**Content can take a variety of forms. However, for this article, content in this context means articles.
What is Sponsored Content?
Native advertising is defined by The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) as paid ads that are so unified with the page content, integrated into the design, and aligned with the platform behaviour that the viewer simply feels that that said content naturally belongs on the platform. As stated by the IAB, native advertising comprises of 6 distinct ad formats, namely: paid search, in-feed, in-ad with the native element, promoted listings, recommendation widgets, and custom.
Sponsored content belong to the in-feed subgroup; they appear alongside other content in a newsfeed or list of content. There are a few different versions of this type of ad:
• The first version is an in-feed ad that is part of a publisher’s normal content well. They appear in-stream, match page function and mirror content behavior.
• The second form shows up in a publisher’s content well but does not match a site’s operation and introduces new actions. They link away from the site to a brand’s editorial content or a landing page.
• The third form is a story format ad that fully appears in a publisher’s content well. Individuals can interact with the content, without leaving the page because they appear in-stream, align with the function of the page and reflect page content behaviors. This form usually has a wider placement and drives brand engagement.
The Need for Sponsored Content
Majority of the standard outlets for online content distribution have been adopted by most marketers and are completely understood by many. Popular channels like SEO, PPC, email distribution and social media advertising—can easily distribute content to the right people at the right time.
However, a massive influx of content on the internet has led to the overflow of content on many content distribution platforms. Estimations say that more than 2.73 million blog posts are written and published daily.
As a result, industries are experiencing a content excess, in which content is drowned out as much as it is being created, and marketers are faced with the challenge of getting their content seen.
Mega platforms like Twitter and Facebook are fine-tuning their processes to make sure that brands get the least amount of organic visibility. In addition to this, conventional paid media is becoming less effective year after year.
To combat the above, new tactics are being adopted by marketers to increase the visibility of their content. An entire content promotion network now exists – from influencer marketing to native advertising – as brands continue to experiment in new ways.
Brands are sponsoring articles on online publications with large established audiences. There is an interesting statistic that states that on average, 6.7 percent of content marketing budgets is spent by brands on sponsored content in 2013. It’s trending upwards, too. From Buzzfeed to Forbes’ Brand Voice, there are numerous examples.
The Evolution of Sponsored Content
Sponsored articles evolved from what many marketers term advertorials, which have been around for a very long time. The most significant difference between the two, is where each content resides in the customer buying journey.
Advertorials are middle to bottom-of-the-funnel, while sponsored articles strictly reside at the top of the funnel. Sponsored articles aim to be helpful, entertaining, or both. They are not salesy and brand-centric to the reader.
The development of content marketing helped move advertorials up the funnel, in the way of sponsored articles. This positions brands as more than just suppliers of goods and services; they become purveyors of ideas and distributors of knowledge.
Hexagram and Spada conducted a study in 2018, which reported that 62% of publishers had embraced sponsored articles, and another 16 percent were planning to follow suite by the end of 2014. Another research by eMarketer showed that only 10 percent of digital publishers neither had nor were considering native advertising on their sites.
In addition, sponsored content has been found to be more effective than conventional display ads. 25% more consumers look at sponsored articles than display ad units. BIA/Kelsey released a report which shows that brands are planning to spend more on native advertising and publishers stand to benefit as long as they can preserve the trust and interest of their audience.
The IAB has set native advertising guidelines for its members, stating that clarity and distinction of native ad units are important, regardless of native advertising format.
Their two criteria include:
• Language that indicates that the content is sponsored, thus making it an advert, even if the content does not communicate conventional advertising messages.
• Obvious enough for readers to be able to spot in on any page regardless of the device it is being viewed on
In terms of sponsored articles, a discerning consumer should be able to differentiate between content from the publisher and paid advertising.
Examples of Sponsored Articles
The requirements of sponsored content are left to the discretion of publishers. As a result, the presentation on different sites is varied. While some platforms offer brands the opportunity to host what can be described as a virtual microsite within the main site itself, others are more aligned and simplified, using an article as a featured content that is labeled as sponsored.
