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Top tips on writing engaging mobile content

By | Content, Content Marketing

Today’s constantly-connected consumers crave content that’s simple to digest and can be accessed from anywhere, and from any device. Hence why mobile is booming.

Rather than me try to put forward a convincing argument, I’ll let the figures speak for themselves. The latest IAB and PwC Digital Adspend report, which we contribute to each year, unveiled that half of UK internet time is now spent on smartphones. This has caused mobile’s share of digital ad spend to rocket from 35% to 43% in just one year, or £2.37bn.

Mobile’s growth means that it now accounts for 57% of all display ad spend and a whopping 77% of all content and native ad spend.

If you’re yet to optimise your content for the small screen, you’re already missing out on an unprecedented opportunity to win over your target audience.

So, if you want to perfect your penmanship skills and fine-tune your mobile copy, here are some top tips for writing compelling content to engage your readers:

mobile content

Short ‘n’ snappy

Did you know that humans have shorter attention spans than goldfish? Which, coincidentally, has been blamed on our use of digital devices. Mobile readers don’t want the arduous task of scrolling through lengthy paragraphs – they’ll switch off in seconds. So, break up the text into short, digestible chunks whenever there’s a natural break. Just remember the golden rule: say what needs to be said, using as few words as possible.

Hook ‘em with headlines and subheads

Continuing the short-and-sweet theme, your headlines need to be to the point, pack a punch, and have a pinch of mystery to them that’ll encourage readers to click through. I know, it’s a lot to ask. The best piece of advice I can give is to think like you’re tweeting (even though you’re not). You want your headlines to be worthy of a re-tweet – scan the social site when you next have five minutes for some inspiration.

Now you’ve got your readers’ interest, you need to keep hold of it with equally engaging subheads. The most effective ones guide readers through the article; they’re snappy, yet provide new and insightful information. Tie-in your subheads with the title, make the font bold and you’ve got yourself a seriously scannable piece of content.

mobile content

Frontload fantastic copy

In the same way, a film trailer entices us to watch the full-length flick, the first few sentences of your article are absolutely crucial for drawing readers in. And so, it must be your very best, attention-grabbing writing. You need to tee-up your article in an original and exciting way. Potential readers will be asking, ‘How will this article benefit me?’ and it’s your job to answer them.

Break it up with bullet points and visuals

Subheads make for scannable content, but you can break up the text even further with bullet points and images. Bullet points, for their part, allow you to convey the article’s key messages in a more digestible manner. They can be used to summarise the content, explain product features and/or benefits, or as a checklist in an advice piece.

Readers can’t get enough of visual content. When people hear information, they’re likely to remember 10% of it three days later. But add a relevant picture and they’ll remember 65% of that information. And, get this: articles with an image every 75-100 words receive double the social media shares as articles with fewer images.

mobile content

As consumers are so stimulated by visual content, you should strive to embed engaging, relevant images and videos within your articles whenever possible.

Writing marvellous mobile copy doesn’t mean writing fewer words. Instead, it’s about making every single word on that digital page count. It’s about formatting articles in an eye-catching way, whilst communicating original ideas that’ll resonate with your audience long after they’ve closed the page.


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Why native advertising is having an identity crisis

By | Banner - Advertisers, Banner - Content Creation, Banner - Native Video, Banner - Reporting, Banner - True Native, Native advertising

I’ve just read an extremely thought provoking article on what I believe to be the biggest challenge to both the native advertising industry (publishers and networks) and media agencies looking to sell native in to clients.

I didn’t just read Chad Pollitt’s piece ‘Native Advertising has a Terminology Problem. And It’s Not Pretty.’ once through – I read it three times. Not because Chad didn’t make sense, but because we’ve got to the stage where even for someone in the thick of this industry, I was still briefly confused.

If someone who works day in, day out in native advertising is having to re-read definitions, then what hope do media buyers (working across multiple platforms, media and formats) have? If one person’s native is Outbrain, and another’s long-form content on a premium publisher, then we have a problem. And that’s before we even look at the myriad of hybrids in the UK market.

Back to basics

Perhaps, it’s best to start with what most people agree is the definition of native advertising:

“Native advertising is paid advertising (media) where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears.” (Native Advertising Institute)

This snappy description seems bulletproof, but it only tells half the story. It accurately describes the sponsored headline unit, the social media sponsored post – the shop window if you like. It’s what happens next which really defines the native format. What happens once the user has read the headline and clicked?

