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December 8, 2013 Part 4 of our 5 day series on Native Advertising

native ad optimization strategy for multi channel retailer

As marketers, we are well versed in optimizing biddable media. We can plan, allocate, reallocate, optimize in and out of budgets and planned impressions with our eyes closed. Optimizing ad campaigns based on response rates, media costs, average orders and attribution models is a piece-of-cake, right? As native advertising grows into a budget hungry channel, it’s time we start asking some tough questions, and look for tailored optimization tactics and strategies to control costs and boost RoAS.

Native advertising acts as a hybrid channel in many ways. The creative component of native looks like content marketing, but placements are purchased on click and/or impression basis similar to paid search, while response rates can range from rates similar to banner ads (very low) to the higher response rates in-line with targeted content placements.



This all contributes to tricky optimization needs. We know how to optimize media when the model is cost per click, cost per action or cost per sale. We know how to justify ad budgets in channels where response rates are very low and influence is high. So how do we optimize native ad campaigns that include both biddable media and influential ad units?

Developing KPIs for each campaign is critical for success. 

As you plan your native advertising campaigns, what are the key metrics and optimization goals you should be planning for?

Developing key performance indicators for each native ad campaign gives you a foundation to build goals on. With goals, optimizations and insights are possible. Basic measurements include response rates, traffic, time spent on the page, percentage of new visitors, and promoted page engagement, like social shares & comments. You can also measure based on conversions, average orders, subsequent purchase and conversion frequency.

Content Optimization

Creative content is to native advertising as an engine is to a car. It’s the primary driving force, but not the only important component.

Native ad placements create the perfect opportunity for content testing. By design, they provide the ability to target an audience, run multiple versions, and get real-time performance data. The most successful native ad campaigns pull readers into the story, compel them to engage and encourage them to share. To find and test into your best performing native ad content, start with your strongest performing content you have. Then build a test by:

  • writing alternate headlines (5-20 versions work best)
  • crafting unique call-to-actions (aim for 3-7)
  • testing 5 different landing pages.

To plan a content test, build off a piece of content you plan to promote, define objectives, craft the required test components and roll it out. The KPIs should be clear, optimize into the content that performs the best or comes closes to your test objectives.

Headlines and thumbnails are the new banner ads.Dan Greenberg, CEO of Sharethrough

To be successful, your promoted content must have a killer headline. Here’s my simple headline test for the first post of this series:

Since it was the series introduction, the distribution plan included email, social, ppc, slideshare, and tons more. The headline would be used everywhere, I needed one that compelled readers to click on it. I planned to run 7 versions of the headline all delivering to the same article. I duplicated the audience targets—targeting the same demographic and interests, planned for same number of impressions and same budget. Here are my results after 2 days:

Tested title versions:

1) Native Advertising: the land of opportunity or sea of risk
2,000 impressions  |  11% response rate

2) Native Advertising: the land of opportunity and risk
2,100 impressions  |  11.5% response rate

3) All You Need To Know About Native Advertising
2,100 impressions  |  5% response rate

4) Native Advertising: The future of digital advertising explained
2,000 impressions  |  6% response rate

5) Native Advertising: The future of digital advertising dissected
1,900 impressions  |  10% response rate

6) eZdia’s Native Ads Series: the future of digital advertising
2,000 impressions  |  9.5% response rate

7) eZdia’s 6-Part Series: the future of native
2,000 impressions  |  4% response rate

Winning Title: Native Ads: Land of opportunity or risk?

Before you test your content keep these things in mind:

1. Is your content meaningful and relevant to your consumer?
content that is too promotion, irrelevant to your targeted customer or mis-matched with the placement type or publisher’s site format/style/topic will make it easy for consumers to ignore your content.

2. Is it on brand, but not too promotional?
When choosing content for your native channel, think like the publisher and consumer instead of an advertiser.

3. Does your content tie into a larger story, or is it a one-off stand alone piece?
Content plans that include a theme or topic that can be extended into an on-going series or conversation will build stronger brand visibility and performance over a longer period of time. One-off pieces of content can drive quick bursts of traffic and visibility that quickly disappear.

4. Is the promoted content optimized for SEO and social sharing?
You are already creating content aimed to boost visibility and pull in new customers. Making sure your content is optimized for search engines and social sharing can help drive additional earned traffic.

Ads that are native to a site don’t live in the corners and don’t interrupt the user; they exist in the stream of content, and when done well, they bring new value to the user experience of the site in the form of brand content — promoted videos, sponsored stories, relevant coupons, promoted posts. – Dan Greenberg on TechCrunch 

Massive spending isn’t required for a strong performing campaign.

The native advertising ecosystem has a massive amount of inventory, with new publishers offering native ad space on a daily basis, you can run campaigns of any size— from dipping your toes in the water with a tiny test campaign of $10/day all the way up to a few thousand dollars each day.

Controlling costs is critical, but that can easily be achieved leveraging the budget management tools of each network. Optimizing your campaigns based on ROI or response rate goals is a smart approach, actionable metrics are the currency of this new channel. Without proving an effective ad spend, your native initiatives will be hard to justify.

We spoke with 5 online advertisers to learn how each were optimizing and controlling costs. There were a few strategies in play, here’s how 2 of the strategies looked over the life of the campaigns:

eCommerce retailer:  

native ad optimization strategy for ecom retailer

Campaign Goal: customer acquisition
KPI’s: response, conversions, net CPC
Optimization strategy:

  • Minimum content runs of 30 days. Response and interaction with sponsored content increases over time. don’t cut impressions too early.
  • Simple goals, optimize based on conversions (paying customers) only.
  • Allocate more impressions to strong performers.
  • CPC efficiencies gained as response rates rise over time.
  • Content limited to 200 articles. 80/20 rule: 80% of response comes from only 20% of content

Multi-channel Retailer 

native ad optimization strategy for multi channel retailer

Campaign Goal: brand visibility
KPI’s: response rate, cost per visitor
Optimization strategy:

  • Maximum content run 30 days.
  • Maximum impressions per day based on daily budget.
  • Allocate more budget to efficient placements (low cpc, high response) in campaign peak.
  • Stop campaign when response reaches minimum levels set.

The most successful native ads pull consumers into the story. –

Search Insiders Summit is scheduled for this weekend—December 8-11. eZdia co-founder and industry leader Alok Jain will be joining the awesomely experienced Native Advertising Panel (check out the other panel participants here) to discuss “When Search Marketers Go Native”.

For the next 6 days leading up to the panel’s discussion, we’ll be dishing up the latest in Native Advertising. Here’s our schedule.

Drop us a comment — do you have an optimization approach you rely on?

Padmini Murthy

About Padmini Murthy

Padmini is a marketer, a mom and a musician (the 3Ms). She loves to read about new and emerging technology. She has successfully led marketing initiatives for mobile, cloud, semiconductor and now, eCommerce. In her last position as a marketing head for a mobile company, she helped the company triple their revenue in less than 3 years. She has several marketing publications and her case study on InfoSys and the challenge of global branding was published by the Harvard Business Review.


  1.  Diane

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