Content Marketing is the buzz term on everyone lips, but native advertising has also been steadily gaining traction as brands look to best utilize new content distribution methods and means to spread their message, particularly via online platforms. But which one delivers better results? A new report from the combined forces of Fractl and Moz, and published Harvard Business Review, aims to answer just that.
Content vs Native
Researchers conducted surveys with over 30 agencies specializing in content marketing in order to get a clear picture on preferred content formats and the ways in which agencies are tracking ROI.
To clarify their research, the team first established a definitive categorization on what constitutes content marketing against native advertising. For content marketing:
"Content marketing agencies produce campaigns for brands and then pitch these to multiple top-tier publishers for coverage. Each time a publisher writes about a campaign, it will usually link back to the company as the source. These links increase a company's organic search rankings, direct traffic to the company's website, and drive user engagement for the brand via social media."
And for native:
"...native advertising promotes content by paying to partner with a single publisher. Native advertising (also known as sponsored content) offers a guaranteed placement with a top-tier publisher that might have monthly unique visitors in the multi-millions."
With the split between the two defined, the researchers then analyzed the results of their survey to determine the most effective process and best option for your marketing dollar.
In the Red Corner...
The researchers found that, on average, 65% of the content marketing agencies surveyed produce between one and ten campaigns per month for each of their clients, all with the goal of obtaining coverage via high-authority websites. While once it was widgets and listicles that dominated the content landscape, the responses indicated that articles and infographics are now the main weapons of choice for content teams, with case studies also a popular option. This shift has, in-part, been driven by Google's crackdown on thin content or content used in "low-value link schemes", pushing marketers towards more substantial options.
The responses showed that most content marketing clients measure their content success by the number of leads, links and social media shares generated, with the average content marketing campaign earning 27 links from publisher stories. In terms of cost, 70% of the agencies included in the survey worked on a monthly retainer, with those charging in the upper bracket - $5,000+ per month - producing the best results. The researchers concluded that the content agencies with greater resources in this regard were best-equipped to produce more "innovative, larger-scope campaigns, influencer marketing, and content amplification, rather than just issuing press releases", while those in lower brackets struggled to generate significant activity.
To determine the comparative results for native advertising, the researchers utilized native ad data provided by content agency Relevance which showed what almost 600 publishers currently charge for native advertising. One of the biggest barriers of entry for native advertisers is the high costs associated with placement with top-tier publishers - a placement in TIME, for example, can cost up to $200,000. The researchers found that, on average, the cost of a native ad campaign with a top-tier publisher was more than $54k. For lower tier publishers, that cost can be anywhere from $70 to $8000, though their domain authority is significantly lower, resulting in less reach.
In order to determine the return native advertisers can expect to see on that investment, the researchers compared 38 native advertising campaigns published on BuzzFeed and against a series of similar content marketing campaigns to compare the reach (in terms of links) and social shares of each. The results showed that the content marketing campaigns generated more response, overall - in one cited example, a content marketing campaign for real estate agency Movoto generated 146 media pick-ups and 17,934 social shares, while a native campaign for Intel on BuzzFeed generated just one pick-up and 12, 481 social shares.
In summarizing these findings, the researchers noted that part of the problem with native advertising is that you're publishing content solely on the site you're working with, which can limit reach, while also de-valuing potential backlinks (as Google considers native advertising to be paid links), thereby limiting SEO value.
Based on the data, the researchers determined that content marketing wins out, with the biggest question mark surrounding whether native advertising is worth the high cost.
"For some firms with large budgets, the expense is worth it if it means aligning their brand with a high-authority publisher and the right niche audience"
While the findings are somewhat expected - Fractl is primarily a content marketing agency - the data does present an interesting picture of the content landscape, and the challenges presented by both options. In the case of content marketing, it can take significant ongoing commitment and effort to realise the benefits, and can also become quite expensive, particularly with the best results coming from agencies with higher costs. Native, too, is expensive, though much higher on balance, whilst also not definitively producing more reach, at least based on the study data presented here.
The report concludes that those looking for wide reach with a range of publishers and audiences should consider content marketing, as it delivers more "bang for your buck". However, for companies looking to secure guaranteed placement with big-name publishers, native advertising can also deliver solid results, when used in a targeted way.
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