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How To Choose The Perfect Photo For Your Native Ad

As marketers we want attention. We try to craft and phrase the perfect headline that will pique a reader’s interest, and then labor over clever copy that engages, entertains and educates. But when it comes to our visual content, a lot of us struggle, become frustrated, and end up going with an image that doesn’t measure up to our copy.

When studying user attention, consider the popularity of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. You will quickly realize that visual based social media dominates the landscape. Even before our audience looks at our headline, the image is what captivates them.

Are you confident in your ability to choose an impactful image that will compel a reader?  Let’s look at how to get the results you want by choosing the perfect photo for your native ads.

1. Use a human!

Increase your chances immediately by using a human in your creative. You may think an article about high powered race cars demands a great picture of a German engineered automobile, but readers are more likely to respond to someone they can relate to enjoying the car. People react to other people more than they do to inanimate objects. Need proof? Next time you’re on Instagram, take a look at a popular model. Look at the number of likes and comments their selfies get, and then compare it with a post of a quote, or an inanimate object. The difference is staggering.

*The above is a captivating example of a native ad using a human.


2. It’s all in the eyes.

 Eyes telegraph a broad range of emotions. Be it joy, sadness, surprise, embarrassment, every emotion can be expressed through our eyes. They also connect. You can hear it in a person’s voice; see it in their body, but you will know it in their eyes. Eyes have an unparalleled way of communicating  We’ve heard it before “eyes are the windows to the soul,” and it’s true — Don’t market without a soul; give your campaign personality, life and truth.


3. Composition, Color, Light

We’re not asking you to become photographers, but having a grasp of the basic elements in an image will put you leaps and bounds above less knowledgeable media professionals.


How the picture is framed. Where the subject lies in a photograph has a strong impact on the message of the photo. Are they walking away, or coming towards? Are they small in a big room, or big in a small room? These considerations will have a strong bearing on your message.

There are also practical things to consider. If you plan on putting text over an image, it’s best to make sure there is space to write over. Nothing distracts from your message more than text that is difficult to read. If your text runs over the busy part of an image, you’ll do just that. Look at the image balance. Here’s a great article by the folks at Nokia on composition rules. Conversely, this post by National Geographic discusses breaking the rules of photography.


Color is the first thing we notice and has a significant effect on viewer reaction. We’ve all covered the effect of color in advertising in our marketing courses (or learned quickly on the job!), but how well do we apply it in our articles and native advertisements?

Did you know that reactions to color vary based on culture and even gender? For example, orange is the most sacred color in Hindu religion and black can sometimes have a negative connotation associated with it, which is why we see campaigns for Drug Free America and Mothers Against Drunk Driving with a strong black presence, to reinforce the negative feelings associated with those colors.


You may think of light as a very technical consideration, better mulled over by photographers, but you’d be wrong. Light is critical to setting a mood. It also directs your eyes to a part of an image and adds style. We see things we otherwise wouldn’t when we vary our light. That’s why we always try to see things in a new light.


4. Who is your audience?

Would your grandma get it?

Determining the right audience is the first step in all of our marketing strategies, and it’s a very important factor in choosing an image. When we know who our audience is, we can choose images that resonate with them. I’ve seen advertising campaigns aimed at an older demographic that used funny memes with Bad Luck Brian. While the copy was humorous, the advertisers made the assumption that the 35-50+ demo browsed reddit and imgur looking for funny pictures. Know your audience! Imagine what they look like. Imagine their age, their style, marital status, occupation, and even race. The more the user feels like the article is about them, the more likely they are to read on.


5. Go with your Gut!

While the technology to choose images based on their efficacy is emerging, there are reactions and emotions that AI hasn’t figured out yet. That’s where humans come in. What is your immediate reaction to the image? Does the image represent your article? Is the image engaging, and does it draw in readers? How you react to an image the first time you see it is probably how other people, in the same conversation you’re creating, will see it as well. There’s no metric for a first impression, so let it be a strong consideration.


Make choosing your image fun. Consider the above guidelines, expand your knowledge of photography, and gain an edge in the busy world of paid media. You have the power to choose effective and compelling images for your next native ad campaign, and doing so with certainly will help you achieve the results your content deserves. Happy browsing!

4 min read

How to Run a Successful Native Advertising Campaign

Each and every minute of the day, blog writers publish 1,400 new posts, Facebook users share 2,460,000 pieces of content, and Twitter users tweet 277,000 times. Enough to make your eyes glaze over, isn’t it?

