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: