This article first appeared on the Content Strategist.
Creating high-quality branded content is very important, but when it comes to making sure your ad dollars are spent properly, understanding the best ways to get eyeballs on your content can be just as crucial to your success.
As part of our Contently Labs series, we’re offering a deep dive into the costs, pros, and cons of the most popular platforms for distributing branded content. As Gary Vaynerchuk said, content may be king, but distribution is queen and runs the household.
Note: All costs vary, depending on a number of factors tailored to your campaign. Estimates come from our own case studies and online reports, but like with the Bowflex, results most certainly vary.
Pros: Currently, Outbrain is probably the most well-known distribution service among competitors Taboola, nRelate, and Disqus. The company has made an effort to care about quality and the invasiveness of their sponsored posts. Near the end of 2012, they banned companies that spammed readers with misleading headlines from their network, even though the move cut 25 percent of their revenue. They drive organic traffic, offer analytics, and target geographically.
Cons: Successful campaigns ultimately come down to trial and error. It’s harder to predict results when you can’t target audiences as specifically as you can on Facebook (More on that later).
Pros: Taboola actually started as a video recommendation service, and their commitment to analyzing video and slideshow viewing habits for future consumption gives them a specific edge over similar companies that struggle to distribute visuals. And recently, Taboola improved their services, letting clients have more control in post presentation. Very similar to Outbrain.
Cons: See Outbrain.
Pros: Nativo’s programmatic platform may soon emerge as a game-changer when it comes to scaling sponsored content that runs on publisher sites. Instead of just placing links that take readers to an outside site, the company engineers homepage placements and article pages to fit natively within publications such as Entrepreneur.com. This strategy makes it possible for a brand to distribute sponsored posts on multiple outlets without striking separate deals with each publication. Nativo already works with an estimated 1,700 publishers, and their client list is fairly impressive.
Cons: The nature of programmatic may also be Nativo’s biggest downside. The quality of the content could suffer, since publications aren’t communicating closely with brands to tailor their work to a unique audience. Long-term diminished quality through programmatic could undermine native advertising’s current success.
Facebook Sponsored Posts
Pros: Facebook has a key advantage over other distributors: They’ve amassed the most complete data set on their users, making it possible to target a very specific audience. Brands and publishers can rest assured the right eyeballs will be on their content on Facebook, and since Facebook Sponsored Posts can be shared like any other post, they can spur on exponential results.
Cons: Due to the hyper-targeting advantages, the cost per click is more expensive than with services like Outbrain and Taboola. And as with other social traffic, even if you benefit from one popular piece of content, there is no correlation to future success. Social shares drive a lot of one-off traffic. More importantly, while brands were once able to glean free advertising by reaching viewers who liked their pages, Facebook announced plans to cut that traffic down to under two percent, “holding the whole operation hostage,” as Valleywag put it. Buying Facebook Sponsored Posts might soon be mandatory for brands looking to reach their Facebook following.
Promoted Tweets/Promoted Accounts
Pros: Twitter’s Promoted Tweets blend well into the Timeline. Because of the seamless, native presentation, Twitter’s click-through rate ranges from 1-3 percent compared to about 0.12 percent for Facebook. Twitter also gives you options — you can promote tweets and accounts. When they bought mobile ad exchange MoPub last fall, they made a strong move to target an audience that increasingly comes from mobile devices. Recently, they’ve improved the visuals for tweets, drawing attention to significantly larger thumbnails.
Cons: Even though Twitter is popular among celebrities, it doesn’t actually have a huge audience (Facebook has five times as many users). Twitter is great for some verticals, like marketing, media, and entertainment, but less ideal for others.
Pros: nRelate can be slightly cheaper than Outbrain or Taboola. The services are fairly similar, but their widget offers a lot of customizable options for thumbnail and text presentation.
Cons: Conversely, nRelate doesn’t boast as sizable a publisher network as their competitors, making traffic harder to come by. You also can’t target readers geographically.
Pros: Disqus has almost identical pros to nRelate.
Cons: One detail worth noting: They don’t offer analytics, so it’s more difficult to understand what’s working in real-time. The product Disqus supplies is similar to what competitors offer, but their lack of resources leaves a lot to be desired.
Yahoo Stream Ads
Pros: Last year, Yahoo started phasing out banner ads with Stream Ads, their own native product that blends into the site’s news feed. The style of the embedded posts fits well with other editorial content, and Yahoo has a chance to develop their offering into a worthwhile service if they let companies create quality content that relates to specific sections (sports, entertainment, etc.).
Cons: Targeting is fairly limited, and the sponsored ad presentation won’t wow anyone with tiny thumbnails. Distribution sites are learning quickly how clear, rich visuals can make native content much more appealing to readers, but Yahoo hasn’t adjusted their strategy. Even though the platform is still young, Yahoo has relied too heavily on direct response ads that are really just banner ads dressed in a native cloak. Links to articles titled “Top-10 Credit Cards for Excellent Credit” are not going to seriously engage anyone, and they’ll inevitably encourage readers to tune out other sponsored content in the stream.
LinkedIn Sponsored Updates
Pros: LinkedIn’s strongest asset is their network of professionals and executives. If you have a specific target, their sponsored updates can provide a lot of value. You can filter based on company, job title, location, etc. Other distributors may yield more clicks, but LinkedIn has built up a platform that can yield the right clicks.
Cons: Because LinkedIn boasts an extensive professional network and incredibly specific targeting, they charge an arm, a leg, and whatever organs you’ll offer in exchange for a click. There’s certainly value in a LinkedIn click, but only for a client capable of writing bigger checks. And from an aesthetic standpoint, their sponsored ads aren’t very customizable — images must fit a standard thumbnail size.
Other native social
Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram all offer newly minted paid options for increasing your brand’s reach, but the content needs to be natively crafted for that platform. You’re simply not going to drive traffic to your brand’s magazine using Instagram ads, for example. Still, they can be extremely effective if you’re active on the platform; the average Sponsored Post on Tumblr, for instance, gets reblogged 10,000 times.
The big distribution players are still figuring out how to showcase branded work in a way that appeals to readers without getting in their way, like traditional display. The finer points of this list will likely change over time, but we hope this guide answers questions and provides groundwork for important decision-making. After all, understanding the nuances of the distribution game could be the difference between getting ignored or standing out.