Confessions of a Native Ads Junkie: 3 Mistakes to Avoid

by | Sep 7, 2017 | Native Ad Networks

How to avoid these Native Advertising MistakesI have a confession to make. I love Native advertising… almost to the point of addiction. On a latest Agora Marketing Masters’ (AMM)  webinar I battled it out with several colleagues, arguing why native advertising was my top takeaway for 2017.

For those that don’t know, Native advertising is another channel of paid search. Native ads are those “recommended by” ads that appear on many websites. They’re meant to appear… well, native ….to the website. The idea is that they seem like related content rather than advertisements. And they’ve become a significant competitor to AdWords and Facebook.. The “gateway” platforms for most are Taboola, Outbrain, RevContent (and Dianomi if you’re in the financial space) but there are literally dozens of different native ad platforms available.

Why Should You Use Native Ads?

The reasons why Native advertising should be on your to-do list to focus on are twofold:

  1. Scale One of the biggest pain points for many of the businesses we work with is growing their lists. AdWords and FB are typically our first step, but native is usually not far behind and allows for significant scale. Finding scale is something Native ad platforms pride themselves on. These ad platforms serve billions (yes billions) of content recommendations every month.
  2. Diversification In the AMM webinar I asked the question: “what would be the total loss in revenue to your business, if Facebook and Google shut you down today?” For many businesses, the FB or AdWords “slap” is a very real fear. With very serious consequences.

Native gives you access to multiple alternative platforms to diversify your acquisition. Diversification is simple common sense. The more platforms you have your campaigns running on, the less dependent you are to any one particular network. And the less susceptible to risk you become.

To illustrate my point, at the time of writing this, I am in the midst of the Google slap with one of our clients. Before we got shut down on AdWords, our Bitcoin ‘book-as-a-hook’ campaign had a 10% conversion rate to paid. The exact same campaign sailed through the compliance process on the native networks and currently has over a 5% conversion rate from free to paid on Dianomi and Outbrain.  Not as strong as AdWords admittedly but still good none the less.

NOTE: AMM members be sure to mark your calendars. On September 28 at 11am EST we’ll be hosting a live webinar all about the dreaded FB and AdWords “slap”. We’ll be discussing how to best avoid ad account suspensions but also covering next steps if you do get shut down.

Native Advertising Mistakes: Beware of the Dangers of Native Madness

Before you get too hooked on the idea of Native, let me share my cautionary tale so you may learn some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. And in doing so, I hope that you will be able to avoid the same pitfalls.

Native Advertising Mistake #1 – Not Understanding How the Algorithm Works

Knowing how the algorithm of any native ad platform works is paramount to the success of your campaigns. When I first started with Native, I approached it very much as a ‘set-it-and-forget-it platform’. I’ve now come to realize it deserves more respect (much more). My biggest problem at that time was that I would see an initial spike in impressions but, after four days, my campaign would usually tank. No amount of tinkering with bids at that point seemed to do anything to revive the campaign. What I didn’t know then, and what I do know now, is that this was due to a fundamental trait of the Native algorithm, called the exploratory phase.

The exploratory phase is that period of time that the algorithm searches its network for where best to place your ads i.e. where you are getting clicks from. This usually lasts anywhere from one to four days. After this time, if you haven’t achieved a good click through rate (CTR), the algorithm stops showing your ads. So that initial CTR is incredibly important. Sounds simple, right? What did this mean for me?

In short, it meant I had to come up with better ads.

I also had to reconsider my bid strategy, especially in the early phase of the campaign.

Understanding how the algorithm works also saves time and money…

Allow me to explain. I latestly had a situation on Outbrain where I thought my campaign was stabilizing. I had achieved a relatively good CTR, my bids were competitive and I was getting conversions. Then my impressions flat-lined.

Because I knew I had held up my end of the bargain, I went to my account rep for an explanation. After some digging, he concluded that “changing network conditions’” had caused my campaign to implode. In this case, another advertiser (a particularly big one) ­­­­­was pouring money into the platform, which adversely affected my campaigns. In this instance, I pulled back from Outbrain and focused on Dianomi, because I was unwilling to increase my bids to gain back market share.

There are many other applications to understanding how the algorithm works, not least understanding what bid you should set.

Native Advertising Mistake #2 – Not Knowing How to Bid Appropriately

None of us want to pay over the odds for clicks. But there is a difference between wasted spend and giving the algorithm what it needs to learn. What I’ve come to appreciate is this…

The short-term pain of a higher CPC is worth the long-term gain of a campaign with longevity.

If you didn’t already know, the two pillars that every native network feeds off of are CTR and cost per click (CPC). Yes, our top priority is more likely to be conversions at an acceptable cost per acquisition (CPA). But CTR and CPC is the means to that end.

Finding the right ad creative – to resonate with our target audience – is essential to achieve a good CTR and reduced CPAs. However, we shouldn’t discount the important part that our bid plays, especially in the early phase of the campaign.

AIM Tip: Figure out at what CPC bid will allow you to can achieve your target CPA. This takes some testing, but is a valuable investment.  Armed with that knowledge I usually launch a new campaign with a CPC of 20%-30% above that bid. When my campaign begins to stabilize, I’ll adjust my bids by £0.01 or £0.02 once per day until I’m happy with the CPA.

I call this my “incremental bid accelerator” method.

And it works like a charm.

Of course, as with most digital marketing, nothing with Native advertising is totally black and white. At AIM’s inaugural Digital Innovation Summit in Florida earlier this year, I had many conversations with colleagues from around The Agora world. We all agreed that what works in one market is never guaranteed to work in another, especially when it comes to Native. Taboola in Argentina is a very different ad platform from Taboola in the UK, or the US. Why?

One word: Inventory.

The sites that the platform partners with in your market, as well as the competition for that inventory, will affect how you should bid. The suggested bid is a good top-level indicator of the level of competition you are up against.

Native Advertising Mistake #3 – Not Launching Your Campaign with Enough Ads

This is a lot more straightforward, but it’s a mistake I still see a lot of Agora businesses make. Again, whenever you launch a new campaign, you will get an initial spike in impressions. During this time, the platforms generally do a good job in showing all of your ads. They won’t all get equal impression share, but they will be given an opportunity to get clicks.

Each of the twelve ads shown below received around 8%-9% of the total impression share within the first 24 hours of launch.

Outbrain ads: The need to use multiple advertisements on native ad networks

[Outbrain ads: each ad is getting approx. 1-2k impressions from a total of 22k impressions.]


Conclusion: The more ads the better!

Even if you think you already know what your best headline and image combinations are, you should test it and let the market decide. I often see our top-performing headlines on AdWords and Facebook get outperformed by new ads on native.

So, there you have it, the top three mistakes I have made in chasing that Native advertising high. No doubt I’ll learn a few more lessons along the way. I’ll be sure to share those with you here and in the Agora Marketing Masters’ FB group.

All the best,
Brian Swift

P.S. Agora Marketing Masters’ members look out for my bonus video tutorial tip. I’ll be talking about how you can use these native ad platforms in tandem with Google AdWords and Google Analytics, to help kick your remarketing campaigns into overdrive.