How the WSJ, FT, Guardian place paid-for content

There is a push among premium publications – the FT, Guardian, Wall Street Journal – to build out their content creation departments.

Between all three the offering is generally the same: producing quality journalism and a way into the publication’s home page. They are not interested so much in the content but how it is placed.

One of the challenges these publications face (in addition to falling revenues from ads) is that paid-for content needs to be easily accessible while at the same time clearly differentiated from regular editorial.

Get this wrong and the publication is devalued. And editorial integrity is what these content marketing efforts are hanging on.

So we decided to take a quick look at how the top titles are balancing on this particular tightrope… and award scores.

The FT

The FT, famous for its distinctive pink stock, has chosen to highlight paid-for content on its homepage by placing it within a white panel.


The FT uses a white background for its paid-for content

There is also a “paid for” label and a banner above the headline. Other than that, the overall look is largely similar to the rest of the site.

In terms of placement on the homepage, stories appear on their own and in the bottom third. This is entirely in keeping with the rest of the page makeup as the news tends to go further.

The actual article is quite different from the main publication. The feature is on a white background and there is a subdomain in the URL.

Differention score: 8.

The Guardian

The Guardian has paid-for content produced by Guardian labs on its homepage. It takes a different approach to the FT in that it bands together its articles across the width of the page. It looks similar to something Outbrain or Taboola would use. Guardian labs is branded in the same way at the top of the panel.

Additionally, each of the sponsors’ logos appear on the relevant articles.

guardian labs

The Guardian follows an Outbrain-type placement model

Like the FT, the article has a different-coloured background to a standard Guardian story. Grey again.

Unlike the FT, the article is given a standard Guardian URL and is not placed in a new tab. Interestingly, it also has standard editorial content linked in the sidebar.

This makes it more akin to a normal page in appearance, although it may also cause traffic to drift away before the article has been read.

Differentiation score: 5.

The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal has taken a similar approach to the FT on its homepage content placement. Its paid content is near the bottom and sits in a solitary box with a different background colour.


WSJ content placement

This new tab also has a slightly different URL structure in which is prefixed by ‘sponsoredcontent’.

But unlike the FT or Guardian, a new tab opens when you click on the article. The latter is clearly marked at the top as being produced by WSJ‘s content division. Otherwise the WSJ page seems broadly similar to normal editorial.

Differentiation score: 7


All of the sites appear to have taken a similar approach to branding paid-for content. They have used colourways and subtle banners to highlight the fact that this is different, although not quality-wise, to standard editorial.

At the same time, there are notable differences. The Guardian seems to have taken a more proactive approach in terms of promoting its Guardian labs division alongside the articles.

The Guardian‘s pages are better integrated with the main site. The use of a standard URL is important because the content should get the same linkage as regular Guardian content. And the fact that it doesn’t appear in a new tab is telling.

The Wall Street Journal and FT have taken more conservative approaches. Both use a different URL, while the FT‘s colourway is different.

However the FT does not open up a new tab when you click through the article – something the Wall Street Journal does.

All three titles have created subtle differences using colours and banners to make a point of the fact that this is paid-for editorial. But on the whole, the articles look like any other and have been approached from a design perspective at least to make them equally readable.

How the WSJ, FT, Guardian place paid-for content is part of Content24, the blog for London content marketing agency FirstWord.