for years. Smaller hyperlocal publications and regional publishers are finally adding sponsored content to their advertising packages, as fewer people click on banner ads and the revenue being generated by display advertising continues to decline.

What Advertisers Want from Sponsored Content

When advertisers decide where to run their sponsored content, they look at more than just the size of the publisher’s audience. Advertisers care about who the website’s visitors are, and how closely those visitors align with the targeted demographics they’re trying to reach.

Publishers who are hoping to sell advertisers on their sponsored content packages should be sure to track basic metrics, like the number of monthly website visitors, the number of times their content is “shared” each month, and the number of fans commenting on their social media posts.

Publisher should also conduct research, either via visitor surveys or using advanced analytics tools, to uncover demographic details about their audience. How old is the average visitor? Where do visitors live? Do they have pets? How much money do they make each year? Advertisers love knowing the answers to these questions, so publishers should make sure to have the data available or to publish the data publicly on their websites.

Once an advertiser decides that the publisher’s audience aligns with its own demographics, the next question is, what kind of sponsorship packages does the publisher sell?

Some smaller publishers run one-off sponsored articles, while others require a commitment of five or more articles, which get published at regular intervals for a pre-determined period of time.

Articles and blog posts aren’t the only form that sponsored content can take. At Business Insider, for example, brands can pay to sponsor slideshows that run alongside editorial content. Other publishers have found success with sponsored videos, email newsletters, and podcast episodes.

Some brands are looking to create sponsored content themselves, and others are looking for media partners who will handle the heavy lifting. Small and mid-size digital publishers will often hire freelancer writers to create sponsored content for advertisers. That sponsored content needs to be vetted by the advertiser before it goes live on the website. But that back-and-forth can sometimes gum up the process, and brand advertisers that run sponsored content on a regular basis often prefer to create articles and blog posts in-house.

Some brands have no interest in putting together their own content. These brands would rather sponsor editorial articles that involve certain themes, like technology or innovation. Rather than featuring a “Paid Post” header, these articles usually include a highlighted paragraph that lets readers know that the article is “presented” by a certain company. However, brand advertisers usually do not want to see the names of their competitors mentioned in these editorial articles.

How much latitude advertisers have when putting together their content depends on the publisher. Large publishers, like Forbes, have strict guidelines that prevent advertisers from making direct pitches to customers in their sponsored articles.

Unlike editorial content, which usually lives on a publisher’s website for eternity, sponsored content can be setup to disappear after a certain length of time. Whether that happens, or how long the content lives on the publisher’s website before it’s deleted, depends on the deal that’s struck between the brand advertiser and the publisher’s sales staff.

Here are three examples of sponsored content, to give you an idea of what’s possible when you sell sponsored content to advertisers:

BuzzFeed, “10 Lifechanging Ways To Make Your Day More Efficient”

Forbes, “Get Ahead Of Your Competition By Researching Them”

Mashable, “30 Overused Buzzwords in Digital Marketing”

Ad Blocking

How Digital Publishers Can Overcome Ad Blocking

Display advertising remains one of the most important revenue streams for digital publishers, but the growing use of ad blocking technology is threatening to upend traditional publishing models.

Ad blocking technology is not new. In fact, publishers have been warning us about the potential impact since at least 2016. The technology itself works by stopping ads from being served, which limits advertisers’ potential views. Because display ads are only paid for when they are served, publishers are bearing the brunt of the disruption.

In the years since ad blockers first started being used on a wide scale, publishers have made strides in diversifying their revenue streams, in an effort to decrease their reliance on display advertising. Despite those efforts, display advertising is still one of the most important channels for online publishers. According to a study by Reuters Institute, 38% of publishers rely heavily on display advertising. Take that revenue away, and you can expect publishers will start having trouble turning a profit in the coming years.

