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Boston.com Joins Native Advertising Push With Sponsored Posts

Says More Than Half of Small Businesses Are Already Blogging

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Boston.com has begun offering advertisers the chance to write their own blog posts, joining a growing list of web publishers pinning at least some of their hopes on a tactic variously known as native advertising, custom content or branded content.

Boston.com has begun selling sponsored posts
Boston.com has begun selling sponsored posts

The idea is that the same readers who regularly and easily ignore banner ads may actually appreciate sponsored content that resembles a website's editorial approach. Advertisers, in turn, might pay higher rates. Practitioners include Forbes, The Atlantic, BuzzFeed and Gawker.

Boston.com, however, is sequestering its sponsored posts more than other sites and labeling them perhaps more explicitly as advertising. A trio of paid posts on the site's Lifestyle section, for example, appear in a box that 's located outside the main column of news headlines and labeled "Special Advertiser Feature." The articles that SAP and Microsoft Dynamics pay to run on Forbes, by comparison, appear in the main river of news under the labels "SAPVoice" and "MicrosoftDynamicsVoice."

The program, which Boston.com calls Insights, came about partly because so many advertisers are creating content for their own sites, according to Thomas F.X. Cole, executive director-business development at Boston.com and The Boston Globe, units of The New York Times Co.

"It's a new unit to address a new need," Mr. Cole said. "Our advertisers and particularly our smaller advertisers have been creating their own content. They need to get it exposed. As much as 50% of small businesses are blogging. The one thing they want is to have people see their material."

But it may also play to the site's strengths and readers' goals when they visit, Mr. Cole added. "People are coming to our site to read -- that 's what we do -- so it fits with the activity they're already there for," he said. "And we've aligned the content as much as we can with the appropriate vertical, so there's real-estate content in the real-estate section, for example."

There are no plans to bring sponsored posts to The Boston Globe's site, according to Mr. Cole. Unlike Boston.com, which is free to read, The Globe charges readers and in return provides a cleaner design with fewer ads.

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