This article on best practices is the third in a four-part series on native advertising. Learn about Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations, best practices and what defines an acceptable ad. Get some paper out and grab a pen, you publishers! You’ll want to take notes on this one. 

If you’re a publisher and you’ve decided to incorporate native advertising into your site, you’ve made a great choice. Research shows it’s a good idea: native ads have twice as much visual focus and an 18% higher lift in purchase intent. The advertising technique is particularly effective on mobile — the Mobile Marketing Association concluded that when mobile native ads were optimized for frequency of exposure, they performed ten times better than mobile display advertising at a comparable frequency.

That said, it’s imperative things run smoothly from the start. Publishers who want to make the most of native ads need to guarantee they are deemed adequate by both advertisers and website visitors.

Those in the U.S. also need to pay close attention to the FTC rules with regards to native advertising. In December 2015, the organization communicated a new policy reinforcing their views on advertising disclosure,  warning the industry that publishers don’t have the right to trick a reader into believing native ads are editorial content.

And nowadays, the FTC isn’t the only player instituting native advertising rules. Ad blockers also have a seat at the table, so it’s important publishers are aware of what defines an acceptable ad in their eyes as well.

So, what do you need to know once you’ve decided to “go native”? Well, we’ve got some tips for you:

Best Practice #1: Label those ads!

The objective here is to make sure the advertisement can be clearly identified as such. Try marking it “Presented by”, “Sponsored by”, “Sponsor Content”, “Advertisement” or “Paid Advertisement”.

So, why the label? Well, you need to remember that nobody wants to feel tricked, and it’s important users don’t leave your site feeling as if they were. According to Contently, “48% [of users] have felt deceived upon realizing a piece of content was sponsored by a brand,” That’s a 15% decrease since 2014, but it’s still necessary to be vigilant. And as PageFair explains, the Federal Trade Commission suggests that even terms like “Promoted” and “Promoted Story” are too ambiguous and can potentially mislead consumers into believing the content is endorsed by the site.

If you’re a U.S. publisher, you definitely need to be aware of FTC regulations for native advertising.  At first glance, it seems like a laundry list of prohibitions, but if you remember that the list is grounded in two tenets, transparency and disclosure, it makes a lot more sense. Their reiteration of basic rules to protect consumers doesn’t really come as a surprise, especially when you consider the history of the commission and the role it’s played in advertising, which goes back to the early 1900s.

Regardless of FTC rules, your objective certainly shouldn’t be to mislead or deceive your visitors. As a publisher, you want site visitors to be in a good mood while they’re browsing your content, and you surely don’t want them to leave with a bad taste in their mouth. Your best best, then, is to label ads as sponsored content. But, no worries! If the creative is good, native advertisements will blend into the environment, encouraging the reader to consult them naturally. (Need some numbers to put you at ease? Note that a Contently study on consumer perception found that people often identify this type of publicity as an article, not advertising. That should make you feel a bit better, right?)

Best Practice #2: Focus on added value.

People are on your site because they want information about your product and/or services. Give them something interesting to read, look at or experience, and make sure it’s related to the page they’re on. If you do that, you’ll add value to their experience. A pleasing visit will only improve the visitor’s opinion of your page, site, product and brand. Contently found, in the same study cited above, that if a consumer deemed a native ad as “high quality”, they reported a significantly higher level of trust for the sponsoring brand. In short, give the user a quality experience and it will pay off. Remember that 61% of consumers agree that if the content is good, they don’t care if it’s sponsored by a brand.

Best Practice #3: Form is your friend.

Make sure ads don’t stand out TOO much. They need to fit in with the page design. Remember, though, that ads need to have the ability to be recognized as such. Therefore, ads that have the same look and feel as a publisher’s website are everyone’s best bet.

This is particularly important when you’re trading in a programmatic environment. If you want all campaigns to be properly displayed, it’s imperative to adhere to image size and text length standards, as recommended by the IAB:

For Images

Required brand logo
-1:1 aspect ratio
-50 pixel minimum

Small and large thumbnails: 1:1, 4:3 or 1.91:1 aspect ratio

There are also recommendations for text elements, which can be found in the IAB’s OpenRTB Dynamic Native Ads API Specification Version 1.

The standards are in place, but as a publisher, you’ll need to communicate with the advertiser from the get-go, specifying exactly how the advertisement will display. That means telling the advertiser about the display constraints with regards to device and screen size. For example, imagine an advertisement has 100 characters of descriptive text, but when it’s displayed on a mobile, characters displayed goes down to 40. If an advertiser is unaware of the cut in characters, the ad won’t be served in full and the message is lost due to the cropping of the text in a mobile environment. This is something everyone would like to avoid! In this case, the publisher could have averted this mishap by communicating a 40 character max to the advertiser.

So, what is the best way to prevent follies like this is? It’s actually pretty simple: be completely transparent with the advertiser from the start, explaining which elements will be displayed and how. If you say three elements will be displayed, for example, a text, an image and a description, you need to display ALL THREE elements — the text, the image and the description. That’s the safest bet for publishers and advertisers.

But form is one thing and acceptable ads are another. As a publisher, how do you go about serving the ads that will get you onto whitelists?

Best Practice #4: Whitelists are your friend, too.

It’s now common knowledge now that ad blocking software allows advertisers and publishers serving ads that abide by user-generated criteria to be put on whitelists. Basically that means a site can be put on a list and get the green light to run ads, which will be seen by all users — even those utilizing an ad blocker. These “acceptable ads” have been defined as non-animated, clearly-labeled and non-disruptive. Therefore, if you want to make sure users with an adblocker can still see the native ads running on your site, you’ll need to follow more specific guidelines which dictate placement, distinction and size. In other words to get on a whitelist, you’ll need to get into the nitty-gritty!

-Ads have to be placed on top of, to the side of or below the main page content.

-Ads cannot disrupt the user’s natural reading flow, and they must be clearly labeled.

-You’ll need to respect the technical requirements with regards to ad size and the percentage of space taken up by the ad.

-Text, search and image ads must adhere to specific criteria. The same goes for in-feed ads, for which the general criteria differ based on ad placement. For in-feed, acceptable ads are those permitted in between entries and feeds.

That said, it’s important to know that the ad blockers don’t have the technical ability to automatically recognize ads that meet these criteria. Therefore, putting in the work does not necessarily guarantee that an ad won’t be blocked. But it gives the ad a better chance.

Know Your Native Audience

Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, can remind us of what the bottom line is, “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” The same thing applies here: you know who your readers are. You know the kind of ads they’ll like. You know how to make them feel like they haven’t wasted their time on your site. And you know what it takes to guarantee they feel respected. You value their trust.

With all that knowledge, it should be clear to you that the more satisfied your visitors are when they leave, the more likely they are to come back. The bottom line is this: respect the customer, and they’ll respect your ad. If they respect the ad, they may read it. If they read the ad and are interested, they may click on it. If they click on it…well, you get the idea. Welcome to the world of Native!

Looking for more information about native advertising? Take a look at two other posts on native ads, Get Your Terms Straight: Defining Native Ads and Ad blocking and Native AdsVisit this site for information on Smart AdServer Native Ads for Publishers. And be on the lookout for our fourth and final article on in-feed native ads.

Photo by Luis Llerena