How You Can Use Native Advertising to Earn BIG Links

I’ll be speaking at BrightonSEO this week (April 24th, 4:30pm in the Dome Concert Hall) on the secret weapon of my content outreach, Native Advertising. Below, you can find a little sneak peek at what I’ll be covering in my talk.

Native Advertising let’s you promote your awesome content to people who will instantly fall in love it as they have similar interests. It’s a great way to kick-start your content outreach strategy and done right, it can earn you coverage, shares and most importantly – big, pearly-white links that even your mates down the pub will be impressed with.

How Native Advertising Works

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Here’s how Content Advertising works. Your content get’s advertised alongside editorial content on popular sites in an non-obtrusive way, such as being included as a ‘Related Link’ at the bottom of articles on big news sites like CNN or The Independent.  Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn also offer Native Advertising formats – such as your content being promoted in users timelines.

Native Advertising is a cheap marketing tactic, you can do this on a pound shop budget. Content is most commonly advertised on a CPC/CPE basis and minimum spends range from £1 to £650 dependent on the platform.

Advertising? No thanks.

As SEO’s, we’re raised to hate advertising – it’s as cool as liking One Direction when your 26. Well, the truth is you can lead a piece of content to water, but you can’t make it drink coverage, links and shares on it’s own.

We know the feeling of massive pride when you’ve just launched your latest piece of snazzy content complete with bells and whistles. But then, you spend hours glued to the screen, manically pressing refresh as you see the social share counters stay at a paltry 3 likes, 1 tweet and 0 G+ shares from your mum, mates and colleagues and even weeks later, Majestic SEO depressingly reports only 1 referring domain (from

Native Advertising can act as solution to all of this and it complements well alongside a wider outreach battle plan for your Zombie and Cat or more likely, History of Toilet themed infographic.

What I did

Earlier this year, in the lead up to Valentine’s Day – I made a super-simple microsite that listed 14 crazy but adorable marriage proposals videos for my bingo portal client, Two Little Fleas.

With only £70 in advertising pocket money, I used it to earn links from the Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan and 9 more sites alongside 400+ social shares. No webmasters were paid for these links – they have the Matt Cutts seal of approval (I think). All the native advertising does is give you exposure to the audience.

This is the story of how I did it, and how you can also make your content also be more viral than Flappy Bird (or a 1/10th of it at least, if you don’t pull it).

Content Advertising – Taboola, nRelate & Outbrain

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To advertise on magazine and news sites, Taboola, nRelate and Outbrain are the leading services in content advertising. Each platform has it’s own exclusive portfolio of publishers and different features, don’t be afraid to experiment with each, but the winner is usually one that best matches you or your clients and industry and target audience.

Outbrain is strong in business, entertainment and sport. nRelate has a number of high-end technology, food and leisure sites on the books. Taboola wins on all counts, having the highest diversity of sites within its portfolio and critically – it most often wins the links and shares for me.

If you want to dip your toes in the water, start off on Outbrain. If you sign up via their US site, you can self-manage your campaign with no minimum budget. Taboola and nRelate require Account Managers and minimum orders of £650 / $1000 – but this can be split across multiple clients and domains to ease the pain. Average CPC is about 25p, the same price as a Freddo apparently (they went up in price?).

Feed the platforms your entire RSS feed (remember those) or a handpicked URL list. Take advantage of geo-targeting if required, but I prefer to advertise by language to get the best exposure.

Content will be contextually advertised using dynamic nofollow URLs – remember, the links are earnt indirectly. Each URL will need a minimum of 300 characters of text and contain relevant keyword mentions for it served on the most appropriate publishers.

Written content – blog posts, whitepapers, lists and guides perform best for me on these more ‘traditional’ content publishers. Interactive, images or videos are a better fit I find for social advertising on Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit and Twitter.

This isn’t universally true of course, some of the most intelligent articles I’ve ever read (or erm, news on the new Metal Gear Solid game) were discovered via Twitter. The guiding principle I’d use to advertise where your audience would most likely be.

Social Advertising

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Facebook and Twitter Advertising work on a cost-per-engagement basis. This is defined as an advert click, exit to a URL or the big money prize – a share/like/tweet.

Facebook’s targeting options are ridiculously good and well, ridiculously creepy, really creepy. If you want to advertise your content to people in Coventry that love Taylor Swift, Don’t Tell the Bride and are 30+ year-old blokes, you’re in luck – there are 11,200 suitable people.

‘Boosting’ your post on your brand page works best alongside Sponsored stories. You can also switch-off advertising in the right-hand sidebar to feature your content directly in the news feed.