Around 200 million people now regularly use ad blocking software, with 18 to 29 year olds being the most frequent users of the technology. While the growth of ad blocking browser extensions has steadied on desktop, new research shows that blocked impressions are becoming a larger concern on mobile. Most non-gaming websites have mobile ad blocking rates of approximately 2%, but gaming sites—where ad blocking is particularly common—are now seeing ad blocking rates of 10% or more. The French news publisher La Monde is seeing desktop ad blocking rates at 25%, with mobile rates at 15%. Other digital publishers can expect to see similar figures in the coming years, if they don’t take the time now to start implementing strategies to combat the practice.

Here are four of the most successful strategies that digital publishers are using to fight back against the effects of ad blockers right now.

1) Creating effective ad blocking messages.

Publishers who rely on revenue from display advertising are increasingly serving pop up messages to users with ad blockers, asking them to turn their ad blockers off. Whether these pop ups are successful depends on how they are designed and written. Publishers are finding that the most successful ad block messages are those that offer readers multiple solutions, like whitelisting the website, becoming a member, viewing a video advertisement, or disabling the ad blocker. Pop ups also perform better when they are written by editorial staffers and designed in a way that mimics the website’s native content.

2) Using Google’s Funding Choices tool.

It’s been almost two years since Google launched its tool for publishers looking to fight back against ad blocking software. In that time, the company has expanded its Funding Choices tool to a number of markets in countries around the world. Funding Choices works by asking or requiring website visitors to turn off ad blockers after they’ve read a pre-determined number of articles. Publishers have the option to serve a dismissible message, a message that requires readers to pay after viewing a certain number of articles, or to block access until the user turns off his ad blocker. Publishers using the Funding Choices tool can also ask readers to pay for an ad-free experience through another Google program, called Google Contributor.

3) Selling more native advertising.

Native advertising, or sponsored content, is a type of advertising that looks like a publication’s editorial content, but is actually paid for by the business advertiser. As ad blockers cause display advertising revenue to dwindle, there’s a good chance publishers will start selling more native advertising opportunities to fill in the gaps. In city and regional magazines, native advertising usually looks like a typical article, but with a header at the top that says “Sponsored Content.” Native advertising may be created by the advertiser or by the publisher’s own staff. Because native advertising lives among a site’s regular editorial content, it can’t be filtered out by ad blockers.

4) Turning the focus to subscription revenue.

Fighting back against ad blockers may be a losing proposition. Rather than engaging in that battle, some digital publishers are putting more emphasis on their membership and subscription programs. Trying to get readers to turn off their ad blockers can end up taking more energy than it’s worth, especially when that energy could be better spent putting together marketing materials, such as email solicitations and social media posts, designed to promote the publication’s paid membership programs.

Monetize "Top Doctors" lists

How to Monetize ‘Top Doctors’ Lists

“Top Doctors” lists provide a valuable service to readers of city and regional magazines, helping them research the most qualified health professionals in their communities. But these lists are more than just a resource for patients. Increasingly, publishers are finding smarter ways to monetize “Top Doctors” lists, creating powerful new opportunities for revenue diversification in an industry that’s already under financial pressure.

“Best Of” lists have always been a traffic generator for publishers, both online and print. Readers love seeing the names of their favorite businesses, and businesses love seeing their name in print. “Top Doctors” lists are no different. Particularly in a day and age where anyone can post an anonymous review on websites like Yelp and Healthgrades, “Top Doctors” lists serve an important function by piggybacking on the solid reputations that city and regional magazine publishers have cultivated through years of unbiased reporting.

Here are the strategies top digital publishers are using to monetize “Top Doctor” lists on their own websites and print editions.

Creating the List

Generating a list of top doctors in a given area shouldn’t be hard. One of the most straightforward ways for digital publishers to handle this task is by setting up a survey on their websites and asking readers to submit their reviews. Having the list based on votes takes the pressure off the publication if certain physicians are upset about not being included, but it does offer an extra layer of work and responsibility for the publisher.

Another option is to open the voting up exclusively to members of the health community in the publisher’s city or region. Distributing printed surveys to physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers is one way to gain insights into which doctors are providing the highest quality care.

