Sponsored Content: Why it Belongs In Your Marketing Strategy

Guest posting (or contributing articles) used to be part and parcel of any good content marketer’s toolbox. The idea is that a person (usually someone representing a business or a higher up in said business) writes a great article for a site, and isn’t paid for that article, but instead has a byline that links back to their business site. You land a guest post on a great site, it drives back traffic and referrals, voila–more business.

This tactic hasn’t entirely fallen by the wayside, and it still has its place. But several problems with guest posting have emerged, especially in recent years:

  • The click-through rates from bylines often are fairly low. Unless you have existing content on your business website that you can link to in the post (very sparingly–doing so excessively is bad etiquette), there’s a good chance you won’t drive much traffic to your site.
  • In the mobile version of many sites, the byline is hidden, so the only thing that remains is the author name and picture. With the number of mobile readers growing by leaps and bounds, that’s a problem when you’re trying to drive traffic via a byline.
  • A lot of people aren’t very good writers, plain and simple. For an article to get shared, read, and commented on (thus, driving that good publicity), it needs to be high quality. Being on a big name site isn’t enough.
  • The whole process, from writing (or finding, paying, and managing a ghostwriter), to researching submission guidelines, to pitching and placing the content, can be time-consuming and expensive.

Enter an alternative: sponsored content.

Wait, what?

I know what you’re thinking: sponsored content costs money, and nobody reads it anyways.

Sponsored content does cost money, it’s true. But we’ve already touched on the time, energy, and cost (if you work with a ghostwriter) that can go into creating and maintaining a successful guest posting strategy.

With guest posts, the hosting site might not necessarily go out of their way to showcase the content. On the other hand, if you’re paying for sponsored content, it’s in the site’s best interest to put it directly in front of viewers.

sponsored content

And while “sponsored content” used to be synonymous with “advertorials you couldn’t pay me to read,” it’s grown in leaps and bounds recently. Medium has experimented with it in a truly classy way, the Daily Worth has sponsored columnists, and the New York Times has participated–on both sides.

A good piece of sponsored content entertains and intrigues the reader or viewer, often while providing useful information. Sound familiar? It should: that’s exactly what the content you create for you own site should do, too.

Why not just buy ads?

You might be thinking that instead of sponsored content, you should just buy ads. The problem with banner and sidebar ads is that they just don’t work any more. Audiences have become so accustomed to ads across the top and side of websites that they don’t even notice them any more, and average click-through rates are estimated to be around .04% to .1%. You read that right: that’s a tenth of a percent on the high end. While there are some industries and ads that will generate a better return on investment, in general, banner/sidebar ads are not the way to go.

Okay, I’m sold–how do I do this the right way?

Ready to start experimenting with sponsored content? There’s two ingredients to doing it well:

Find a high quality outlet. Ideally, you’ll find an advertising partner whose editorial team can help make your sponsored content shine. Many of the aforementioned successful sponsored partner campaigns have worked that way. Medium hired an editor that had worked with Conde Nast to coordinate the Marriott-sponsored articles, and the New York Times sponsored content editor worked with the Orange Is the New Black/Netflix team to create the sponsored editorial on women in prisons. Medium and the New York Times might be out of your advertising budget, but aim to find a partner that is just as dedicated to hosting high quality content on their site, sponsored or no.

Create high quality content. This seems counterintuitive: it’s all too tempting to think, “Well, I’m paying for this, I’m going to advertise my brand, gosh darnit!” But in all instances of well-received sponsored content, the sponsoring brand has taken second place to the content itself. The core push was to educate or entertain viewers, or sometimes, spur them to action–even if that action wasn’t necessarily “go here and buy this product.” One could argue that the message behind the Marriott-sponsored Medium articles was largely “get out and travel more!,” with “…and book a Marriott hotel when you do” coming second to that main message.

Think about the questions people have when it comes to your industry. The issues they don’t know about, but might want to learn more on. The tips and tricks that industry insiders know, that your average joe doesn’t. In short: think about the things that you consider when creating any kind of content, and then use your sponsorship to get it out there and in front of people.