Twitter let’s you advertise in a users newsfeed based on the keywords or hashtags they use in their recent status updates. The main warning I’d give for both is, this option isn’t always for the budget conscious. Both have £1 minimum spends and offer self-managed platforms, but most of you’ll find will get spent on traffic – rather than shares (arguable better, but whatever). It costs me on average about £2.50 a retweet or £1 a like.

Reddit is my little secret weapon. Your content will get promoted at the top of any sub-reddit of your choice – and there are over 7,000 to choose from. My personal favorites include BabyElephantGIFs, MapPorn & BirdsWithArms – by favorite, I mean purely for advertising reasons of course.

The Rebel in the Pack – Zemanta


Taking a different route, Zemanta advertises your content at WordPress bloggers while they are writing a related article. The idea is that it will encourage writers to editorially link to your content as a related link or within the copy as a reference. These links are follow, nice huh?

Zemanta can be an absolute goldmine, or create links that make you look at spammy blog comments and think they are awesome in comparison.

For an old B2B Insurance client of mine, Zemanta earnt us a staggering 52 referring domains within 30 days on a £1000 total budget – a Martin Lewis worthy cost per link of £19.23. Better yet over half of them from DA40+ sites. We rolled it out to a Fashion, Travel & Gaming client and we didn’t even hit half of that number, with one of the links being a Russian book review website – sounds like an old link network.

But, it’s worth a go – Zemanta’s biggest strength is also it’s weakest, the links are editorially chosen, this doesn’t mean the owners of the sites have an influential blog. We continued for the Insurance client and although the returns diminished, we still pulled in a good 20+ links a month.

Measuring Success

The point of native advertising shouldn’t be to earn direct sales – unless you are a content business in itself. Native Advertising is an indirect form of marketing that will let you achieve that bigger goal – increased search rankings which in turn send you business.

Measure your campaigns on a Cost Per Link & Cost Per Share Basis. Whatever link-earning drug you choose, you can use SharedCount & Majestic SEO’s bulk URL checkers to review on a weekly basis which content on which platform is driving the most engagements.

Take this further by monitoring the user journey a person takes after landing on your site. In Google Analytics, use the page flow, bounce-rate and time on-site metrics to measure this alongside your conversion goals.

Once you’ve got all the data together, strip away the weak performers from your campaign and use the insight to build a picture on the future types of content you should produce.

Add a remarketing pixel to the content so that once they’ve left your site – you can still get their attention as across the web. Create banners that encourage visitors to view similar content they’d like or a promotional advert for your products and services.

Content, Content, Content

But honestly, underpinning this all is the individual pieces of content you choose to promote. Regardless of how good or bad the idea is, forget about that for a second – the secret to success in native advertising is actually how you portray the content, or as I like to pretend I have, you need a PHD in content psychology.

I’m talking about headline you promote, how the content is structured and the little details you sprinkle in that inspire people to share and link to it.

The Art of the Headline

Last year, I met a forgotten copywriter who changed how I wrote headlines forever. I’d shake his hand, but he died 24 years ago. In 1926, John Caples wrote a headline for the US School of Music that is now the basic formula, and driving force behind the headlines you now find on sites like Upworthy, ViralNova & Buzzfeed.

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This formula works as it strikes emotion, curiosity and surprise all at once. It also puts the reader in the frame and empowers them. Rip it off and use variations in your content, I do.

Upworthy A/B test 25 headline variations before settling on which to run with. Why? In their words “You can have the best piece of content and make the best point ever. But if no one looks at it, the article is a waste. A good headline can be the difference between 1,000 people and 1,000,000 people reading something”

Come up with multiple different headlines for your adverts and A/B test them. Successful headlines usually start off with “How To”, “Why” “This/They”, contain numbers and yep, put the reader in the frame e.g. ‘Here’s 28 Reasons Why You Need to Attend Brighton SEO”

Content Format

We’re all a bit naturally lazy when it comes to consuming content, it’s the TL;DC syndrome (too long, don’t care). Break up written content into simple sub-headings and digestible paragraph breaks to keep a users attention.

Visualise your main points using pictures, graphs and lots of eye-catching, text-formatting. Ensure the content is available in responsive format or don’t even bother publishing it.

No excuse but to share

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Once you’ve got them on the page, don’t let them leave until you’ve gave them every single opportunity to share or link to the content.

HTML embed codes are the most sure-fire way to earn links back, but they are often forgotten. Use them on all of your visual content – even if it isn’t an infographic. Code to complex to embed properly? Just create an image thumbnail version that contains a text-link inviting people to view the full version.

Open Graph Tags let you pre-populate the text for Tweets, Facebook  &  Google+. People are lazy, by setting a default tweet it’ll put your share rate through the roof. Visit‎ for more.

All of this might seem a bit cheeky – but you’d be amazed how much it improves the chances of earning links back. Writers, including me, are lazy.

Thank you, and good luck.

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