Internet users are relentlessly publishing content, and in order for it to be seen, it not only has to cut through the noise—it also has to get in front of the right people. For this reason, more and more advertisers are looking to new and effective distribution channels to get the right eyes on their branded content—channels such as native advertising.

The question becomes: how do I run a “successful” native advertising campaign? No need to worry, we’re here to help. In this blog post, we outline five essential steps to ensure that your campaign goes off without a hitch.

1. Know your audience

You wouldn’t leave your house before putting your shoes on, would you? Well the same goes for audiences and native ad campaigns: Knowing who your audience is and what their pain points are is vital to success.

It’s a well-known fact that branded content is most effective when it targets specific audiences and that content writers should always have an audience in mind when crafting a content piece. The same is true for when advertisers are setting up their native ad campaign. Take StackAdapt‘s platform, for instance. It allows users to target audiences across a number of categories, including geo-location, demographic info, device type and more. Knowing where your target audience fits within these categorical subsets is key to running a successful native ad campaign.

If you need help developing your buyer personas, you can check out this blog post on how to create and use personas in your content marketing strategy. But in any case, before you even think about running a native ad campaign, you need to get a handle on who your audience is.

2. Create compelling content

It’s no secret that native advertising is most effective when it’s used to promote branded content—i.e. when a native ad clicks-through to content as as opposed to a sales-y landing page. Why is this true? Well, it has to do with a basic premise behind native advertising: that by reaching audiences when they’re in a content consumption mode, brands are more likely to grab a user’s attention and entice them to read their content.

But not just any old content will do. How successful your native advertising campaign largely depends on how engaging your content is. Serve up something useful or educational, incorporate visuals, and, as we mentioned above, speak to specific audiences.

3. Set goals

As with any type of advertising, the best way to gauge effectiveness is through monitoring key metrics—click-through rate (CTR), cost-per-mille (CPM), etc. And which metrics you choose to monitor largely depends on your overall business goals:

  • Brand awareness: If you’re looking to expose your brand to as many people as possible, try a CPM bidding strategy. It will focus on delivering as many impressions as possible, and ensuring that your brand’s message gets in front of your audience. With a CPM bid, you have the option to optimize towards a CPC goal.
  • Drive traffic: If you’re looking to drive traffic to your website, a CPC bidding strategy may be most effective as it drives more clicks to your site.
  • Engagement: If your goal is to gain user attention (engagement), CPE is the bidding strategy that we recommend. It works best with engaging content such as blog posts or videos.

Pro tip: As we already mentioned, brands tends to see the best results when their native ads click-through to branded content. With that in mind, CPE is the metric for securing engaged readers as campaigns will automatically optimize towards readers who demonstrate post-click engagement with content (measured by time on site).

4. Build a “killer” native ad

What makes a “good” native ad? It’s a question we hear a lot at StackAdapt, and unfortunately it’s one there’s really no simple answer to. Every brand, every campaign and every audience is different, which means there’s no hard-and-fast rule to producing a compelling native ad creative.

However, with that said, there are some guidelines which we believe can turn a good native ad into a great one:

Don’t be overly promotional

While it might seem counter-intuitive to not be promotional in your native advertising, it’s a fact that users are more receptive to native ads that appear to offer valuable content. In other words, if your native ad reads like a press release or television commercial, you’re doing it wrong.

Instead of thinking primarily about how your ad is going to drive sales, think about how this piece of content is going to meet the needs of your prospects. How will it provide value and educate your readers? Will it help to inform them and leave them willing to click for more information? How can you use this to generate more leads?

Use engaging images

Images and videos have become a significant part of our daily browsing experience, so why not leverage the power of visuals to boost your campaign? Visuals significantly increase user engagement—especially on mobile devices where the screen is small. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing an image:

  • Keep images uncluttered by having one main subject
  • Avoid text on the image if possible
  • Stay away from generic stock images

Make it “mobile-friendly”

Mobile native advertising is proving to be one of the most effective ad strategies, and this is partly to do with the massive growth in mobile content consumption. 2014 saw mobile content consumption tip over the 50 percent mark—we now spend more time on mobile devices than we do watching TV. What’s more, mobile data traffic is expected to grow by 762 percent by 2018.

For this reason, brands need to ensure that the content they create is designed with mobile in mind, taking into account the close screen and feed-based environment of the mobile user experience. Best practices for mobile-friendly native ads are to use concise, minimal copy. This will ensure that the unit translates well when served via mobile.