That additional layer of work can be off-putting to some publishers, which is why a growing number of city and regional magazines are relying on outside firms to collect the information for their “Top Doctors” lists. For example, New York Magazine relies on Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., which publishes a database of top doctors in a number of metro areas each year. Castle Connolly’s rankings are based on peer-review surveys that licensed physicians are invited to take online.

Generating Revenue from “Top Doctors” Lists

Once the editorial staff puts together its “Top Doctors” lists, the publisher’s sales team can get to work finding opportunities for monetization.

City and regional magazine publishers have been able to monetize “Top Doctors” lists in a number of ways, starting with charging hospital systems and other large physician groups a premium for display ad space that runs on top of and alongside their lists. The closer in proximity the display ad is to the “Top Doctors” list, the higher the premium a publisher can charge.

An even better strategy is to sell a section sponsorship to a large hospital system. For example, rather than running banner ads from different physician groups on each page of the “Top Doctors” list, a digital publisher could sell exclusive rights to the entire section. Selling the exclusive rights might mean publishing banner ads from the same advertiser on every page of the “Top Doctors” section, or it might mean offering wallpaper ads—also known as full background ads—for complete branding of the section for a certain period of time. Health systems will pay a premium for this type of exclusivity, particularly in communities where two or more hospitals are competing for business.

Of course, selling exclusively to hospitals and other large physician groups leaves out a huge segment of medical providers who would be interested in having their information highlighted in a “Top Doctors” list. With the finalized list in hand, a publisher’s salespeople can call physicians who are included and ask if they would like to pay to have their listings highlighted or enlarged, or if they would like a photo to run alongside the listing. The cost for this is generally nominal, however, with hundreds of doctors listed on a “Top Doctors” list, the revenue adds up quickly.

Keep in mind, none of these suggestions put the integrity of the publisher’s “Top Doctors” list in jeopardy, because salespeople are not offering to include physicians on their lists in exchange for a fee. That would be unethical, and it’s not something that industry experts recommend. But offering to highlight listings for doctors who have been included on the “Top Doctors” list by their own merits is not unethical. In fact, it’s a similar tactic to what digital publishers have been doing with their business directories for years.

Whether publishers can effectively monetize “Top Doctors” lists depends largely on the willingness of their sales teams to get on board with the effort, along with how creative they can get in their ability to craft new strategies for revenue optimization. If you’d like more information about how other city and regional magazine publishers have been able to monetize their “Top Doctors” lists, feel free to reach out to our team at Web Publisher PRO.

Monetize Local Sports Coverage

Develop a Plan to Monetize Local Sports Coverage In 5 Steps

Sports drives clicks.

In communities around the country, sports coverage drives traffic to local news websites. Sports fans check in for the latest scores, and parents of student athletes are eager to see write ups of weekly games and matches. For digital publishers, there’s a major opportunity to monetize local sports coverage.

Monetizing local sports coverage in a meaningful way means thinking strategically and looking outside the box. News and sports are two different beasts, and there’s no reason to think they need to be priced the same from an advertising perspective. By unbundling sports from the rest of their websites, hyperlocal publishers have the opportunity to grow their revenue in exciting new ways

Here are five steps that publishers should take as they develop plans to effectively monetize local sports coverage.

Step 1: Find a niche.

In communities with multiple news outlets, there can be a lot of competition around sports coverage. One site doesn’t have to do it all.

Taking a close look at the metrics, publishers can pretty quickly figure out where their websites fit in and what sports are most popular among readers. Assessing strengths means determining where a site’s reporters can do the best job, what type of content people like to read, and whether advertisers are interested in sponsoring that type of content.

A number of hyperlocal publishers are excelling above the local news competition with real-time scoreboards and play-by-play updates. Digital publishers have the ability be the first to publish final scores in a way that local television stations and print newspapers cannot, providing them with a competitive advantage.

Step 2: Reach out to advertisers who are sports boosters.

