Formats and Platforms for Native Advertising

By Native Advertising Institute on September 21, 2022
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What types and formats of native advertising exist? When should you use each type? And what platforms can help you get your message in front of the right audience? Buckle up and read along, we've got your answers here.


First, let's start with the basics. Native advertising is a way to reach out to an audience in an unobtrusive way that blends in seamlessly with its surrounding content. Done well, native advertising will build trust, brand awareness, generate leads and more.

If this sounds good but you're not quite sure how to do it, or which formats and platforms you should be using for your efforts, then you'll want to read along as we take you on a guided tour of the “how” of native advertising.

The tour begins with the formats of native ads, dictated by the places where you can publish your content. We’ll discuss the three core formats that dominate native ads online and how they perform on both desktop computers and mobile devices.

Next, the tour will take you past the platforms that help you get your content in front of the right people. And, finally, we’ll provide you with a parting gift, in the form of a guide to creating your own native advertising strategy.

Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

What are the best native advertising formats?


The short – and quite annoying – answer to the question is: “it depends”. Your business may be able to reach the most relevant target group using formats that would make other companies miss the mark.

If you have your own data on how different formats perform for your business, it might be wise to trust that over someone else’s list of best practices.

There are, however, some general insights you probably should consider when planning your next native advertising campaign.

But before we get to that, let’s take a look at the available formats for native ads.

What formats are available?

The different native ads can be divided into three core types, as presented by the Interactive Advertising Bureau in its native advertising playbook:

  • In-feed, also referred to as in-content
  • Content recommendation ads, available through widgets
  • Branded Content, also known as Native Content

RELATED: The Main Categories of Native Advertising Everyone Needs to Understand


The in-feed native ads are presented as, for example, sponsored posts on Facebook, sponsored content on Instagram, promoted tweets on Twitter. You've seen these countless times yourself. Whenever you're scrolling through your social media of choice, you'll find sponsored content that looks like everything else in the feed except for the “sponsored” tag.

In-feed, or in-content, ads are effective because they are unobtrusive and don’t yell campaign slogans at the audience.

These native ads aren’t exclusive to social media, by any means, since you can also find them on content and commerce feeds.

Content Recommendation Ads

Ever noticed the sponsored content in the recommendations section on a news or content site? Those are content recommendations ads. Ever notice how the recommended, sponsored content isn't always relevant to either your preferences or the site you are visiting?

Yeah, that can be an issue, and we’ll address that in a moment. The point here is that including your content in the recommendations section is a native advertising format, in fact, it’s a dominant native ad format.

Branded Content

Paid content that is published in the style and format of an editorial piece on a publisher's website is considered branded content.

The common example is the basic advertorial, which looks and reads like a newspaper or magazine article. These are clearly marked as being sponsored and you can find this format in both print and online.

What about paid search?

You might be wondering about paid search; isn’t that native advertising too?

Paid search looks and feels like the organic search results, yet it’s an ad, and from that perspective, it certainly seems like native advertising. However, the industry looks at search as a separate category of ads and not as part of native advertising.

RELATED: 4 Classic Misconceptions About Native Advertising

The “best” formats for native ads

You can be successful with your native ads on all three formats listed in this article. What you need to be aware of is the quality of your content and which platform you choose to host your native ads, in order to ensure that you’re present where your preferred target audience is active.

That being said, the two dominant formats are in-feed and content recommendation ads. These formats each have their strong suit, both in relation to how people engage with your content and which kind of device best suits the format.

In the following, we will therefore dive into a discussion of the two formats and their respective strengths and weaknesses.

How do the formats perform on mobile and desktop?


People are more active on mobile devices and consume more content on mobile. That gives an advantage to mobile over desktop. In fact, the click-through rates are significantly higher on mobile devices than on desktops.

This might be because native ads on mobile fit seamlessly into the feed on social media, in emails, as recommendations on websites as well as in apps. The design on mobile devices simply does a better job of integrating native ads on different platforms.

With that said, though, you should look at this advantage as more of a potential, rather than a flat-out “win” for mobile. Overall engagement, it seems, is still greater on desktop, where page views are higher and bounce rates are lower than mobile.

In other words, you might have an easier time getting people to click-through to your content on mobile, but once there, they tend to be just as quick to leave. Maybe this is due to the generally higher concentration span on desktop.