What Should Sponsored Articles Cost?
A standard cost for sponsored content among Nigerian publications and blogs has not yet been determined. However, a study conducted in the US, from March to June of 2014, collected sponsored article prices from 550 blogs and publications and unveiled correlations with a variety of predictor variables, including Domain Authority (DA), Page Authority (PA), PageRank (PR), AlexaRank (AR), and Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest followings – which will be explained in detail shortly.
The aim was to determine accurate market value standards for sponsored content, and therefore allowing media buyers to budget more effectively. In the study, publications were grouped as websites that already exploit conventional display advertising and have content that is regularly created by more than five writers, contributors, or columnists. Everything else was classified as a blog. In total, data from 76 publications and 474 blogs were used in the study.
Up to 17 factors were listed by the 550 publishers as validation for the pricing system:
1. Word count: The number of words in a sponsored article
2. User time on page: The amount of time a typical reader spends on a web page
3. Links: Specifications regarding whether or not links would be provided, and if so, how many, where and whether or not they would be “no-follow” links
4. Lead capture: For publishers that provide links to gated assets, many charge on a per-lead basis
5. Impressions (CPM): Cost per thousand impressions based on historic data
6. Time and effort required from publication’s editorial staff
7. Monthly website traffic
8. PageRank: Often used by publishers to justify relative pricing when they run more than one media outlet
9. Domain Authority: Often used for publishers to justify relative pricing when they own more than one publication
10. Page-level engagement: A metric that is measured by how far readers scroll down the page and the amount of time spent on a given article
11. Social media promotion: Often an optional add-on that would increase price (may come as part of a package deal)
12. Email promotion: Often an optional add-on that would increase price (may come as part of a package deal)
13. Display advertising: Often an optional add-on that would increase price (may come as part of a package deal)
14. Number of articles: Number of sponsored articles being paid for at a time
15. Visibility time: The amount of time an article stays live on the site
16. Verticals: For large publications that cover many verticals or subject areas, some verticals are more expensive than others
17. Pay-per-click: Another engagement-level metric that is measured by the number of click-throughs to an intended landing page
To carry out a quantifiable analysis, specific data was collected from all the publications to calculate the predictor variables:
• Domain Authority: A ranking score that calculates how well a website will perform in the search engine results pages, using more than 40 indicators to analyze how well a website will perform in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
• Page Authority: An additional grading score from Moz, that analyses how well a given webpage is likely to rank in the SERPs. For the purpose of the study, the publications’ home pages were used.
• PageRank: A ranking metric from Google that calculates the relevance of a webpage. This score calculates the number of inbound links and the quality of the referring webpages to produce a measurement between 0 (low significance) and 10 (high significance).
• AlexaRank: A ranking score from Alexa.com that is based on traffic data from users over a three-month period. A site’s ranking is based on a combination of unique visitors measured and page views. The site with the largest grouping of these is ranked No. 1, and higher number rankings correlate with smaller traffic data.
• Facebook Following: The number of fans (or “likes”) a publication’s Facebook page has.
• Twitter Following: The amount of followers a blog or publication has on twitter. For blogs or publications with more than one account, the account with the highest following was used.
• Pinterest Following: The amount of followers a blog or publication has on pinterest.
A multivariable regression breakdown showed strong correlations between blog prices and Domain Authority, Facebook Fans, AlexaReach, and PageRank. The resulting projected pricing model for sponsored articles on blogs is as follows:
BLOG PRICE = -60.5 + 5.97(DA) + 0.978(thousand FB fans) + 15.1(PR) – 0.000007(AR)
For publications, the same breakdown reported strong associations between sponsored article prices and Domain Authority, Facebook Fans, Pinterest followers, and PageRank. The projected pricing model is as follows:
PRICE FOR PUBLICATION = -37000 + 314(DA) + 20.9(thousand FB fans) + 5152(PR) – 46.6(thousand Pinterest followers)
It’s important to note that publications typically offer long term commitment deals instead of one-off posts like most blogs. As a result, projected prices for these platforms may not accurately reflect the cost of a single sponsored article; rather, the price shows the minimum cost of a sponsored content deal.