It’s not hard to tell which local businesses support youth sports. Check out the list of sponsors inside programs and on the backs of athletes’ jerseys. Sports reporters who are already working local games can jot down the names of businesses they see advertising and then pass those names along to the publisher’s sales department. Those local business boosters are going to be some of the best bets for publishers looking to sell display advertising alongside articles in their sports sections.

Step 3: Bundle sponsorships of sports coverage.

Publishers can charge a premium when they give advertisers exclusive rights to the sports section, or to articles about specific sports within that section. The general popularity of local sports makes this an attractive option for advertisers, as does the ability to target a specific demographic or subset of news readers.

The most common way for publishers to go about bundling sponsorships of sports coverage is to sell display advertising packages that include complete coverage of a sport or a team for the duration of a season. For example, every article about the high school football team would be flanked by a sidebar ad or a banner ad from one specific advertiser, such as a community bank or a medical practice.

For an even higher price, publishers could offer wallpaper ads, also known as full background ads, for complete branding of the sports section for a period of time, such as one day or one week.

Step 4: Get creative with advertising opportunities.

Display advertising isn’t the only way publishers can monetize local sports coverage. BIGR Media, a network of websites in Tennessee that includes TNHighSchoolFootball.com and the Rutherford Source, sells advertising alongside printable team schedules and a game-night scoreboard. The company also partners with local radio DJs and reporters on Facebook Live broadcasts and taped podcasts.

Step 5: Find fans willing to contribute for free.

Experienced sports journalists can craft the types of compelling articles that win awards, but paid writers aren’t always necessary for short briefs and game recaps. Look in the stands during any sports event and you’ll find plenty of people willing to write short stories for free, or send in real-time score updates via text or Twitter. Parents of student athletes can be particularly helpful here, since they rarely miss a game and many are very reliable.

One word of note: Publishers who are interested in going this route should make sure to provide some type of training to parent contributors, including some best practices for reporting scores and taking videos and photographs. Publishers should also consider doling out gift cards, or some other type of gift, as a thank you to contributors at the end of each sports season.

Direct Sales Advertising

Why Publishers Need a Direct Sales Strategy

Programmatic advertising has been generating plenty of headlines as of late, but direct sales are still responsible for many of the successes seen in the hyperlocal publishing community.

Relying on their in-house sales teams, smaller publishers are finding that they’re better able to leverage local connections and keep their rates high when they pitch advertisers directly.

Programmatic vs. Direct

We’ve covered programmatic advertising pretty extensively here at Web Publisher PRO, but it’s worth mentioning briefly again as it relates to direct sales. Programmatic is a type of ad buying that uses software instead of a traditional processes. Programmatic advertising is incredibly efficient, but fraud rates can be high and there is concern over programmatic driving down CPMs for local publishers.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is direct ad selling. With direct sales, in-house sales reps working for a publisher go out into the community and pitch ad space to local advertisers. Direct sales can be time consuming, and it can require significant resources for reps, but direct ad sales can also lead to more revenue by cutting out ad networks and exchanges that act as middlemen in the sales process.

By some estimates, local publishers generate as much as 5x the revenue from inventory when it’s sold via direct sales compared to programmatic.

Pricing Inventory

The first question advertisers will ask a local publisher’s sales reps is how much ad placements cost. Publishers should price their inventory based on site traffic quantity and quality, as well as the quality of editorial content. Readership demographics also come into play. An audience of high-net-worth individuals is usually worth more to advertisers than readers who skew lower on the economic scale.

One way that publishers can maximize the value of their inventory is by letting advertisers target specific reader groups who’ve demonstrated an affinity for certain products or services. For example, a sporting goods retailer will usually be willing to pay a higher ad rate to ensure its ads are being seen by people reading the Sports section, while a restaurant would be willing to pay a higher rate to ensure its ads are seen by readers in the Dining section.

One of the best ways to sell hyper-targeted advertising is through section sponsorships and sponsored content. With direct sales, publishers have more flexibility and control over their own inventory, making them better positioned to sell these types of premium packages.

