The FTC Looks into Native Advertising
Native advertising is being put in the hot seat today with an FTC workshop looking specifically at native advertising including advertorials. Their workshop, titled “Blurred Lines: Advertising or Content?” is looking at types of advertising online that is disguised as “content”.
Native advertising has been getting a lot of notice lately, and it’s definitely not all good. Matt Cutts has said that the Google spam team has been aggressively penalizing pages and sites that are using advertorials in a way where the user does not realize they are looking at an advertisement, but instead of think they are reading a news article or a legitimate unbiased editorial. And this includes not only the websites that are selling the advertorials, but also against the advertisers whose products or business is being advertised.
There is also the impact that native advertising can have on the advertiser, and an impact that many advertisers don’t even realize when they sign-up to promote a product or website through advertorials. From an SEO standpoint, those advertisers could find themselves penalized in Google so that their websites are no longer ranking in the natural unpaid search results – even for their brand name. And then time and money needs to be spent on getting the penalty removed, so that the website can rank once again.
Earlier this year, Interflora was penalized for purchasing masses of advertorials in UK newspapers leading up to Mother’s Day. They were penalized by Google shortly before the holiday so that the company didn’t even show up in the Google search results for a search on “Interflora”.
This really gave notice to webmasters that advertorials were not just going to hurt the websites selling them, but also the ones you are buying the advertorials as well. Google later updated their webmaster guidelines to include “Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank” as one of the examples that violates their Google webmaster guidelines.
From an advertiser ROI perspective there has been mixed reactions on how successful they are. Just like advertisements and pay per click ads, native advertising runs from being super spammy appearance (particularly ones that are displayed in pop-ups on lower quality sites), to being so professional that most users cannot tell that it is actually a paid advertisement.
Sponsored content isn’t going anywhere, despite the concerns many have regarding it. eMarketer says that marketers will spend $1.9 billion on sponsored content which is an increase of 24% over last year. It is growing so rapidly that in June they speculated sponsored content spend would only be $1.88 billion.
And native advertising is increasing in display spaces well, particularly on many online newspapers that are struggling to generate income, where they mimic their exact headline fonts and the layout for advertorials. So it isn’t surprising, particularly with all these “trustworthy” news sites using advertorials that Google is penalizing them and the FTC investigating whether guidelines are needed.
The purpose of the workshop is to get perspectives from all sites of native advertising, and to determine whether if they should have guidelines in place for advertorials, similar to how they put in place guidelines for search engines to ensure they are differentiating clearly between advertisements in search results. But because they are looking at it and may have previously made guidelines for search engines, with this daylong workshop looking into native advertising, I fully expect we will eventually see guidelines put in place.
The agenda features a huge range of both advertisers and content publishers with three different panels featuring discuss on types of sponsored content, how consumers are able to recognize if it’s native advertisement or not, and a discussion on potential best practices. All the panels are moderated by the FTC.
The full agenda is here: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2013/11/nativeads.shtm
The workshop is also available as a live webcast, with the link being available once it goes live.
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