Content Marketing vs Native Advertising: What’s the Difference

Cait Carter
Published: Mar 02, 2022
Last Updated:
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“Content is king” — a phrase originally coined by Bill Gates back in 1996 — has had a prevailing impact on which companies succeed online. The concept behind this frequently-cited SEO catchphrase is that the best way to bring organic traffic to your website is to provide high-quality content that your target audience is actively seeking.

This strategy for nurturing leads has become especially critical as advertisers come to terms with the fact that consumers hate ads. Flashy banner ads and large images are obtrusive, distracting consumers from the content they’re actually seeking when they get online.

Enter native advertising, an advertising strategy that takes some of the best aspects of content marketing and applies them to creating unobtrusive advertising that still provides genuine value to consumers. Native advertising has 20-60% higher engagement rates than banner ads because native advertising creates high-quality content that makes customers want to engage.

Is advertising content marketing? No. But if native advertising sounds the same as content marketing to you, you’re not alone. Understanding content marketing vs native advertising involves a little bit of nuance. But when you master these two forms of content creation — and the differences between them — you can develop a powerful content creation strategy that generates new leads, nurtures existing leads, and bolsters your bottom line.

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing involves promoting your brand (marketing) by creating and/or sharing information (content) that does not directly advertise your products. That last aspect of content marketing is important. It means that if you run a website selling green tea, you need to think beyond writing articles like “Our green tea is amazing! Here’s Why!” Readers see through titles like that in an instant and tend to shy away from such overt self-promotion.

Instead, content marketing aims to answer questions your ideal audience members are posing, targeting keywords they’re already using when searching on the internet.

For example, that same green tea company might learn through keyword research that pregnant women have questions about whether they should be drinking green tea while pregnant. As a result, that company may choose to produce content such as:

  • Should you drink green tea while pregnant?
  • Green tea and breastfeeding: Here’s what you need to know.
  • Best teas for morning sickness

Although these topics still address the company’s main industry — tea drinkers — they bring the focus away from their product and put it on the consumers and problems they’re actually facing.

It can even be a good idea to curate content where your product isn’t mentioned at all. For example, say that the same green tea company had created a buyer persona, and they knew that their target audience was 19- to 30-year-old women who love everything to do with wellness. As a result of that knowledge, they might produce articles such as:

  • The ultimate self-care routine to kickstart your morning
  • 5 breathing practices to help you sleep
  • Does fertility yoga actually work?

This kind of content, which runs tertiary to the company’s main product, nurtures the company’s target audience by providing information they care about without asking them to invest in a product.

What Are Some Content Marketing Examples?

The blog post you’re currently reading provides a prime example of content marketing. Our content marketing team determined, based on keyword research, among other things, that this topic would provide valuable information to readers like you. And while we did use a list of keywords when developing this topic, the primary objective of this blog post was to provide valuable content to our readers and to nurture those leads.

But blog posts aren’t the only examples of content marketing. YouTube videos, TikToks, and social media posts can all be used as a means of content marketing. Any time you post content — rather than an advertisement or a product link — on your website or social media pages, you are engaging in content marketing. In this way, content marketing is not tied to a specific medium. It is about how you use that medium to nurture leads and prove your authority in your field of expertise.

What Is Native Advertising?

Although native advertising has many similarities to content marketing, it is not the same thing. Unlike content marketing, native advertising is a form of content that a company pays money to have produced on another business’s website. Ideally, this integration is nearly-seamless, with perhaps no more than a few words (such as “sponsored by XYZ brand”) separating advertising content from other content on the site.

The main goal of native advertising is to generate new leads for your company by working with a company that already attracts your target audience. For example, the same hypothetical wellness-focused tea company we discussed in the last section might choose to do some native advertising on a site like BuzzFeed — which already attracts readers in their target age bracket — or on a wellness-based news site or blog, which wouldn’t be a direct competitor of the brand but would attract many of the same readers.

The results of native advertising are pretty extraordinary, with a study of over 900 consumers showing that customers find native ads 62% easier to understand than banner ads. Consumers also trust native ads more than other forms of advertising: 44% of customers are more likely to trust ads on news sites over ads on social sites, and customers are 27% more trusting of native ads than traditional social media ads.

What Is an Example of Native Advertising?

One example of native advertising is when an influencer on YouTube posts a video and includes a brand-name item directly in their content. For example, this video by This Homeschool House seamlessly transitions into showing the family using KiwiCo products as part of their homeschool day. If this video were paid for, in some capacity, by KiwiCo, it would count as a form of native advertising for the company.

Note that native advertising in video content is different from asking a YouTuber to directly talk about your product as an advertisement in their video, as you see in this video by Ryan George. The advertisement on the Ryan George video feels more like a traditional video advertisement, whereas — ideally — native advertisement feels more like regular content that just happens to be sponsored by a brand.

What Makes Content Marketing & Native Advertising Similar?

Business professionals often struggle with the difference in content marketing vs native advertising because the two practices are similar in a lot of ways.

Both content marketing and native advertising focus on providing a tangible value to customers, not just directly promoting products. And in both instances, keyword research could help marketers develop topics and improve their searchability.

Additionally, content marketing and native advertising are practices and do not rely on one specific form of media. Video content, social media content, and blog posts can all be conduits for both content marketing and native advertising.

Best Practices Relevant for Both Content Marketing & Native Advertising

Because there are so many similarities between content marketing and native advertising, there are certain best practices relevant to both forms of content creation.

The first best practice you should keep in mind, whether you’re doing content marketing or native advertising, is to put your customer’s needs first. The goal is to be directly relevant to your customers and create content that they are actively seeking or will find so compelling that they feel a desire to consume it.

