Ecommerce merchants that run native advertising campaigns have the advantage of communicating with potential customers when they’re browsing online. Native ads—which slot within existing content on a social media platform, search engine, or publication—don’t disrupt the user experience, making them more interesting to online shoppers.
This type of ecommerce advertising is big business too. According to eMarketer, native ads will account for 59.7% of total display ad spend in 2023. Brands will spend an estimated $38.3 billion on native ads each year.
Create native advertising that converts, alongside best practices, and real-world examples of native campaigns.
Table of Contents:
- What is native advertising?
- Types of native advertising
- Benefits of native advertising
- How to create native ads
- Native advertising examples
- Best practices for native advertising in ecommerce
- How do you spot native advertising?
- Native advertising FAQ
What is native advertising?
Native advertising is a strategy that incorporates advertisements into existing website content without distracting the reader. Also known as partner content, native ad formats have the same design and feel as editorial content—sometimes to the point where they look indistinguishable. Where traditional ads might distract or disrupt the reader’s experience, native ads offer the opportunity to blend the content of a trusted editorial brand with your own.
Types of native advertising
- Recommendation widgets
- Promoted listings
- In-feed ads
- Native video ads
- Paid search ads
- Sponsored content
Recommendation widgets are a native advertising format used by online publishers to monetize their content. Each visitor receives a unique ad depending on data the network has already collected (such as website history or native ads they’ve previously interacted with) in order to serve the most relevant native ads.
These widgets are often managed by a native advertising network and use a dynamic model, so no experience is ever the same and your ad is presented in an organic format.
Promoted listings, also known as promoted products, appear when a merchant pays an online publisher or marketplace to highlight its products. Amazon, for example, allows merchants to target shoppers who are searching for related keywords and position their product at the top with a “Sponsored” tag.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest offer in-feed native ads. These appear in a user’s news feed and look like the content a user would typically see posted by their family and friends, only it’s from your brand.
Native video ads
Native video advertising looks similar to in-feed ads. The only difference is instead of static images, merchants use video content in their media strategy. Here’s an example from smol, a cleaning retailer who runs native video advertising campaigns in the /CleaningTips Reddit forum.
Paid search ads
Search engines like Google and Bing allow merchants to run native campaigns on the results page. You can target specific keywords and bid to appear at the top of potential customers’ search results.
Sponsored content is another type of native advertising whereby a publisher shares content a brand has paid to be included in. It’s typically not distinguishable from other content other than a small note labeling it as “Native” or “Sponsored” content.
BuzzFeed, for example, published a sponsored pet article on its website. There’s a short disclaimer before the article begins, explaining the publisher may collect compensation for promoting it.
BuzzFeed posts sponsored content on its website.
Benefits of native advertising
Search users often look for something specific—a product, category, or solution to a precise problem. Social users are interested in what social communities or their peers are doing, saying, buying, or debating. They may not have a specific product in mind, but capturing their interest requires a relevant social context.
In the content realm, however, your target audience is open to all suggestions. They are users in exploration mode, ready and willing to engage with something of interest, whether it’s news, opinion, advice, or simply a fun new topic to explore. They are looking for what to do next.
Engaging a discovery-minded audience lets you reach consumers you wouldn’t have found otherwise. These discoverers haven’t directly sought out your product and may not be in decision-making mode yet, but they are open to trying something new, and that’s what makes native advertising so valuable.
Aside from the ability to reach shoppers when they’re most impressionable, the benefits of native advertising include:
- Increased brand credibility. If you’re hosting native ads on a popular online magazine in your niche, simply having your brand name on the page can improve credibility amongst readers. One study found 68% of consumers trust native ads seen in an editorial context compared to just 55% for traditional ads found on social media.
- Tapping into a platform’s established audience. Ecommerce brands that run native ad campaigns across online publications and community sites can tap into a pre-existing potential customer base, rather than creating audiences from scratch.
- Increased purchase intent. Advertising campaigns that encourage people to purchase have the highest return on investment. For many merchants, native campaigns fall into this category. Studies show that native ads create an 18% increase in purchase intent.
“The beauty of native advertising lies in its seamless integration with the platform it’s on,” says Kiran Mehra, co-founder and president of Goldspot Pens. “Unlike banner ads or pop-ups that can disrupt the user experience, native ads blend harmoniously, making them less intrusive. This natural flow captures the audience’s attention without triggering ad fatigue. It’s like having a friendly chat with your audience rather than shouting at them.”
How to create native ads
Choose the right native advertising channels
Much like any ecommerce advertising strategy, the audience you’re targeting makes or breaks the success of your native advertising campaign.
Native ads can run across publications, social media channels, and search engines. Choosing a channel with an audience that overlaps your customer base increases the likelihood your advertising dollars will generate a positive return on investment (ROI).
