The Right Way To Create Sponsored Content

Editor’s note: These guidelines do not apply to continuing education courses; only blog and digital edition content marketing pieces.

Traditional advertisements with an appealing design and clever language remain a popular way to do everything from selling products to recruiting staff.

But they are not the only tool available to organizations and companies with a specific goal in mind. Enter content marketing, also known as sponsored content.

These days large brands, like Huggies or Johnson & Johnson, also invite consumers, including nurses, to interact with them and their products by offering what they can always use — solid, reliable, helpful information in the form of sponsored content.

Sponsored content consists of content marketing pieces that tackle a popular or educational topic, such as opioids or patient care.

Sponsoring organizations can either have a staff member or freelance writer write the content and should, if possible, use in-house sources as subject matter experts. You also can pay agencies to create such content. We offer this service at

The organization can link — via phrases and statements in the content — to their own relevant online sources. This helps readers grasp how knowledgeable they are on the topic. The organization also can include a downloadable infographic, slide share or video with the content as another resource for the reader.

Why should advertisers consider using sponsored content instead of, or as a supplement to, their typical ads? Because well-written, well-sourced sponsored content builds confidence by establishing the organization as a reliable source.

Just as The New York Times or The Washington Post built a loyal following based on timely, compelling articles, organizations can do the same based on their ability to provide nurses with information that helps them do their jobs better.

Explain and provide solutions to a pain point in sponsored content, and readers will remember and trust you.

What goes into well-written sponsored content?

The first thing to consider when embarking on the sponsored content journey is to pick a topic that is not only important to you, but you know also is important to your intended audience.

For instance, if your audience is registered nurses, you would not write about a procedure or policy that is usually spearheaded or managed by a physician. You would be missing your target audience.

Next, choose your writer. Using an internal expert in the byline gives more credibility to your organization and its staff.

If your staff members can’t write the article, you can always use a ghost writer who will write it based on your topic, research and recommendations. Ghost writing is a common practice used by subject matter experts who do not have the time or inclination to write articles.

The article also can be bylined by a freelance writer with years of experience in the field of healthcare writing and who may even have healthcare-related credentials (RN, MSN, MD, for instance).

Next, keep the content informative but conversational and still able to appeal to a wide audience. You don’t want it to sound like a research paper and be as long as a thesis.

Yes, nurses are well-educated, academically sound professionals, but there are countless opinions on the length of sponsored content. The ideal range is from 250 words to 2,000 words, experts agree.

A good mid-range for word count is no more than 1,000 words, especially if there are minimal to no interviews and your topic is narrow.

Sponsored content for and OnCourse Learning, for instance, are kept to between 600 and 1,000 words whether the content appears on our blog or in one of our digital editions.

To build trust and credibility you must source all facts

Use only properly sourced facts and statistics. This is an important one!

If you are trying to hammer home the importance of climate legislation and claim that 1 million plastic bottles are thrown in the Mississippi River every month, you should include a link to a reliable source that shows that claim to be true.

Also, instead of listing references at the end of the piece as you would see in a research paper or journal article, place your references within the blog by hyperlinking to the fact or stat you’re using.

You can find good examples of this important practice in the sponsored content piece, “Nurse faculty play an invaluable role in healthcare,” which uses the following data:

It has been predicted that the U.S. will experience one of the largest nursing shortages ever, with estimates that could reach 500,000 by 2025. If faculty roles continue to go unfilled, institutions will find it difficult to accept enough students to meet the growing demand for nurses. As a result, the nursing shortage could get worse.

You also can name the source up front and hyperlink to the source, as in the sponsored content piece, “5 focus areas when diapering a NICU baby,” which specifically names the source:

Studies, such as those in the Journal of Perinatology and Early Human Development, show that standard caretaking procedures, such as diapering, can lead to an increase in pain and stress responses in premature infants.

Either way, you’ll be avoiding cumbersome lists of references as your blog finale and providing the reader with the source in near proximity to the fact. Translation: They will not have to scroll down and search for it in a separate list.

Link to your own website as a reliable source when possible. This will show your expertise and your pursuit of the topic.

“Moving forward with your education? Consider a traditional classroom setting” is a great example of a client demonstrating their expertise. But do not link to unrelated content, such as an ad for an unrelated product.

“A sponsored blog is not the place to sell your products,” said Heather Cygan, senior director of content and creative strategy, advertising solutions, “It’s the place to establish yourself as a subject matter expert, which can make your products or services more trustworthy and authoritative. And nurses who are reading your content to better understand a healthcare matter may be turned off by clicking on a link that leads to an ad.”