It’s all about the content

This brings us to the content. There’s long been confusion in the market between content marketing and native advertising.

This is one of the easier definitions to solve: Content marketing = your brand content. Native = the distribution channel. I could get into content marketing vs advertorial here (not overtly mentioning your product vs it being all about your product) but that will have to wait for another day.

Social media is somewhat ‘ronseal’ – a sponsored tweet looks like any other tweet, the same for Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. These usually contain heightened CTAs such as the ‘Learn more’ or ‘Shop now’ banner on Instagram, before clicking to brand sites. Often, the post is simply re-targeting.

There is content, right?

So, what about the traditional publisher’s site? This is where it gets confusing for media buyers. I’d argue it’s all about what happens post-click. This is where the definition of native advertising seems to be far too broad. Any of the following could happen – the headline unit:

  • leads to content on the same publisher’s site
  • leads to content hosted on the brand site
  • opens up a lightbox containing brand content
  • plays video
  • doesn’t actually lead to any content at all. It’s a headline unit that simply clicks to a product page!

Essentially, your headline unit could behave in several different ways and in some instances, is no more than a re-badged direct response banner ad.

Here’s my attempt to clarify the main (non-video) formats on publisher’s sites:

Native advertising (sponsored content)

Non-programmatic, publisher direct sold headline units that lead to article pages in the same premium environment.

True Native (sponsored content)

Non-programmatic, ad served headline units that lead to article pages in the same premium environment.

Native display

An in-feed headline unit on a publisher site that clicks to a brand site which may or may not contain content marketing. Usually programmatic demand from exchanges and often re-targeting.

Content recommendation

The likes of Outbrain, Taboola and Rev. Self-serve headline units which click out, usually in blocks of 6 or 12 at the bottom of article pages. Usually DR campaigns or arbitrage.

Should ‘native advertising’ be redefined?

Chad argues that the confusion in the market is all about the definitions of types of content, I’d argue that there’s far more confusion over what a headline unit does.

Perhaps now is the time to separate premium sponsored content (in editorial environments) from what recent IAB UK native conference called ‘next generation display advertising’. Perhaps, the term ‘native advertising’ has had its day!


Has programmatic become problematic?

By | Brand Safety, Content Marketing, Marketing, Native advertising

The rise of programmatic advertising has been nothing short of spectacular, with the IAB predicting that programmatic will account for 80-90% of display ad sales by 2019.

Its rapid growth is unsurprising given the problems it has solved, namely audience targeting and unsold inventory. By introducing real-time bidding (RTB) on every ad impression, advertisers can bid for the eyeballs of each individual user based on their browsing history and other data sources. Want to reach a 47 year old female, earning a fair whack who likes sports cars? No problem…

Brand safety becomes the hot topic

Except there was a problem. In March, The Times ran the headline: Big brands fund terror through online adverts. Their investigation focused on sites including YouTube where programmatic ads for major global brands were found to be alongside extremist content.

The fallout grew greater each day as more and more media agencies pulled their ads from Google’s ad exchange. As we noted on this blog when ads were pulled from alleged ‘fake news’ sites:

“Finding audience at the expense of losing control of the environment, suddenly doesn’t seem quite as smart.”

But it’s not just user-generated content sites like YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr or Instagram that represent a potential danger for brands. There’s also been an exodus from editorial sites like Breitbart – the controversial Alt-right news organisation – and copyright-infringing sites such as those streaming live sport without owning the rights. Ads have also been found on pornographic sites.

I don’t suppose brand safety concerns were top of the agenda for most programmatic buyers; performance by way of finding the target audience trumped everything, but one thing’s for sure – it’s now their number one priority.

Good news for traditional publishers? 

Ironically, one of the campaigns which first sparked this controversy was for a publisher. The Guardian pulled ads for its membership scheme from Google’s Adx ad exchange when they were discovered next to extremist content.

Ironic, because it’s traditional publishers which stand to benefit the most from the fallout. News UK’s chief executive, Robert Thompson didn’t hold back with his take on the tech giant:

“It is risible, no, beyond risible, that Google/YouTube, which has earned, literally, hundreds of billions of dollars from other peoples’ content, should now be lamenting that it can’t possibly be held responsible for monitoring that content – monetizing yes, monitoring no.” Press Gazette

1XL, which represents local newspaper publisher’s Johnston Press, Newsquest, Archant and DC Thompson issued a statement suggesting that agencies place ads with them rather than:

“blind programmatic ad buying which is placing household brands next to extremist content and fake news”.