It’s why ecommerce growth consultant Barry Hott recommends the tactic. “Look for and hire creators for their ability to make interesting relevant content for your audience, not their audience size, how pretty they are, nor their ability to show a product beautifully,” he says. “Have your brand/product featured in great, relevant content related to the problems your audience faces."
Dig deep into customer personas and identify where they hang out online—be it trendy news sites like BuzzFeed or social media platforms like Instagram. Use post-purchase surveys, live chat, and on-site surveys to ask existing customers to share the publications they read most often. Shortlist the most popular for your native advertising target list.
Once you identify your chosen native ads channels, consider utilizing Shopify Audiences for this step. It combines data from millions of Shopify stores and connects you with people most likely to buy your products.
Craft a compelling native advertisement
While effective native ads don’t draw away from the experience of a reader, the ultimate goal is to drive targeted website traffic to your online store. Intrigue and mystery entice people to do that. It’s the virtual equivalent of closing a loop—those viewing your native ad must click it to understand its full context.
A simple method is to ask a question related to the paid content and the landing page you’re sending readers to. Let’s put that into practice and say you’re running a native ad on a Vogue article about celebrity makeup routines. You could send readers to your foundation shade finder quiz with a headline like “Are you wearing the wrong shade of foundation?”
Set a duration for the campaign
Your first native advertising campaign won’t run indefinitely. Mastering any new advertising format takes trial and error—there’s no exact science to attracting new customers and convincing them to make a purchase.
If you’re running native ads on a platform like Facebook, set a short duration, such as two weeks, for your first campaign. This will give the advertising algorithm time to display your content and collect enough data to make smarter targeting decisions.
Let’s say you’re running single image ads that replicate the organic posts a user would see in their Facebook news feed. One Sprout Social study found that ads with emojis in the headline have a 241% higher click-through rate than those without. It makes sense to reoptimize your native campaign with this in mind, rather than spending a limited budget on campaigns with the lower chance of success.
Optimize landing pages for conversion
No campaign is a success until someone completes an action on your website. Whether you’re basing success on email sign-ups or sales (the more likely of the two), don’t let your hard work go to waste by sending people to an underperforming landing page.
- Leverage social proof, such as user-generated content, expert endorsements, and five-star ratings.
- Improve site speed by reducing code bloat and unnecessary redirects.
- Write descriptive product descriptions that help online shoppers visualize your product.
- Show your commitment to charitable causes with carbon-neutral shipping options using Planet.
Smoke Cartel is one merchant that implemented these CRO tactics. The store switched to Shopify servers to improve site load times—a move that increased its click-through rate from 0.8% to 1.2%. “It’s just a fraction of a difference, but it means thousands of additional dollars,” owner Sean Geng says.
Set clear KPIs to monitor performance
Key performance indicators (KPIs) tell you how successful your native ads campaigns are in reaching their goals. Set yours before launching any new ads to ensure you’re optimizing for the right objectives.
The most popular KPIs to monitor native ads performance include:
- Cost per mile (CPM): The cost per 1,000 impressions.
- Cost per click (CPC): The cost of each click to your online store.
- Click-through rate (CTR): The percentage of people who view your native ad and click through. The higher this metric is, the better—it indicates that people who see your campaign are interested enough to learn more.
- Conversion rate: The percentage of people who purchase after seeing a native ad.
- Return on ad spend (ROAS): The total value of sales as a percentage of ad spend.
Don’t just settle for a big picture analysis when evaluating your native ad performance. Break down data by ad format, target audience, and messaging to see which variations drive the best results. These variations deserve the most budget.
Native advertising examples
Bombas is an apparel brand that worked with Taboola on a native advertising campaign. Its goal was to launch a holiday campaign for its revamped collection of slippers.
Bombas created native ads for online publications like NBC News. Imagery blended seamlessly with the “Related content” section beneath NBC News articles and the headline evoked emotion, promising shoppers would get the best slippers for a lazy Sunday.
The results of Bombas’ native campaign were impressive. According to Taboola, the retailer saw a 50% increase in return on ad spend. Almost 40% of its holiday conversions from the slippers category derived from these campaigns.
In a bid to increase revenue, the brand worked with native advertising platform Outbrain to produce two campaigns. The first campaign targeted a new audience with zero knowledge of the brand, while the second retargeted a group of people who had already engaged the brand but didn’t purchase.
Outbrain reports that the native advertising campaign achieved its goal and got a better ROAS than traditional social campaigns. The native ads converted 15% more users than traditional social platforms with three times lower cost-per-clicks.