What Publishers Need for Direct Sales

  1. Salespeople: First and foremost, publishers who want to sell directly to advertisers need exceptional salespeople. Sales reps will become the face of the brand to many in the community. They need to be knowledgeable, friendly, and skilled in their work.
  2. Media Kits: In order to do their jobs effectively, sales reps need media kits. Media kits show prospective advertisers what they can purchase from the publisher. In addition to basic information like an editorial calendar, package options, and advertising deadlines, media kits also include information about the publication’s readership, both in terms of reader demographics and traffic figures. Here is an example of a media kit put together by Bethesda Magazine.
  3. Rate Cards: Rate cards are like pricing menus for publishers. Advertisers will always ask to see a rate card before agreeing to advertise on a publisher’s site. Rate cards should list basic prices for display advertising and any premium packages the publisher is offering, along with details about ad types, dimensions, and supported platforms.

Although it won’t fit in a briefcase, the most important thing sales reps need to sell ad inventory directly is a solid publication. Well-respected community publications can sell themselves. Advertisers are much more willing to attach their names and brands to a publication with a positive brand identity than one with a less-than-stellar track record.

While publishers need to equip their sales teams with media kits and rate cards, the real key to making direct sales work is to run a top-notch website with a solid following in the community.

For more information on all the latest direct sales strategy, reach out to our team at Web Publisher PRO.

Programmatic Ads

The Hybrid Approach: How Programmatic Ads Can Complement Direct Sales

Hyperlocal publishers are in a unique position to maximize ad revenue through direct sales. The relationships that local sales reps can cultivate with small business advertisers their own communities are difficult for technology giants like Facebook and Google to replicate. However, there comes a time for many local publishers when direct ad sales are no longer enough for sustained business growth. When that happens, programmatic ads can be used to complement direct sales.

Utilizing this hybrid approach, publishers sell premier ad placements to direct clients and unload excess inventory to digital media buyers in real-time.

As we’ve covered in previous posts, programmatic advertising is a type of ad buying that relies on software and algorithms to buy and sell inventory. Supply is sold in real-time, which means revenue is not guaranteed, and pricing is dynamic. This stands in stark contrast to direct sales methods, which rely on human sales reps setting prices manually and selling inventory to business advertisers. Supply is typically pre-sold, giving publishers the ability to anticipate revenue in any given month.

Programmatic ads are on the rise among local publishers, with Borrell Associates predicting that the share of local digital ad revenue attributed to programmatic will grow to 10% by 2020, up from just 4.7% in 2015.

But not all hyperlocal publishers—and particularly, pure play community news sites—are jumping on board the programmatic bandwagon, amidst concerns that initial investments might be too great and longtime community advertisers might be turned off. Some advertisers are hesitant to use programmatic ads as well, citing concerns about limited transparency. These advertisers can only be captured by local publishers using direct sales methods.

Blending the two approaches lets publishers get the best of both worlds.

Some publishers prefer direct sales. Some prefer programmatic ads. Publishers taking a hybrid approach are using programmatic advertising to generate more revenue and produce better results for their advertising clients. Premier positions on these publishers’ site are still filled with ads sold by local salespeople for a premium price. This might include advertising in email newsletters or within sponsored sections on their sites. Meanwhile, lower yield positions are made available on the private marketplace.

Programmatic and Direct Sales – The Fundamental Differences

Targeting is often referred to as the fundamental difference between programmatic sales and direct. Rather than selling ad impressions in bulk, publishers are selling individual impressions to the highest bidders in real-time.

Direct sales have traditionally worked well for hyperlocal publishers because advertisers—typically small to mid-size local businesses—know who they’re reaching and they know that their ads will be viewed in a favorable context. Local businesses will often pay a premium to associate themselves with highly-regarded local publishers, both because of the strong brand name and because they know they’ll be safe from having their ads appear alongside off-brand content.

But what happens when local salespeople can’t fill a publisher’s available inventory? Lowering the prices is one option, but a more efficient solution might be to start using programmatic advertising to complement direct sales.

