Understanding Native Advertising with Taboola

So many brands are jumping on the native advertising bandwagon. As one of the most engaging channels in programmatic advertising, native seems to pop up in almost every campaign strategy conversation we have with our marketer and agency clients. And because there is so much talk around native, we get a lot of questions about how to optimize these campaigns so that they are most effective. So we decided to go straight to the source and bring in one of our native partners, Taboola, to help answer some common questions about native advertising. 

In case you’re unfamiliar with Taboola, they are one of the world’s largest discovery platforms for advertisers, and native advertising is one of the many services they offer. Taboola’s native recommendations are most commonly seen below articles, on home pages, and other pages across thousands of sites including MSN, USA Today, Business Insider, and CBS. The company reaches a global audience of over 1.4 billion people through exclusive, long-term agreements with the world’s most premium digital platforms. 

We sat down with Sean Surdovel, Senior Creative Strategist with Taboola’s Creative Shop, to discuss native advertising and to learn some strategies that will help advertisers get started with their own native advertising campaigns. In his six years at Taboola, much of his time has been focused on identifying creative trends in native advertising to educate their clients and partners on best practices and optimization strategies. Read on to learn more. 

aX: Why is native advertising such a powerful channel for marketers?

Sean: If we’re talking about native advertising in general—any ad that fits the form, feel and function of the media in which it appears—then it’s not just a powerful channel, it’s the most powerful channel. According to adpushup, banner blindness affects three in ten people, and in our opinion, native advertising is the answer to this decline in attention. This power comes from three main places:

  • The ability for your brand to borrow the authority of the surrounding content.
  • The ability to meet new consumers when they’re open to discovering something new, in what we call the moment of next.
  • The ability to tell your story to those new customers in a variety of ways, whether it be video, text-based content, or a photo gallery.

aX: When should an advertiser consider using native as a channel compared to other channels?

Sean: Native is a great addition to your media mix. If you’re just starting out, the best solution is to work alongside other channels that are already working for you, and accurately attribute the impact on your whole funnel.

For example, we recently worked with AIG to promote a new mortgage insurance offering. They added native video to their campaign, and sales increased. When they analyzed the data, they were able to see that 50% of the people who made a purchase as a part of that campaign started their journey by viewing that native video ad. But, if you’re using native advertising in a silo, there are a few advantages:

  • You have more room to tell your story. People on the open web are in the mindset to consume content, so native advertising is a great place to run blog articles, media coverage, or long-form landing pages built for both performance marketing and brand awareness KPIs. You have more room to tell your story, and you should take it, because you might be meeting someone who doesn’t know you.
  • Consumers are in the mindset to meet new brands. That “moment of next” we talked about can be a powerful tool—native advertising provides the ability to capture audiences you haven’t before.
  • The data is unique. It’s a great place for marketing campaigns born from trending news or cultural milestones. You can use data that shows what people are reading about online to make strategic decisions.

aX: Are there any verticals that perform especially well for native?

Sean: No, I haven’t found that vertical matters. The brands that are successful have a commitment to creating content and creatives for the native advertising user, as well as to testing and measuring the impact of those across their funnel. We’ve recently seen great success with entertainment, education, finance, and healthcare verticals, but I think this speaks more to the effects of a global pandemic than anything else.

aX: Does all native content need to be 100% educational?

Sean: Not at all—content consumption is about so much more than becoming educated, and the ways that people educate themselves are so much broader than through content alone.

A good example of this is someone browsing their favorite fashion or retail site to find the season’s newest releases without an intent to buy. They may find entertainment or inspiration, even if they’re engaging on a purely aspirational level.

Taboola’s philosophy is that we want the native ecosystem to be where people discover anything that is new and interesting to them. That could be traditional, editorial-style content, but it could also be products, apps, video content, podcasts — you name it. Yes, our ecosystem exists largely within the world of editorial publishing, but the consumer’s desire for something new is what allows for a wide variety of messages, tones, and content formats from advertisers to meet those consumers at all stages of their engagement cycle.

aX: Is there a secret to writing a great headline for native?