5. Optimize

Once your campaign goes live, it will automatically optimize towards your goal, whether that’s CPC, CPA or CPE. But besides this, some platforms now offer analysis beyond the click. It can be as as simple as installing a conversion pixel (tailored to a specific action on the site), or something more sophisticated, such as getting a platform-specific analytics pixel that can measure things like average time on site, page views, content shares, new vs. returned traffic, etc.

That said, If your campaign is pacing behind (not hitting your intended goals), it could be for a number of reasons:

  • Click destination not content: As we mentioned before, native ads are about more than simply pushing your product. If your ad clicks-through to a sales-y landing page rather than a value-adding content page, users may simply “bounce.”
  • Ad creative is “off”: Did you lay text over top of your creative? Are you recycling banner ad creative? Did you forget to A/B test creative and content to see what works best? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you need to make some changes. Here’s a great guide on how to maximize the value of your ad creative.
  • Targeting too narrow: It your targeting is too narrow, you probably aren’t going to win enough impressions. Increasing your targeting (geo-location, contextual, audience, etc.) to increase volume.
  • Bid too low: Like the above point, if your bids are too low, you probably won’t end up with many impressions. It’s an easy fix: increase your bid to see more volume.
  • Not using platform-specific optimization engines: If you aren’t taking full advantage of a platform’s optimization capabilities, you’re missing out. They exist to help you tailor your content delivery to contextually relevant environments.


Creating content is only half the battle—getting that content in front of the right people is the other half. Native advertising can be the key to bridging this divide, in a way that’s beneficial both to brands and their customers.

4 min read

How are Brands and Agencies Measuring the ROI of Content?

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post. Below is the full version of the Q&A. 

As the digital revolution continues to transform the way in which companies market their products to consumers, brands and agencies are facing a whole new set of challenges previously unencountered in the industry.

There remains industry-wide confusion as to how to effectively track the success metrics of both content and content distribution. In fact, according to HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2014-2015, measurement is the number one challenge marketers face, with nearly 30 percent of those surveyed reporting that proving the financial return of their content-driven marketing activities was a widespread problem.

So how are brands and agencies attempting to  overcome this stumbling block? How does their approach vary? I recently spoke to Leanne Brinkies, Global Head of Native Advertising at Sydney-based content agency, King Content, and Darin Diehl, Director of Content and Shared Services from direct bank Tangerine in Toronto, to find out.

Note: King Content and Tangerine have no affiliation and do not directly work with one another.

Industry-wide, we’re quickly learning that organic content distribution can only get you so far. How important do you think paid amplification is as part of an overall content strategy?

LB: My personal opinion is that if you don’t invest in any amplification of content, your ability to assess ROI is much lower because you have a smaller pool. That’s why King Content has created a specialist native advertising division—because we realized our clients weren’t seeing the returns they needed. If you’re not getting enough eyeballs on the content you’ve paid for, to me that isn’t a very good equation.

DD: In terms of content distribution, you have to start with your owned and earned channels. And then of course there’s paid channels, and we generally work with a media agency for that. The agency helps us devise a paid strategy that we can continuously optimize and track to ensure we’re getting the most out of our paid distribution dollars. This year we’re all about trying new things, seeing how they perform, and then optimizing them to ensure we see the results we need.

A problem facing most marketers today is how to track and measure the ROI of content. Are you any closer to solving the quandary?

LB: I think it goes back to the metrics we talked about before. It’s about how many are viewing the content, where they are in the funnel, how they’re engaging with the content, how they’re sharing it, and how this is affecting sales and performance over time. At the end of the day, all our clients want to know how many sales they’re making and at what cost per they’re going to deliver. But so far it’s been difficult to prove that case with content.

The last-click attribution model doesn’t really work with content. It doesn’t effectively demonstrate how content is performing or how engagement with content positively impacts a business’s bottom line. For example, with a last-click attribution scenario search will always offer the lowest cost per acquisition (CPA). But what we should see is that that CPA, even for search, should reduce over time with a content-driven approach, because you’ve brought so many more people into the funnel that the number of searches a user does should decrease, and when a user comes through they should be lower down in the funnel.

A perfect attribution model is the holy grail of content marketing that we’re all trying to discover, but we also need to find a way to demonstrate the value of engagement metrics and draw attention to those top-funnel awareness considerations.