How a Hybrid Approach Works

Is it possible to go the programmatic route without cannibalizing or devaluing the local sales team? Absolutely, yes.

Publishers have the opportunity to get the best of both worlds when they use programmatic advertising to supplement direct sales.

The insights gleaned from programmatic can add value to direct sales deals, as well. For example, a publisher who is seeing great demand for specific inventory can justify an increase in pricing on direct rate cards. Publishers can also aggregate information about some advertisers across programmatic channels. This should create a clearer picture of the total demand for advertising on their sites.

A few questions publishers should ask themselves when creating a hybrid advertising strategy include:
• Will programmatic advertising impact existing yield?
• What role will existing sales reps have in a programmatic strategy?
• How will inventory stand out in the marketplace?

If you’d like more information about how to make a hybrid approach work for your team, feel free to reach out.

Programmatic Advertising

What Is Programmatic Advertising?

An effective advertising strategy relies on a strong foundation, and for some independent publishers, programmatic advertising has become the bedrock for generating incremental income. But what does programmatic advertising really entail, and is it the right solution for every hyperlocal publisher?

At its core, programmatic advertising means using software to purchase online advertising. This is opposed to more traditional, manual processes, which involve RFPs and manual insertion orders. With programmatic advertising, machines are in control.

Industry analysts predict that programmatic advertising will be responsible for 10% of total local digital ad revenue by 2020, up from just 4.7% in 2015. Still, hyperlocal publishers have been hesitant to go all in on programmatic (for reasons we’ll get to later in this article) and those publishers that do participate are using programmatic as a complement to, rather than a replacement of, current advertising strategies. According to a survey by the ad tech firm Operative, half of publishers today say that programmatic generates less than 10% of their digital ad revenue.

Streamlined Ad Buying

Back when all digital ads were purchased and sold manually by ad buyers, the process was much more expensive. It could also be unreliable. Programmatic advertising has streamlined the way digital advertising is bought and sold, and in the process, it has made ad buying more cost effective for businesses. Many experts believe that programmatic is the future of ad buying, but whether that’s actually true is still the topic of much debate within the publishing community
In the hyperlocal publisher community, programmatic advertising is most commonly used to supplement local sales. Local news publishers have been hesitant to replace local sales with programmatic, and for good reason. Programmatic advertising can be restrictive, in terms of the rules of creative ad standardization. Independent publishers who have been successful with local sales are usually better suited with a blended approach.

Standardized Ad Creatives

The standardization of ad creative is typically considered to be the great downfall of programmatic advertising, at least from the perspective of hyperlocal publishers. Standardizing ads is the only way networks can scale, but it can be challenging for publishers to differentiate themselves with such limited control.

Another issue that comes up for hyperlocal news publishers is scale, or lack thereof. The majority of hyperlocal publishers don’t crack one million article page views per month, which is the floor for many programmatic networks. Without reaching that benchmark, sites cannot join many of the most respected ad networks. For news websites that serve hyperlocal communities, a better route to financial sustainability is through direct sales.

Programmatic Advertising Rates

CRM rates are another issue for hyperlocal publishers. There’s been widespread concern that programmatic advertising could reduce the price per thousand impressions (CPMs) throughout the industry. According to a report by Borrell Associates, average CMP rates for programmatic ads are $3.88, while direct sale rates for publishers exceed $10. Low CPMs can be attributed to lack of sales expertise, the complexities of the metrics involved, and an overall lack of support and resources for publishers.

An up-front investment is necessary for publishers who want to go the programmatic route, as well. Local publishers have to invest in systems that can sometimes cost tens-of-thousands of dollars in order to deliver ads to site visitors fitting certain criteria, rather serving the same ads to every visitor who clicks onto their websites. With the ability to target specific audiences, local publishers have leverage and offer more value to both local and national advertisers.

While programmatic advertising certainly isn’t the solution for every independent publisher, it is something that more hyperlocal sites are looking into as they search for more sustainable paths to financial success.

