Sponsored Content – The Complete Guide

by | Nov 12, 2018 | Content Strategy, Learn Content Marketing


In this guide, we look at what sponsored content is and how to use it in your marketing strategy.

Contents (jump-to menu)
What is sponsored content
Why should businesses invest in sponsored content?
Should I accept sponsored content on my blog or Instagram?
Press releases are dead. Sponsored articles are on the rise
Do I need to disclose my sponsored content
Sponsored Content Do’s and Don’t

Sponsored content, otherwise known as paid content or native advertising, has been around for decades. The first known use of the word in 1917 according to Merriam Webster.

Since then, businesses have paid to be included in magazines, newspapers and more recently blogs, social posts, EDMs, and the likes.

Product placements, reviews, write-ups, and articles. These are all either paid for directly or indirectly through some sort of value exchange.

Paying for content placement or product inclusion is commonplace in today’s marketing world and should be part of your content strategy.

This guide will answer all your sponsored content questions and help you understand how you can use content placement to effectively and honestly.

What is sponsored content

Any form of content that has been paid by a company or individual to be promoted by another company or individual.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Native Advertising Playbook defines native advertising as “paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behaviour that the viewer simply feels that they belong.”

Instagram defines branded content as “We define branded content as a creator or publisher’s content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value”.

Technology has created new ways to create and distribute content, and with it new sponsored content methods.

The most talked about in recent years is sponsored content through ‘influencers’ on Instagram.

Brands pay influencers, in cash or contra, to post about their products. Instagram users with large followings can charge thousands of dollars per endorsement.

From Nike to boutique hotels; everyone is on the ‘Instagram influencer sponsored content bandwagon’.

Paid product placement with influencers is usually part of a wider content strategy that also includes sponsored articles on relevant blogs and media sites.

If you wanted to be featured on a high-quality blog; you’d probably need to pay for the placement as well as assisting with the content creation. Either giving them a draft article, press release, image assets, and/or product.

Sponsored content is commonplace in most content marketing strategies. Many companies, all around the world, use paid native advertising to drive brand awareness and garner quality backlinks.

Why should businesses invest in sponsored content?

Increase your social proof

Social proof is a big driver when it comes to influencing a market. Like a friend recommending a product to you; a company or individual can also have the same effect with a recommendation.

Just having your company or product talked about on reputable media and blogs will create social proof and influence.

You’ve no doubt seen paid product placement on Instagram. That face-tuned, body bronzed, insta-model lying on a beach that just so happens to have a perfectly placed bottle of coconut water next to her/him.

Or that perfectly sculpted fitness model with a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. As if they’ve ever bought an entire box of doughnuts in their life.

Side note: Sometimes sponsored content can come across forced, and if it’s disingenuous, it loses its influence.

Display advertising is not as effective as it used to be

Banner ads are at an all-time low in effectiveness and in cost. According to statista, by the end of 2018 an estimated 30% of U.S. internet users will be using ad blocking software.

Display advertising currently has an average click-through rate of 0.05% (source). That means, on average, a consumer clicks 1 in every 2000 ads they are delivered. That’s a lot of annoying ads all vying for the users’ attention.

Banners, pop-ups, and other in-your-face ads are in the way of what the consumer is trying to do.

Brand advertising needs to stop interrupting what people are interested in and become what they are interested in.

We can do this by creating content that provides value to the consumer. Educate, inspire, or entertain the viewer… and include a small call-to-action at the end.

Should I accept sponsored content on my blog or Instagram?

Keeping a blog profitable isn’t easy. Banner advertising income is now 10th what it was just a few years ago. Currently sitting around $4USD CPM (per thousand impressions), it takes a huge amount of traffic just to pay the hosting fees.

The reduced income from display ads has forced publishers to look at other income streams. It’s no surprise that publishers are turning to sponsored content and paid guest articles to help fill the coffers.

So yes, you can absolutely accept sponsored content for your blog. Just make sure to disclose that it’s been paid for. See more on disclosure below.

You should only ever accept third-party content or endorse a product or service if you truly and honestly believe it has value to you and your audience.

Almost all publishers we’ve talked to say the same thing when it comes to press releases. They don’t want them.

Press releases are an outdated form for letting media know that your new product or service has been launched. Usually dramatically written to make it sound like exciting news.

But unless your company is releasing some grown-breaking new technology, it’s most likely not going to be interesting enough for an editor to spend time on.

Editors will almost certainly bin your press releases unless you’re already a paying customer.

Publishers want meaningful, value-adding content that would be relevant to their audience.

They also want to be paid for the value they are giving.

Do I need to disclose my sponsored content

Yes! It’s a legal requirement (in most countries) that publishers disclose their native advertising.

Make sure that the public is aware the content has been paid for and any claims or opinions about the product or service could be biased.

Governance and laws are different in different countries. As a result, they can get confusing very fast.

We believe it’s best to err on the side of caution and disclose your paid campaigns.

A simple tag like ‘promoted’ or ‘advertising’ or ‘sponsored content’ will do.
Here are some examples:

Sponsored content on Instagram.
Instagram sponsored content

Sponsored content on Facebook
Facebook sponsored content

Native advertising – sponsored article
Native advertising sponsored article

For more on social endorsement disclosure guidelines please review the Federal Trade Commission guidelines here

For more on native advertising disclosure guidelines please review the Federal Trade Commissions guidelines here

When it comes to paid content, it’s important to be clear about who you’re promoting and why.

Disclose your sponsored or branded content by stating it in your copy and/or in your hashtags.

Be a trusted content provider to your audience. Don’t accept a native campaign if you don’t honestly love, like, or believe that the content, service, or product is useful or adds value to your audience.

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