DD: We closely track and monitor a range of metrics and KPIs so we can see what the results are, learn from the data, and then make adjustments accordingly. I would argue that we’re always going to be in the process of figuring it all out. Things are constantly changing—Google makes changes to its algorithms and user behaviour changes, so to truly understand the ROI of something, you’re going to need to constantly revise the ways in which you’re measuring to understand the impact your content is making.

I like to break our strategy down into three separate components because success looks different for each of them. Firstly, we look at whether the content is being consumed—it’s important to break through the noise by creating something that’s going to make a connection with your audience. Then we measure engagement to see if the audience is sharing or taking some kind of measurable action, including following through on a call to action. And then lastly, what’s the impact on brand perception and are we influencing conversion.

You’ve both mentioned the importance of user engagement with content. Have you found an effective means of measuring the impact your content is making on your audience?

LB: We definitely track key metrics like views, shares, and how much time a user spends reading a piece of content, which I think are all key from an engagement perspective. On our end we also measure what types of audiences or personas engage with content. This enables us to create themes, pillars and topics that relate to different audiences when we’re creating our content calendars. We also have a proprietary measurement system, Communiqué that allows us to categorize all the data we collect, so we can see how each of these audiences or personas is performing. This allows us to track the data over time and could potentially completely change who we’re trying to talk to.

Another important element we track is the connection between the audience reached through content amplification and the amount of time a user has spent with a piece of content subsequent to this connection. A positive outcome is if the user has spent a considered amount of time with the content and potentially shared it. On the flipside, where we’d say there’s a negative outcome is if someone has gone to a piece of content and has left pretty quickly. In this scenario, we would assume that either the content wasn’t right for the reader, we’ve reached the wrong audience, we need to work on changing the content, or there’s something wrong with the site itself that’s causing people to leave. We would then look for ways to tweak and change the amplification strategy and/or the content to improve a clients result. In terms of what our clients look at the most, I would say that time on site is definitely an important key performance indicator (KPI) many of them are looking at.

DD: I would say that it really depends on the type of content. One example is when all the changes happened with the TFSA last year, we put out some content that explained how that product works, and it got was highly consumed and engaged with because there was a need people had to understand a product that was in the news. This is perhaps an example of content that sits lower down the funnel. But sometimes you might create a post or a video or an infographic that focuses on not so much a product, but instead on a habit or behaviour that’s based on a personal story or experience that touches people. Something that tells a story, about a personal finance victory, big or small. It could be how someone was able to pay off their student debt or was able to pay off their mortgage early. It’s all about storytelling that people engage with, find helpful, and provides insights. And how do you measure the impact of that? Maybe metrics like views and engagement in the form of clicks if there’s a call to action, and then on social you might look at interactions.

We’re currently looking at all those things, and we’re learning along the way just like everybody else in this space. We’re all students of content marketing. We’re learning as we go, and that’s exactly why we measure things—so we can optimize it as we go.

How do you benchmark the success of your efforts?

LB: We have enough data in our system now that has allowed us to create benchmarks across different categories and different types of audiences. We generally try to allocate a period of time at the very beginning of a content marketing plan and say that during this time, we’ll be benchmarking performance to guide future initiatives. Content marketing isn’t a set-and-forget strategy, where we lock in 12 months of content we’re going to deliver. It actually needs to be very much a live plan, and after the first month everything is up for discussion based on how well that first month of activity went. This allows us to see what content is being engaged with and in what ways, and then we can set benchmarks for those key metrics. Some clients will come to us and say “these are the metrics we want”, but most of them aren’t like that because content marketing is so new to them that they don’t know exactly what success looks like for them.

My view is that the more data and insights we can provide clients with the better. Clients can read data, but where we can add value is by providing insights that can show how things need to change so we can improve ROI.

DD: There’s an interesting debate going on out there at the moment. Recently, Seth Godin did an interview where he explained how you can’t over-metricize and industrialize content if you’re doing it to a point where you’re sacrificing its integrity. But still, we need some way of measuring whether or not our strategy is having an effect. As I’ve said we’re creating benchmarks across a few sets of metrics. First, is the content being consumed? Second, are people actually reading it? This would include metrics like time on site, views, clicks, and so on. Lastly, we track whether consumption of the content has influenced conversions. Are prospects becoming clients, or are existing clients opening new accounts? We also want to track the effect our content is having on the brand—we want to know how this content affects a client’s perception of Tangerine overall. Are they aware of us? Does it evoke a positive feeling towards the bank and its products?

