What Is Native Advertising? The 6 Universal Types & How To Use Them

August 25, 2018

native ads

Digital advertising is a key marketing tool for reaching and engaging target audiences. But as people become more sophisticated in how they discover and interact with content, native advertising provides brands with a new way to get their message out.

Below, we walk you through everything you need to know to get started with native advertising: what it is, why it’s important, how it works, and how to use native ads to reach your marketing goals.

What Is Native Advertising?

Dan Greenburg, Founder and CEO of Sharethrough, defines native ads as “a type of paid media that fits the form and function of the user experience on the site or app in which they’re placed. In short, they’re ads that fit in.” 

Native ads can be found everywhere, from your favorite publisher sites to your favorite social channels.

As an advertisement that fits seamlessly into the user experience, they’re more contextual than other forms of digital advertising (e.g. display and banner ads). Instead of appearing off to the side or across the top of a web page, native ads mimic the look, feel, and function of a medium’s content, making it more likely that your audience will trust them.

And native ads are becoming more and more popular, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all digital display ad spend. In fact, native digital display advertising spend in the US is expected to reach a new high of $41.14 billion in 2019, according to the latest eMarketer report.

6 Universal Types of Native Ads (And Examples of Each)

Similar to other forms of advertising, native ads have several formats, each with its own set of advantages. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has identified the following six types of native advertising.

1. In-Feed Units

In-feed native advertising units are similar to the scenario we outlined above. If you’re seeing sponsored posts appear in your social media feeds or on a publisher’s site (e.g. Forbes, Mashable), those are in-feed units. They’re paid placements that appear directly in-line with other articles, posts, or editorial content.

For example, the below screenshot captures an in-feed unit from PayPal on Entrepreneur.com.

In-feed units look different from site to site as they fit into each site’s unique user experience. For instance, LinkedIn’s in-feed ad units (LinkedIn Sponsored Content) look like this:

2. Paid Search Units

Native advertising is also a popular advertising method for search engines. Those top-of-the-page advertising placements you’re bidding on? Technically, they’re native ad placements as those top paid search results are made to look like the organic search results.

3. Recommendation Widgets

Another spot where you’ll find native ads on publisher sites, social media, and even search engine results pages, is in recommendation widgets. You’ll often see these ads off to the side of a web page, or even at the end of an article, to recommend additional content you might like.

4. Promoted Listings

If you have an online shopping habit (like many of us), you see promoted listings regularly. To give you an example, when searching for new marketing books, several sponsored listings appear on Amazon.com. However, while those publishers paid for those media placements, they’re made to look just like the organic listings.

5. Display Ad With Native Elements

This type of native advertising looks just like any other ad you might see online. You may even see them in an ad container or banner. What makes them native, however, is that they’re contextually relevant to the site they appear on and the content they appear next to.

Campbell’s, for example, placed an in-ad unit on allrecipes.com for their recipe collection. While the ad doesn’t look like the actual recipes listed on the site, it is contextually relevant to the page.

Image credit

6. Custom

Given the speed of technological change and the potential for publisher partnerships, the IAB’s last type of native advertising leaves the door open for a range of possibilities. Creating a new Snapchat filter (below) is an example of a custom native ad. The filter, while a form of paid media, fits within the app’s user interface alongside Snapchat’s other filters.

Why Use Native Advertising?

Content has become a central part of our lives. From the moment we wake up to the moment we say goodnight, we devour news articles, television shows, photos, and social media posts. According to eMarketer, the average US adult spends 12 hours and 1 minute each day consuming media. Yes, you read that right.

With so much content in our lives, and so little time to consume it all, today’s consumers have trained themselves to ignore ads and more people are using ad blocking software to remove ads from sites altogether.

Native advertising is designed specifically not to look like an ad, making it harder to ignore. Instead, it’s designed to look like the rest of the content on the page. As a result, consumers interact with native ads 20-60% more than traditional banner ads.

Native ads also have the potential to increase conversions. A study by Sharethrough found that native ads generate an 18% higher lift in purchase intent than display ads.

Native Ads and Programmatic Buying

Programmatic advertising is on the rise with 65% of B2B marketers reporting that they currently buy or sell advertising programmatically, up from 54% in 2016. This comes as little surprise considering the speed, accuracy, and intelligence of programmatic ad buying software. Just plug in your campaign goals and KPIs, and watch the programmatic algorithm evolve based on audience behavior. The marketplace can change in an instant and programmatic buying can help to ensure that your ad campaigns quickly adapt to change.

When applied to native advertising, your in-feed, paid search, or other native ads will have a greater ability to reach specific audience segments. The programmatic algorithm will also help optimize native ad campaigns, doubling down on what works and pausing what doesn’t.

The Future of Native Advertising

It’s safe to say native advertising will continue to evolve. Stay ahead of the curve by keeping up on the following native advertising trends.

Social Media

Currently, native ads are seen on search engines, publisher sites, retail sites, and social media platforms. But if we look closer at native ad spend, we see that native ad budget for publishers is on the decline and social media is picking up the slack. As it stands today, social media accounts for roughly three-quarters of US native display ad spend. Instead of purchasing ad placements on Forbes, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and others, brands are investing more into Instagram in-feed advertisements, Snapchat filters, LinkedIn Sponsored Content, and other similar ad types found on social media.