What next for advertisers?

Over the past few weeks I’ve had many calls and emails from media agencies asking us to confirm where their client’s ads are running.

As we operate our own network with direct publisher integration, I can easily list every site down to individual sections and placements – in short, we can offer complete transparency and brand safety. I suspect others in the digital space have probably not had such an easy ride.

What many advertisers don’t realise is quite how many exchanges their ads are passing through before being spat out at the other end. Knowing where your ad is being served when bids and ad calls are being made in a fraction of a second on millions of websites is nigh on impossible.

So perhaps it’s time to take another look at the walled garden traditional publishers can offer, after all, could it be that the environment your ad is served in is as important as the targeting?

Essential for native

Thus far, the programmatic problem has only affected display advertising, but

with some display being tweaked to look more like native, it seems obvious that native advertising should be leading by example. After all, when sites are associated with your content, they should be completely brand safe.

As a final thought, I’ll leave you with three things I’d be asking any native provider:

  1. Can you provide me with a full site list?
  2. Can I blacklist any sites I don’t consider right for the brand?
  3. Can you pause campaigns down to individual placements by next impression?

If they can’t answer all three, I’d be looking elsewhere.

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About turn for native

By | Native advertising

About.com has been one of the first stops for those seeking advice for many years now and typically reaches 85 million users a month; the sort of channel opportunity that gets marketers excited and ready to reach for their wallets.

But new man at the top at About.com, Neil Vogel, has taken the sort of step with the site that we marketers often advise our clients to do, but don’t always remember often enough to do ourselves. Vogel’s used the opportunity of being a fresh pair of eyes and looked at the About.com site as a new consumer would, seeing it ‘warts an’ all’, and has come up with a fresh design that really does make it easier for the visitor to find their way around.

On a site like About.com that’s absolutely critical; their consumers are looking for specific answers to specific needs; for the most part they’re not on a sight-seeing trip but after a solution. At the heart of Neil Vogel’s strategy is the realisation that these are exactly the visitors for whom native advertising is the ideal communications tool; relevant, entertaining and building the relationship by providing solutions.

For the native industry, About.com have taken the ‘science’ of the native potential a step further. Instead of running sponsored material alongside editorial, which is the usual mode of delivery, About.com have placed it within the editorial, linking the sponsored material directly to a particular issue or query the reader might have.

Now that makes a lot of sense, especially with these types of consumers who, having answered the question that brought them to the site, now want to go away and apply the solution. If that’s a purchase then native can facilitate that immediately; if it’s just more guidance then native can help them through pre-purchase stages.

One of the company’s trialling the About.com approach has been Merrell; for them the opportunity to weave their native ads into relevant editorial in such areas as hiking and hill walking has proved very effective. Neil Vogel says that, generally for advertisers like Merrell, engagement has leapt from 10 per cent to 15 per cent, which is pretty good for any advertising initiative.

About.com’s mission is to get a lot better at anticipating what their consumers and visitors want, and with more than 3.5 million pieces of content and publishing over 6,000 articles per month they have a worthy source of trend and usage data. Of course, getting better at anticipating customers need and wants is in the DNA of any marketer and it would seem that the sharing of any data available would be good for everyone, certainly between About.com and Merrell.

Whatever the subtlety and psychology behind native advertising; ultimately its purpose is to sell product and drive long term profits through positive customer relationships. Because of the precision with which native ads can be positioned in the About.com editorial, potentially offering immediate fulfilment to the need behind the consumer’s search; it would be great to actually see some data on the sales coming through.

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Native integrity wins out in robot fraud war

By | Marketing, Native advertising, Technology

It’s a sad truism of the human state that no sooner do we create some amazing advancement of technology then someone comes along and develops an antidote to the benefit. Think computers followed by viruses, think credit card followed by cloning and identity theft; almost anything we’ve ever done has been compromised by the tendency for evil to follow good around like some kind of parasitic pariah.

Take real time bidding and advertising exchanges for example. Within one hundred milliseconds of someone accessing a web page, the system has identified their browsing habits, along with demographic and preference data, put the target up for auction and sold the ad space to an interested party for immediate exposure to that user.

Even if the thought of the real-you being so easily sold on is a little discomforting, you have to admit that the very fact that we can do that, in the mere blink of an eye, is pretty incredible. For the advertiser such targeting pushes up the click-through rate substantially, compared to more random exposure, which in turn has pushed up the pay-per-click rates to reflect the benefit.  Read More

social media apps on a mobile phone

Mobilising the natives to engage the Gen Zs

By | Native advertising, Technology

Occasionally in life there is a meeting of forces that work to change the status quo; take for example the concept of the perfect storm, celebrated in the film of the same name as three different storm systems come together to create one hell of a bad day for the crew of a stricken trawler on the high seas.