Closing thoughts

There will likely never be a hard-and-fast, one-size-fits all solution to measuring the financial return of content marketing. “It’s really a constant learning model,” explains Diehl. “I don’t think there’s a ‘plug and play’ for this yet, and perhaps there never will be because the ground beneath us is always shifting. You’ve got to learn as you go and adjust as you go.”

4 min read

Measuring the Effectiveness of Native Advertising

Native advertising has quickly become the emerging and most potent new channel in the digital arsenal of media buyers and planners. It is essential to fully and completely understand where this new method fits into the consumer funnel, and also to understand how to properly measure its effectiveness at achieving campaign objectives.

Establishing the framework to measure the effectiveness of Native Advertising will help this new channel to increase its adoption among media executives and our most important account clients. We’ll outline the foundation of this framework to measure the effectiveness of Native Ads. 

1. Utilize platform-specific tracking and optimization: conversions, time on site, engagement.

Given a growing number of options media buyers now have when they choose a native advertising provider, it’s critical to ask what kind of measurement capabilities the individual platform has. What separates the best from the rest?

Most platforms use the common measurement of “ad impression” quality and effectiveness built in. These can be metrics such as ad viewability (%), ad viewability time(s), brand safety, non-human traffic, etc.  Or, these metrics can be easily obtained by attaching a variety of measurement and verification tags from 3rd party providers. Properly analyzing this data: media buyers will learn a indispensable amount of valuable information about the quality of native placements which they have in the market.

Besides this, some platforms now offer analysis beyond the click. It can be something as simple as installing a conversion pixel (tailored to a specific action on the site), or something more sophisticated, such as getting a platform-specific analytics pixel that can measure things like average time on site, page views, content shares, new vs. return traffic, etc.

The bottom line is that it’s critical to fully understand what each platform has to offer and take full advantage of all capabilities. As the AdTech market grows the defining factor determining the winners for digital dollars from Brands and Agencies alike are the functionality and features offered by each platform.

2. Use click-macros to get as much information from the click as possible – domain URL, etc. 

This can be an alternative solution when it’s not possible to place any type of analytics pixel on the page.

Click macros are essentially small pieces of program, code that can be inserted into the destination URL (either manually or automatically), and they pass some critical information about the click to the site’s analytics software. It can be very valuable information such as the domain URL, geo location of the click, product price, etc.

This will provide a more detailed breakdown of the overall traffic from this native ad provider, and help media buyers make some optimization decisions; for example, allocating more budgets to specific sites based on “average time on site” analysis.

3. Split Test Everything!!

In any and all marketing campaign there are a lot of variables coming from a variety of angles.

  1. On the (native) ad level – there is an image, headline and a body text (for the majority of native units).
  2. On the placement level – there is an option of serving on thousands of sites, on various contextual verticals, etc.
  3. On the targeting level – there are interest segments, device types, frequency caps, day parting, etc.

Older marketing wisdom states: target the right user, in the right place (environment) at the right time. So it’s not hard to imagine that a small tweak in the combination of those variables above can affect the campaign in a really big way for a huge advantage.

These days the majority of campaigns can auto-optimize now. For example, platforms can take a large number of combinations (obtained by mixing different variables), serve them at an equal weight, and then focus on the best combinations.

The simple advice here is to pick at least three variables of each element (three images, three headlines, three body text elements, three contextual categories, etc.) and serve them at an equal rate. This will provide an enormous amount of learnings for future campaigns.

 4. Holistic view of digital – utilize Path to Conversion Analysis

The last piece of advice–and arguably the most sophisticated one–is to take a holistic view of all your digital initiatives by utilizing the path to conversion analysis. In the simplest terms: this is done by “tagging” all your digital channels with time-stamped measurement tags. The majority of ad servers provide this type of analysis these days to help as well.

This way, every time a specific ad unit is served or clicked on (depending on the attribution model), this is being recorded, and can later be analyzed to understand how the customer interacted with various channels on the way to converting.

For instance, you can see that a customer first interacted with banners (with or without clicking), then read a piece of content on the brand’s page by following a native ad, was later exposed to re-targeting banners, and then found the product page through search and converted.

 This type of approach–when you make data and measurement the central piece of any campaign–allows media buyers to learn from existing campaigns and improve on future ones.

These methods have been tried and tested and marked for success on our end and is the best approach in the new data-driven marketing world.

4 min read