Sean: Yes. Be honest, but exciting. Leave the audience knowing enough about your product and the action you want them to take so that they aren’t surprised post-click, but keep some vital information out of the title so that they want to click and read your content. A good way to do this is to think about the words that describe your product, your audience, and the intention that drives your customers to act, and then form those qualifiers into a message that piques curiosity without leading the user to incorrect or overly exaggerated expectations.

We have examples of a number of such title strategies on our best practices page, and you can actually test how certain titles will perform against one another using the Title Analyzer tool on our Taboola Trends website.

aX: Do you have any suggestions regarding the imagery that is used?

Sean: Imagery is first and foremost about capturing user attention so that they want to look at your ad. Ultimately, this comes down to making the image stand out from the other content surrounding it by having a clear, singular point of focus and using a distinct, eye-catching image strategy. Our Taboola Trends tool actually keeps track of how certain image strategies impact user attention and therefore CTR on a weekly basis.

Another thing to keep in mind is how the image qualifies your post-click experience, and therefore impacts your KPI attainment. Are you driving the user to a photo gallery? Maybe you want to choose an image from later in the slideshow to get people to read all the way through. Are you selling a product? Try featuring the product in the image to drive intent from your users.

aX: What is the best way to test different creatives/copy with native ads?

Sean: I have two important pieces of advice for testing an ad creative on a native platform:

  1. Do so deliberately
  2. Do not test too much at once

‘Throw it at the fridge and see what sticks’ may work well for some platforms, but for Taboola, advertisers see success when testing 5 to 12 individual variations at a time by focusing on mixing and matching images and titles that are clearly different from one another.

Once you reach some conclusions on individual titles or images, continue testing new ads based on those top performers. Introduce new titles with your top performing image, while keeping your top performing title alongside new images. This deliberate (and consistent) testing should be done on a regular basis, preferably every 2 to 4 weeks.

aX: If you are buying native programmatically across a wide variety of websites, is there a way to “camouflage” your ad, given that each website has its own look & feel?

Sean: Native advertising companies by nature help marketers to place “camouflaged” ads on their platforms. Native ads are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer feels the ad belongs there. This type of advertising avoids the disruptive pitfalls of pop-up or pre-roll ads in favor of a more respectful bargain with users, allowing people to discover and engage with branded content they may like on their own terms.

For example, at Taboola we customize the look and feel of the Taboola Feed on publisher websites so that any featured ads—whether bought programmatically or directly—fit their site and maximize engagement from their readers.

While an ad platform with an infinitely possible set of specs could theoretically pose a challenge for advertisers, we actually take the extra step to help advertisers “camouflage” their ad to each unique environment with as little work as possible.

For example, rather than requiring a different size image to fit every unique placement size on our network, we only ask advertisers for a single-size, landscape-oriented image, which is then cropped as needed around a focal point that is either set by the advertiser or chosen automatically using image-recognition software.

aX: Are there any other best practices for native that we haven’t already mentioned?

Sean: We talked about images and titles but not the content post-click. The best practices for this change depending on your KPI, but the one we get asked the most about at Taboola is content for performance, meaning, how can you make branded editorial content (often in the form of a blog article or advertorial) drive sales?

These are some of our best tips:

  • Include an engaging visual at the top of your post . We especially like GIFs because they catch the eye of the consumer without requiring them to press the play button on a video.
  • Social proof should be near the top. Either first, or after the first paragraph, Include a testimonial about your product or brand if you have it.
  • Include calls-to-action throughout. Include in-line CTAs one-third and two-thirds of the way down the page. In-line means they’re written out as text. The final CTA at the end of your article should be a button.

Native advertising can effectively capture the attention of your target audience by seamlessly integrating your brand’s message with the website’s editorial content. By adding native advertising to your marketing plan, you can engage your audience with the same messaging across multiple channels and build brand recognition.Ready to get started with adding native advertising to your channel mix?

AUDIENCEX offers streamlined access to 24 DSPs, search and social platforms to help you get your message to the right audience at the right time.

Contact us to connect with a campaign strategist to help you optimize your native advertising campaigns.