All in all, it’s safe to say the potential of mobile still isn’t fully fulfilled. People are mobile-first and therefore it is a good idea for you to be too, as long as you work to secure more interactions and engagement from all the traffic that mobile generates.

But you can't neglect the desktop experience, since it outperforms mobile on engagement as things stand.

RELATED Is Desktop Engagement No Longer Relevant? And Other Native Findings

How do you get your content in front of an audience?


The two dominating formats in native advertising, in-feed and content recommendation ads, can be set up and controlled through specialized online services.

The different social media networks each have their own services and there are also third-party platforms that let you set up and optimize native ads on several networks at once.

And it works roughly the same way with content recommendation ads, but you might want to take a long look at how they work. Generally, these services provide a widget that companies and publishers can integrate on their website. The widget fills in some of the content slots with sponsored and promoted content.

The idea is that the site visitor is recommended other relevant pieces of content to consume and some of these will be sponsored, native ads. The key word here is relevant content.

You should be aware that the companies who provide these recommendations have different ways of determining what is relevant to the visitor.

Some have an algorithm that focuses on popularity as the primary metric to determine relevance. This means that you might be recommended an article on the “ten sexiest men in Hollywood,” even though you were reading a piece on climate change. The subjects have arguably very little, if anything, to do with each other, but the “sexiest men” article might be very popular, and that is why you are exposed to it.

On the other hand, some providers of content recommendation widgets take the subject and the hosting site into account when determining what is relevant.

As native ads rely heavily on the viewer's perception of relevancy, it is not surprising that the latter tends to perform better. In fact, if the native content doesn't seem to be relevant or it turns out to miss the mark when clicked on, it often reflects poorly on the company.

If content is king, relevancy is a kingmaker.

When it comes to branded content, the process of bringing it in front of people doesn’t really rely on automation. Usually, branded content is much more of a collaboration with a publisher than just a paid service.

How do you create a native ads strategy?

business-3189797_1920So you now have an idea as to where you can present your native ads and how. Now you can move on to the strategy. But for this, we will expand the scope a bit.

Native advertising should be used in conjunction with other types of advertising and, usually, native ads are part of a broader inbound or content marketing strategy.

The following guide, therefore, shows the process of creating a general marketing strategy that includes native advertising.

1: What are your goals?

Start by defining your goals and objectives with your marketing and advertising activity. You might be interested in generating more leads or increasing brand awareness. Take a look at the activities that have made up your marketing efforts thus far and find some relevant results you can use as benchmarks for your new strategy.

If you are new to native advertising, you can wait three months and use your findings to set up realistic goals.

Now that you know where you want to go, find out how much you can spend to get there. That’s right, it’s time to allocate resources and create a budget for your campaign activities. Your budget should also have some wiggle room, though, as you want to remain flexible enough to react to the feedback and online behavior as the campaigns progress.

2: Who do you want to reach?

Who is your ideal buyer? Do you know the who, what, where, when and how of your audience? Their interests, habits, preferences, demographic characteristics and geographic composition all affect your ability to create the right content and build a relationship with your audience.

3: How do you want to reach your audience?

This is the big one. Plan the campaigns you want to run throughout the year. We're talking big picture here, so you don’t have to get into specifics about messaging and content, just set the timelines and budgets for each campaign.

You also need to consider which platforms and formats to use for your native ads as well as the theme and goal for each campaign.

4: Get creative!

With the overall structure in place, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Develop ideas for the content each campaign will run. This requires a good amount of ideation and creativity and at first, just go with it. Find inspiration in the goal of the campaign and your knowledge about the audience.

When crafting the specific ads - and other pieces of content - keep the guidelines of the intended publisher in mind. Tailor each piece of content to fit the platform, format, campaign goals and intended audience. Remember that it must blend in with the rest of the content on a specific app, site or publisher.

RELATED: How to Take your Native Ad Strategy Full-Funnel with 3 Specific Content Types

5: Collect and optimize

How are your native ads performing? You need to know this early and often, not just after the campaign has ended. You need to keep track of performance during the campaign and optimize it frequently to maximize the results.

Data is your ever-present friend. You should collect as much relevant data as you’re able to analyze and act upon. Experiment with different headlines, images and CTAs, then collect data about how they perform to learn what works best.

If you collect data and optimize your content accordingly, you'll have a better chance of reaching - and even surpassing - your goals. That way you can ensure that your native advertising efforts reach their full potential.