The second best practice is to follow through on what you promise. If your content promises to showcase 10 great books, then it’s important to have 10 books on your list, and for each of those books to be genuinely great. For this reason, it’s best to avoid common clickbait statements, such as “this will change your life” or “you won’t believe this.” These promises are nearly impossible to keep, and the result is that, while you may receive clicks, consumers will be disappointed by what you deliver them for content, and will lose trust in your brand as a result.

A third best practice is to do keyword research ahead of time and integrate keywords into titles and descriptions naturally, without keyword stuffing. Using strong keywords helps search engines understand your content and provide that content to the right users.

What’s the Difference Between Native Advertising and Content Marketing?

Although there are many similarities between content marketing and native advertising, they are two distinct practices. Two major things separate them:

  • Whether or not the company has to pay to post the content
  • Whether the content is produced with the rest of a company’s content or not

Content marketing is produced by the same company benefiting from the content. They do not have to pay to post the content, because they host the content on their own website, or post the content on their social media pages.

Native advertising, on the other hand, is posted on someone else’s website. The company benefiting from the content pays another company to host the content on their website.

Why Do You Need To Understand the Difference Between Content Marketing and Native Advertising?

Knowing whether or not you pay to produce content may seem like an issue of semantics. But understanding the difference between content marketing and native advertising can help you make smart choices about the content you produce with each.

Content produced as part of a content marketing strategy is largely there to nurture your existing leads. Content marketing can bring in new leads, of course, but your personal advertising efforts often reach the same audiences. You may even produce email newsletters directing current leads to your content marketing efforts.

Native advertising, on the other hand, is largely used to find new leads. You’re capitalizing on another company’s brand recognition, reaching out to their audience in the hopes of finding new leads.

Because you’re reaching out to two slightly different audiences, you should have different strategies for content marketing vs native advertising.

Tips for Successful Content Marketing

When thinking about your content marketing plans, your goal should be to focus on the needs of your brand as a whole.

For example, when doing content marketing keyword research, your primary keywords should include terms you want your brand to rank high for. You don’t want any of your content pages to rank for the same primary keywords, as this can lead you to compete with yourself for top-ranking search engine spots. Instead, related topics need to be carefully crafted to target different keywords.

Additionally, because you can have whole content marketing campaigns, you have the freedom to create content that works together to communicate a message or reach a specific audience. Say, for example, that you decide that you want to start targeting first-time dads with your content. You could create a blog post talking about the realities of postpartum depression in dads, post a short TikTok showcasing dads in your company snuggling their first babies, and create a YouTube video that walks new dads through installing a car seat for the first time.

These pieces of content are diverse enough to rank, in Google, for vastly different search terms. But it’s also easy to see how you might be able to link the content pieces together, all while nurturing your leads and communicating the fact that your company understands the needs of dads as well as moms.

Content marketing can also be used to develop a strong sales funnel. For example, social media content can incentivize customers to sign up for a newsletter. That newsletter content, over time, may convince readers to move over to your website. And then the content on your website may eventually lead to a sale.

Tips for Lead-generating Native Advertising

In addition to bolstering new leads, native advertising is in a unique position to help you further your internal marketing efforts.

For example, if you use secondary keywords in native advertising content that match primary keywords in your content marketing, you can link from your advertising content to your content marketing page. In this way, you can help create valuable backlinks to your site that have the power to bolster your SEO ratings.

Native advertising also has the power to help not just your brand but also the brand you’re advertising through. When you get this right, you create content that the other website wants to promote, even after your advertising deal has run its course and they are no longer required to do so. Although you may not have this luxury with larger brands, when you partner with influencers or smaller blogs, creating quality content that drives engagement to their site may have them choosing to promote your content on their social media pages long after your contract with them officially ends. This gives your native advertising an evergreen quality, helping it continue to drive new leads to your site long after you’ve finished paying for it.

Additionally, since your goal is to reach a new audience with your native advertising, it’s in your best interest to create content that’s specific to the audience you’re reaching. Your native advertisement is your one chance to showcase the value your brand brings to that audience.

As an example, consider a brand that sells baby strollers. Typically, their advertising efforts do a good job reaching typical moms and dads. However, the brand receives an opportunity to do some native advertising with a fitness brand. Typical mom-and-dad blog posts, such as “how to deal with postpartum depression” — which may work really well on the company’s personal blog — will likely not work well with this new audience.

Instead, they need to find a way to spin their content and make it relatable to the new audience — all while not directly advertising their product and sticking to their industry. “How to get back in shape after having your baby” might be a good option here — it would speak to their host’s target audience, while potentially allowing them to speak briefly about the benefits of jogging strollers.

Use Your Understanding of Content Marketing vs Native Advertising To Improve Your Use of Both

When you understand different types of marketing, you can target your marketing strategies to improve your overall results. By knowing the difference between content marketing and native advertising, you can decide which content pieces belong to your brand, and which pieces you should pay money to host on another site.

The most important takeaway is that, whether you’re doing content marketing or native advertising, your number one goal should be to provide value to your potential customers. This sets your brand apart from the countless invasive advertisements people see on the internet every day. Instead of rolling their eyes when they see that content is produced by your brand, you want your customers to be engaged and excited about the information you have to share.

Using a mixture of content marketing and native advertising also allows you to glean the benefits of both. Native advertising can help you generate new leads and reach new, broader audiences, while content marketing allows you to nurture those leads once they reach your website and keep them engaged with your brand for as long as possible.


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