Best practices for native advertising in ecommerce
Optimize native ads for mobile devices
Be sure to cater to mobile users with native mobile ads that are responsive across all devices. This means:
- Large fonts that are visible on smaller screens
- Headlines that don’t get truncated on mobile devices
- Images where the subject is clearly visible when the photo is minimized
If you’re running native mobile ads, lean on the advanced targeting features many platforms offer. Meta allows merchants to target users accessing the platform on specific devices across both Facebook and Instagram. This gives you a greater ability to run campaigns with different imagery, copy, and ad formats suited to the screen size each ad set will load on. Segmenting ad sets this way also ensures consistency with cross-device ad targeting.
Reflect the channel in your ad
“Traditional display ads or commercials tend to interrupt the user’s experience, but our native ads are designed to blend in with the platform they’re on, making them more engaging,” says Wendy Wang, owner of F&J Outdoors. “The key is to create ads that resonate with the platform they’re on and with your target audience. An effective native ad doesn’t feel like an ad—it blends in with the natural content flow and provides value.”
Take these native advertisements beneath a HuffPost article. Both images and headlines are in HuffPost style, as demonstrated by the organic content just beneath. The only way to differentiate these snippets is the “Sponsored” label.
Create personalized landing pages for native ads
The audience for your native advertising campaign may have a need related to what you offer, but they have yet to identify you as a candidate to solve their pain points.
Create personalized landing pages that emphasize your value, personalize your qualification process, and incentivize the consumer to hand over their email address. You’ll likely need an incentive to drive the user into taking action, such as:
- Discounts or promotions
- Free product demos
- Exclusive product bundles
- Price quotes
Personalization platforms like Nosto also integrate with your Shopify store and tailor the shopping experience using customer data you’ve already collected. If an existing customer lands on your ecommerce store through a native ad, for example, Nosto can alter the landing page content to display products relevant to their previous purchase.
Retarget existing audiences
Retargeting campaigns display advertisements to people who’ve already interacted with your brand. Platforms like Meta, Twitter, and Google support retargeting campaigns that reach people who’ve already visited your ecommerce site, accessed specific product pages, and added a product to their shopping cart.
Use this customer data to your advantage when running retargeted display ads. You can show the same items they’ve already expressed an interest in. Oftentimes, a small nudge is all these shoppers need to convert—which is why retargeted shoppers are more likely to click an online advertisement than those with no previous brand engagement.
“I run native ads entirely on Google because my customers tend to convert best based on search intent,” says Lou Haverty, owner of Tank Retailer. “With Google Ads, I can use keywords to re-target customers with native shopping ads when they are searching for high buying intent keywords.
“As an example, my retargeting native ads had two conversions in the last seven days, at a cost of $70.53 per conversion. That may sound high, but my products cost $1,000 to $3,000 on average, so that is a pretty cheap [customer acquisition cost].”
Pawz runs retargeted native ads on Facebook.
How do you spot native advertising?
Native advertising can be tricky to spot, especially since the goal is to blend within a page’s existing content. “The key to creating native ads that convert lies in relevance and seamless integration,” John Webber, founder of Carved, says. “It is crucial to align the ad content with the look, feel, and tone of the platform it appears on.”
The biggest telltale sign of native advertising is a disclaimer, such as “Sponsored By” or “Ads,” beside the native ad.
Take Google search results, for example. Native ads are designed to look like organic listings, but you can differentiate paid advertisements from organic results by looking at the “Sponsored” tab above the paid listing:
Sponsored listings on Google search results for “Shopify agency”.
Drive targeted online traffic with native advertising
Search, social, and display ads remain vital digital marketing tools in the ecommerce toolbox, but to keep your pipeline fresh and flowing, native advertising belongs in the mix.
Use these native advertising guidelines to create a valuable stream of customers who are ready to discover what you have to offer and become tomorrow’s loyal customers.
“Native ads are about building relationships, not just driving clicks. Be authentic, offer value, and spark engagement,” Kiran of Goldspot Pens, says. “It’s like being a friend rather than a salesperson.”
Native advertising FAQ
How does native advertising differ from traditional advertising?
Native advertising differs from other types of advertising because the goal is for paid placements to blend seamlessly with existing content. Native ads don’t distract from the viewing experience.
How much does native advertising cost?
One report found that cost per mille (CPM) for native advertising ranges between $4 and $20, depending on the format used.
How can I effectively integrate native advertising into my marketing strategy?
The easiest way to start native advertising is on a social media platform like Facebook. The platform’s targeting features allow you to produce native ads in a user’s feed and give merchants greater control over their ad targeting, appearance, and budget.
What factors should I consider when choosing a native advertising platform for my business?
- Audience size
- Customer persona overlap
- Ad formats available
- Bidding options
How can I measure the success of my native advertising campaigns?
- CPM: The cost per 1,000 impressions
- CTR: The percentage of people who view your native ad and click through
- Conversion rate: The percentage of people who purchase after seeing a native ad