Sponsored Content for Publishers

Sponsored Content Guidelines for Publishers

Sponsored content plays an important role in the online publisher’s monetization strategy, particularly among those publishers looking to diversify their revenue streams and get out from underneath sinking CPMs.

Sponsored content is not an advertorial, which presents advertising as editorial content, just as it’s not the same thing as content marketing or press releases put out by an advertiser’s public relations firm. Sponsored content is a type of native advertising, in that both mimic the look and tone of a publication or platform. But unlike native advertising, which often links to outside websites, sponsored content lives solely on a publisher’s own site.

Spending on sponsored content is predicted to reach $3.1 billion by the end of this year, providing a new revenue stream for publishers looking outside the traditional world of banner advertising. At The Atlantic, three-quarters of digital ad revenue was expected to come from sponsored content last year.

Written in a way that’s engaging to the publisher’s audience, sponsored posts or articles are often produced by a media company’s staff writers. Having the content written in-house ensures a similar tone, and it lends an air of editorial authenticity that can be hard to replicate with other ad formats.

But balancing editorial authenticity with the need to be upfront with readers about what is and is not sponsored content can be tricky. Readers shouldn’t feel misled or tricked, so it’s important that publishers label their sponsored content sections accurately and make it clear which articles have been paid for by outside advertisers.

The following guidelines can be useful when putting together sponsored content.

1. Don’t Leave Readers Feeling Duped

Whether sponsored content is given its own section on a website or published alongside traditional editorial articles, it should be clearly labeled and defined. Every effort should be made to inform readers that the article they are reading has been paid for, so as to avoid breaking the trust that hyperlocal publications have earned from their readers.

Adding a label or subheading that reads “Sponsored Content” above the headline on a sponsored article is the most common way for publishers to announce this type of content. Other publications have gone as far as to place paid content within shaded boxes or include a line that reads, “This post is sponsored by” at the end of the article. Publishers should also include the name of the advertiser in the byline, where a writer’s name would traditionally be placed.

2. Find Ways to Make Paid Articles Interesting

Advertisers want their messaging to blend seamlessly into a publication’s editorial content, but they also want to ensure as many eyeballs see that messaging as possible. To help meet those requests, some publishers have gotten creative. In addition to straightforward articles, publishers can offer to create sponsored podcasts, videos, listicles, infographics, and photo galleries for brands.

Quartz charges advertisers for sponsored articles and infographics that run in between every four or five editorial posts. This is the most common placement for most local publishers, as well.

3. Consider Putting Sponsored Content in a Special Section

While media outlets like Quartz have found success publishing sponsored content in between editorial articles, other companies are carving out separate spaces within their sites for paid content.

Forbes created a separate place for sponsored content as a way to ensure that readers don’t feel duped by what they’re reading. For a monthly fee, brand advertisers can post content to Forbes’ Brand Voice platform. The amount of content and syndication of that content depends on the pricing level that the advertiser selects.

The Huffington Post has also created entirely new sections on its website based around brand sponsorships. For example, the company launched an Impact X section focusing on “where people, technology, and social converge” with original branded content for Cisco. Content for that section was curated by the Huffington Post’s social marketing team.

4. Offer to Produce Content for Advertisers

The Huffington Post isn’t the only organization that assigns its staffers to generate sponsored content. A number of media outlets, from the smallest hyperlocals to the largest news conglomerates, will produce sponsored content for brands — for a price.

Publishers walk a fine line when they assign editorial staff writers to create advertising content, however brands have been known to pay a premium for these services, and the content that results often fits in seamlessly with a publisher’s existing editorial tone.

For larger publishers, it may make more sense to employ a dedicated team of writers to produce creative content for advertisers. That separation between editorial and advertising is ideal, however it is not always possible for small hyperlocal sites. If editorial staffers are writing the sponsored content for advertisers, publishers should act as liaisons and limit contact between the two sides to protect the integrity of the newsroom.

5. Track and Report Successes

In order to charge a premium for sponsored content, local publishers need to be able to prove their value. Publishers should expect that advertisers will want to know the number of views, unique visitors, and time spent on each sponsored post.