Quid pro quo: internal and external links

Internal links are links to your own content, whereas external links are links to outside, third-party sources. Both are very important.

Internal links increase awareness of your company’s expertise, while external links (such as those used in the blog, “Woodhull Study to reveal how often media pays attention to nurses”) to trustworthy material presents you as an authority on a topic.

Also, linking and/or referring to sources helps you avoid that pesky plagiarism problem.

Plus, when you link to another website, they will know and may return the favor, leading to more pageviews for you.

But don’t go overboard! Too many links are frowned upon, as is too few. Some say one link for every 125 words is a good average, but one link per 200 words is acceptable, as well.

“The goal with internal and external links is to establish your blog and your organization as useful resources,” Cygan said. “But first and foremost you want to make the blog easily digestible, clear and interesting, and this can be diminished if there are too many links cluttering up the page.”

Say what?

Include quotes, if possible. In sponsored content on a healthcare topic, there is bound to be plenty of factoids, practice suggestions and, of course, statistics.

An interesting quote from an expert source breaks up the information while illustrating and giving weight to claims in the content. This remains true in both our blogs and our digital editions. Here’s an example:

“We are currently doing research to find out why MRSA rates are higher in urban hospitals,” said Jane Smith, PhD, RN, FAAN, lead researcher at Big Name Hospital. “It’s a disturbing trend, and our aim is to keep our nurses safe.”

Quotes can come from in-house experts or from experts in other articles, but just like facts and statistics, they should be properly sourced in all cases.

If you include a quote from a third party, make sure you clearly state the source’s name and where you found the quote. For instance:

“According to our research, conducted over five years, the amount of plastic bottles dumped in the Mississippi River will negatively affect the ecosystem within 10 years,” Jane Smith, PhD said in her research paper, published December 2017 in the journal Nature’s Enemies.

Linking to the paper over the words is ideal too so readers can do of their own research if they desire.

content marketing

Keep your tone positive and helpful

Let’s face it. Online badmouthing has become rampant today. But it has no place in a professional sponsored piece of content.

Sponsored content should not contain direct or indirect negative statements about a sponsor’s competitors or unbalanced statements that tout one product, program or organization over that of a competitor.

By following these guidelines, the focus of the content is kept on the topic and on an organization’s expertise and remains professional. Nothing can be gained by bashing competitors in sponsored content.

Also, beware of loaded language! A loaded word is a word that carries additional emotional weight or significance — whether positive or negative — beyond its literal meaning, according to

According to Quora, “Loaded words serve as a psychological sleight of hand to block our minds from clear thinking by clouding them with emotions that are often unjustified by the subject.”

Although positive words such as remarkable, superior or safe are not as blatantly loaded as dishonest, scandal or corrupt, both positive and negative language can invoke emotion from the reader, which may make your blog one-sided instead of impartial.

Follow the guidelines of the website publishing the content

Finally, to save time and effort on the back end (and avoid numerous rewrites), ensure you understand the guidelines of the site publishing the piece. This will help your content fit in with the site’s style, which is what the website’s readers prefer.

Questions to ask yourself before submitting content:

  • Does it meet the site’s word count guidelines?
  • Are your facts properly sourced?
  • Did you submit the content and any supporting photos, infographics, etc., on time in the right size and resolution?
  • Did you adhere to all of the website’s content guidelines?

Answering those questions before you submit content can save you from having to submit rewrites, resize photos or reorganize an infographic.

The website likely will have guidelines on word count, sourcing and how to phrase or use subheads to break up the copy, which makes it easier to read.

For instance, it is recommended that both headlines and subheads include active verbs. Active verbs inspire action or indicate that action has been taken. They make headlines and subheads (subheads should be inserted every 300 words for optimal SEO) more appealing and eye catching, as well.

Concentrating on adding active verbs also keeps your blog from falling into the “passive voice” hole, which not only detracts from your otherwise engaging content, but also can jeopardize your SEO.

According to Yoast, “If you want to write an article that is nice and easy to read, you should try to avoid passive voice. In sentences with passive voice, it remains unclear who or what is acting. This results in very distant writing.”

In the end, your goal is to build engaging content that is well put together and seen by your audiences. Following these steps can make that happen.

For our and OnCourse Learning best practices and guidelines for sponsored content, click here.