The Online Publishers Association asked 29 of its member companies how they gauge success of native ads, and how they define the sometimes amorphous ad category. They found there really is no consensus but the largest portion -- 57% -- are using the metrics of content, namely engagement and time spent, as key barometers for native ads.
That's not too surprising considering native ads tend to be sponsored content such as articles or videos, thus publishers employ content metrics to measure them.
Traffic came in next, with 43% of participants naming it as most important. Social media sharing ranked third with 33%, brand lift attracted 24%, and engagement with content reflected in comments 19%. Ten percent chose more traditional digital ad metrics: cost per view and cost per click. Respondents could choose two "most important" metrics.
"There's a lot of confirming what one's gut would have thought," said Pam Horan, OPA president. "Many of the metrics are more in line with how publishers are measuring the impact of their content."
As for brand lift, Ms. Horan noted, "Marketers are looking at this as an opportunity to build more traditional brand metrics," adding most native programs are supported by traditional ads.
Around 80% of those surveyed said marketers use native ads to boost consumer engagement with their brands and "leverage publisher brand equity to achieve brand lift."
Three-quarters of publishers surveyed said they create new content for sponsors buying native units; 71% said they re-purpose existing content. Gawker did just that when it altered Gizmodo's "Shooting Challenge" photo contest for Intel, creating the Ultrabook Shooting Challenge.
"Content being featured in native advertising needs to be as valuable as any other content on that page," said Ms. Horan.
Publishers questioned for the "Brands Are Native Naturals" report together bring in $3 billion in online revenue annually, said Ms. Horan. The study was conducted in conjunction with Radar Research.
OPA also asked members how they define native advertising, exposing a wide array of conceptions of the hot ad category. The highest percentage -- 93% -- said native ads are integrated into site design and live within the same domain. Eighty-six percent called it "Content either provided by, produced in conjunction with or created on behalf of our advertisers that runs within the editorial stream."
Around 65% said native ads are merely "Contextually relevant, non-standard advertising units," leaving lots of wiggle room. And around 55% said native means "Highly automated advertising content such as sponsored stories, publisher tweets, etc."
With such varying set of definitions, it's no wonder OPA said as much as 90% of its member publishers will offer native ads by the end of the year. Currently, 73% of study participants do.
The study can be viewed in .pdf form here or below.