Of course not all colliding forces have bad outcomes, and one such example is how the dramatic rise in smart phone technology is meeting the desire of Gen Zs and their Gen Y forebears; to be constantly communicating with each other, without break, while on the move or at rest. For advertisers anxious to knock on the door and introduce themselves this can be a bit of a problem as the door in question is, let’s face it, rather small. Unfortunately for advertising, unlike Alice of Alice in Wonderland fame, the ads don’t necessarily scale down perfectly to make the door a useful channel.

So the smart phone, as the exponentially available technology of choice for this target market, is the challenge that advertisers must overcome, finding a way to get noticed in a busy window often no more than the size of a car park ticket.

Add to that the very nature of the targeted beast itself and the size of the hurdle to be jumped becomes disturbingly clear. Gen Zs have evolved some mighty defence mechanisms to ensure that their main life objective of constant and instant communication with their friends remains untainted with the minutiae of life, such as world events, is there a God and where the next meal is coming from for a good percentage of the global family.

Their eyes and brains have co-ordinated to automatically filter out the unwanted bits on the screen, particularly the banner ads. The researchers are still undecided whether there is any substantial recall or communication of brand values from the ads when translated into the column nano-metres available on the typical phone.

So in this story the natives come to the rescue of the adman struck dumb. As ever in advertising, communication comes down to a few essentials such as being interesting, relevant and making the next step easy. Native advertising for the mobile market is about developing a stream of content that runs parallel with the chosen stream of the user; curiosity must be aroused to encourage the single minded and focused user to glance from time to time at the stream beside, or to allow the two to merge so that the two streams become indistinguishable from each other by the simple mechanism of relevance.

Native advertising for the mobile market will be more akin to fly fishing for new customers than the coarse trawling of markets. Current research gives mobile phone advertisers less than one second to catch the attention of their prey, so the skill for the future, like that of the fly fisherman, is in the preparation of the bait to ensure it is attractive, safe and potentially tasty, increasing the probability that the fish will bite.

How to make sure your native content stands out from the rest

By | Content Marketing, Native advertising

Native advertising is on the rise. Publishers and advertisers alike are embracing it with open arms, putting the consumer experience first. Here’s what 5 experts told Digiday.com about creating native ad content that stands out from the rest.

Lynda Hammes, publisher, Foreign Affairs
Critics of native advertising focus on the clarity and labelling of the native advertising within the context of editorial content. While that’s an important consideration, I think the effectiveness of native advertising actually relies on the substance and quality of the content presented. The scourge of listicle headlines that promise “amazing” things that “you won’t believe” are my least favourite model out there. Whereas, GE’s “Roadshow” campaign in partnership with Slate offered a list post that truly delivered on “13 game-changing innovations for 2013,” that I actually learned something from.

Mike McAvoy, president, The Onion
The ad should be created with the same craftsmanship as the editorial content that surrounds it. So how we approach our native-ad campaigns is to make sure the same creative minds that produce our award-winning content are executing these ideas,

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The natives are getting restless; there’s an uprising in the air

By | Company News, Native advertising

The rise and rise of native advertising is a testament to its own power as an advertising concept. Articles, like this one, are appearing increasingly across the media horizon, so the logic and rational underlying native advertising converts those who want to engage with the market rather than just sell to them.

A good example of this is Mozilla, the parent of the Firefox browser. Mozilla had always been seen as occupying the moral high ground of the main browsers; eschewing the overtly commercial positioning of the other big players.

No longer, it would seem; Mozilla have announced that the top three lines of search results are, in effect, up for sale. Previously they had even been planning to give their searches a default of blocking the cookies of third parties; now they seem to have done a complete volte-face and are selling them tickets to the front row.

Mozilla has sold out? Not a bit of it, and this is where advertisers really need to give the native approach a thorough looking at; the key to native advertising is that it seeks to deliver customer value, not just at the point of sale, but at every stage of the sales funnel. That means delivering value at the first point of contact, simply by being interesting, relevant and engaging on a platform of shared interest; value during the process of investigation and evaluation by giving potential customers access to information, white papers, and guides that help to educate their decisions; and value in offering a partnership access to evolving solutions and technology.
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