In 2018, 52.2% of all web traffic originated from mobile devices. And as a whole, mobile digital advertising spend is expected to rise 26.5% by 2020. However, considering the advantages that native advertising presents on mobile devices, native mobile ads will also become a key investment. With limited real estate on mobile devices for display or banner ads, native ads afford more opportunities to engage your target audience on mobile.

Native Video Ads

According to the IAB Video Ad Spend Study, half of advertisers will increase their spending on digital and mobile video ads. The IAB study also found that half of advertisers have increased their video advertising allocation to native ad opportunities. As a result, native video ads will become more prevalent in social media feeds, publisher sites, and more.

User-Generated Content

Today’s consumer covets authenticity. User-generated content helps build brand authenticity, creating deeper connections with your audience. For example, you might see more polls, surveys, or social media posts appear in native ad placements to drive audience interaction and build trust.

Ethics Disclosure

While native advertising resembles natural content, no one deserves to be deceived. To make sure that advertisements are clearly labelled, you’ll see more and more platforms creating ad disclosures that are more prominent—even on native ads. This gives the user greater transparency on what is and isn’t a paid promotion, so they can make more informed content consumption decisions.

9 Steps for Creating Effective Native Ads on Linkedin

LinkedIn allows you to reach your target audience directly in their feed with native ads. To help you create the most effective native advertisements on LinkedIn, here are the steps to follow.

Step 1: Set Your Goals

Do you want to generate leads? Build brand awareness? Like anything pertaining to marketing, it’s important to set a goal, or a series of goals, first. Once you have your goals in mind, determine which KPIs will work best for measuring success.

Step 2: Create the Right Message for Your Audience

Now that you know why you want people to read your content, it’s important to decide who and what. Who do you want to consume your content? What do you want them to see or read? Answering these questions allows your content take shape.

To create the right message, think about your target audience and what they find valuable. Analyze their behavior, preferences, and interests to identify content and ads they care about. Then, find a good intersection of what your audience values and what you’re best positioned to deliver.

Step 3: Choose the Right Format

People use platforms in different ways. How you prefer to use LinkedIn likely differs from someone else. For example, you might spend the majority of your time on the platform in your messages instead of scrolling through your feed. And that’s okay. For marketers, however, this means being strategic in the types of native ads you choose on LinkedIn.

There are three types of native ads on LinkedIn: Sponsored Content, Sponsored InMail, and Dynamic Ads.

Choose the right native ad format on LinkedIn by analyzing your goals, message, and audience segments. If you need more space to share your message, LinkedIn Sponsored InMail is a great option as you have more room to work with. However, if your goal is to build brand awareness, LinkedIn Sponsored Content or LinkedIn Dynamic Ads may offer greater reach for your budget.

Step 4: Generate Your Content and Ads

Now, it’s time to put the pen to paper and craft your content. When writing, continue to think about how your audience will experience your message given the context of when and where it will appear.

Some best practices to keep in mind are:

  • Use a visual. Images and videos attract a larger audience and tend to drive stronger performance. When adding images to your LinkedIn native ads, use images that are 1200x627 pixels.

  • The shorter, the better. Concise copy tends to perform best in native ads. Headlines should be fewer than 60 characters and intro text should be somewhere in between 70 and 150 characters.

  • Write in the second person. Use “you” language to address your audience and maintain a conversational tone.

  • Make an offer they cannot refuse. Give your audience what they want. Include a call to action that delivers on that promise and creates some urgency.

  • Humor sells. And though it’s not always easy to execute, making your audience smile generally leads to a positive outcome.

Step 5: Post Your Content Organically

With your ads and content created, consider posting that same content to your organic audience on LinkedIn. You may find yourself earning additional followers as a result. Plus, the organic results are a good indicator of what your top performers are. To get a good sample of data, make sure to promote the posts organically for at least two weeks.

Step 6: Promote Top Performers

At this point in the game, you should have some clear organic winners. Boost their success even further by sponsoring them on LinkedIn. The extra visibility can help you build the additional social proof and backlinks that search engine algorithms seem to love.

Step 7: Measure Results

Results. It’s why you run ads in the first place. Whether it’s pageviews, conversions, engagement, time on page, impressions, or any other metric you’re tracking, take a look at your results to see how your ads are performing.

When selecting the metrics you want to measure, double check that they relate to the goals you outlined in Step 1. This gives you greater insight into how you’re progressing towards achieving your objectives.

Step 8: Test, Optimize, Repeat

Advertising isn’t a one-and-done marketing tactic. To make sure that you’re getting the most bang for each advertising buck, continue to test and optimize the various elements of your native ads. Try a new headline. Update your call to action. Upload a new image. For each of your tests, follow A/B testing best practices like testing only one variable at a time and running your tests for at least two weeks.

Step 9: Retarget

Another way to amplify the performance of your native ads on LinkedIn is to take advantage of retargeting. After your audience completes meaningful behaviors (e.g. visiting a specific page on your website or clicking on a specific ad), retarget them with a more specific, relevant ad based on their previous interaction to nurture the relationship.

To start marketing to who matters on LinkedIn, create your own native ad using the advice above.