Although impressions and engagement are often seen as the most important metrics when valuing sponsored content, publishers should also consider taking it a step further by tracking reader demographics, as well as article completion rates, and in some cases even the offline behaviors of visitors who’ve read sponsored articles.

Direct Sales Advertising

How to Select the Best Ad Serving Platform

The right ad serving platform can make all the difference for independent publishers searching for sustainable sources of revenue. Digital advertising is expected to increase 13.5% from 2016 to 2017, reaching $50.2 billion this year. Much of those gains will go toward publishers running a consistent volume of campaigns on their sites.

So why are some digital publishers capturing such a large share of the online advertising market, even while others are struggling?

The answer has to do with the ad serving platforms they’re using. The right ad serving platform is the secret to scaling for local publishers, making it possible for independent digital news outlets to sell products that advertisers can’t get anywhere else.

Here are four steps publishers should take when evaluating and selecting ad serving platforms, along with insights into what makes certain platforms better suited for local online publishers than others.

1. Find an ad serving platform that works frequently with local publishers

Most experts recommend starting the search for an ad serving platform by identifying your unique needs. This is one area where specialization really matters. Local publishers have considerations that other online businesses do not. For example, more and more independent online publishers are selling their own ads and they typically require a variety of placements to give their advertisers options.

Platforms like AdRotate and OpenX offer ways to sell ads or sponsored content on a CPM basis, thereby competing with the rest of the internet for page views. For independent publishers, this is often the wrong route to take.

More specialized ad serving platforms, like Broadstreet Ads, AdButler, and Google DFP, tend to be better options for publishers with their own sales teams. Selling ads directly to advertisers typically generates more value and improve the performance of online campaigns.

2. Look for a platform that’s easy to use

Ad serving platforms come with a steep learning curve. Having a support team that’s easy to contact is important when evaluating any platform, but overall ease-of-use will likely play an even larger role in a publisher’s success with a given ad server.

Ad serving platforms that don’t directly cater to publishers usually have more complicated interfaces. Publishers using platforms like DFP and OpenX often require support, and ad serving platforms that are focused on serving the publishing market tend to have an interface that is more intuitive.

Publishers have the most success when they use platforms with on-page help instructions that allow them to create and run orders without waiting for the help of an ad operations expert. One-on-one trainings and webinars are also popular options among top publishers.

3. Consider which ad formats are supported

The most successful independent publishers offer their advertisers a variety of ad formats. In order to make that possible, those publishers need to work with ad serving platforms that support multiple ad formats, ad types, and ad templates.

In addition to placements in standard IAB sizes, most independent publishers want the freedom to sell exit intent pop ups, slideshows, split reveals, instant videos, galleries, and directory listings to advertisers. The key to making this happen is working with an ad serving platform like Broadstreet, which doesn’t restrict what publishers can sell.

Ad serving platforms like OpenX tend to be less stable and offer fewer ad formats than niche ad servers. Also, although Google DFP has standard and expandable banners, the company may require users to have those ads designed by professionals, placing unnecessary limitations on publishers.

4. Take a look at the migration process

The final step in selecting the best ad serving platform is actually the first step that a publisher takes when making the leap to a new service—the migration. Some platforms make the migration process simpler than others.

Publishers that are unhappy with their current ad servers should take a close look at the migration process with any platforms they’re considering using. For example, Broadstreet has created a migration process that involves a set of scripts that pull and re-format a publisher’s existing data as it’s imported to the company’s adserver.

Hosted platforms, like the platform offered by Broadstreet, are preferable in a number of ways. They also provide the latest security updates, making these platforms a more suitable option for professional organizations such as news publishers.

With so many ad serving options to choose from, there’s no reason for publishers to settle. The top ad serving platforms all have very different features. By looking closely at their own needs, and following the steps to select an ad serving platform laid out in this article, publishers should be able to pinpoint the solution best suited to help monetize their sites.