Limits to the Formula
Varied Sponsored Content Packages
It was determined in the study that the pricing starting point was based on the cost of one sponsored article. Since some platforms only offered long-term packages to media buyers that include other benefits (banners, email, social promotion, etc.), their joint pricing could be inflated. As a result, the regression model may not be a precise price projector in all scenarios.
Social Account Statistics
Not all online publications have accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. In cases like these, 0 was used to quantify followers.
Alexa Rank Inaccuracies
Alexa admits publicly that there are limitations to making conclusions from its data. Sites with relatively low traffic may not be accurately measured by Alexa.
How to Utilize Sponsored Content Formulas
Are you a media buyer looking to create a more accurate budget for sponsored content? Or maybe you work for a blog or publication and you’re wondering what you should charge for sponsored articles and sponsored content package deals?
Calculate and measure the equations above to determine accurate market value standards for any blog publication. To find Domain Authority, use Small SEO Tools. Use Check Page Rank for PageRank and AlexaRank, getting the number of Facebook Fans and Pinterest followers should just take a simple search.
Networks and Tools to Explore
The aforementioned research revealed that some networks are set up for the sole purpose of connecting marketers with publishers for sponsored content. Even platforms like HubSpot have built an informal ad hoc network for its partner agencies to connect with its publishing customers.
Content measurement tools which are built to measure sponsored content, are starting to emerge as well.
Here are a few networks and tools to note:
• Adproval: A media outlet marketplace for connecting publishers and advertisers
• Blogsvertise: A blog marketplace for connecting publishers and advertisers
• Buysellads: A media platform tradingplace for linking publishers with advertisers and vice-versa.
• Pressboard: Pressboard connects brands to storytellers to create content with influential publishers.
• Izea: A sponsorship marketplace that connects social media influencers with brands
• Markerly: A brand amplification platform that connects brands with bloggers
• The Syndicate: A brand storytelling partner and blog sponsorship network.
• BlogHer: A blog and social media influencer platform aimed at the social media exposure of women
• Instinctive: A platform that creates, manages, shares, and measures content for brands.. They also enhance the content strategy, so brands can reach scalable ROI.
• Magnetic: A platform focused on providing in retargeting solutions. Their solutions combine purposeful data with display advertising based on users’ previous search history. This is to power brand awareness and direct response campaigns.
• Marketo: Developers of software for marketing automation. Their software offers more sales leads with minimal effort. It combines inbound marketing, instant CRM integration, sales dashboards, lead management, social marketing, event management, marketing ROI reporting, and analytics.
• Onespot: A content marketing company that consistently targets multiple pieces of content to one person, whenever and wherever they are online. Using a technology that is data-driven, they enhance the link between content, audience, and results.
• TrackMaven: TrackMaven offers competitive intelligence for digital marketers. They study and analyse content across paid, owned, and earned channels.
• Visible Measures: Visible Measures helps users to evaluate video content impressions and distribution.
Not all publishers offer sponsored article opportunities to marketers. To some publishers preserving audience trust takes a higher priority. Some brands, consumers—and even government regulators are concerned about sponsored content being similar to editorial content. They believe that this similarity can harm the editorial integrity of a publication or blog, as well as a brand’s image.
However, many big-name publishers like Forbes, The New York Times, Business Insider, The Atlantic, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal are optimizing sponsored articles as a revenue source.
BuzzFeed’s whole business model is built on what it terms sponsored “listicles,” which are sponsored articles written in form of lists. While some publishers are opposed to adopting this native form of advertising, it doesn’t seem to be causing any damage to the publishers who are using native ads.
Nevertheless, both publishers and marketers have a joint interest in appearing not to deceive consumers. Native advertising in general is misunderstood by many consumers and marketers.
Sponsored articles signify a growing business opportunity — for blogs and publications and media buyers. And more so those who know how to effectively plan and factor them into a complete digital marketing strategy. It is important to understand factors like cost, standard pricing and sponsored content packages, strategies for targeting, and proper measurement goals that are necessary for success.