Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Twitter Tries to Make Its Ad Pitch More Googley, With Keyword Targeting

Twitter has already been showing users ads based on what they read. Now it’s trying to target them based on what they type.

Twitter is giving advertisers the ability to show users ads based on the content of their tweets, using what the service is calling “keyword targeting in timelines.”

It’s a basic idea — if you’re tweeting about “Game of Thrones,” you might see an ad from HBO (or whomever) shortly afterward.

Advertisers will also have the ability to target you based on tweets that you “engage” with — stuff you reply to, retweet or favorite. That’s important, since most Twitter users are reading a lot more than they’re writing.

And Twitter ad executive Kevin Weil says that the company will be able to use “negative sentiment filtering.” So people who writing about how much they hate Virgin America’s website won’t see an ad from Virgin America.

But the big picture here is that Twitter is trying to sell advertisers on the idea that they can now use “signals of intent” when they target users.

“Intent” is the magic word that makes Google a gazillion-dollar company: Advertisers know precisely what a search user is looking for because a search user types that information into a box.

And the lack of “intent” signals is what makes lots of other Web advertising worth so much less to marketers. Some of them try to guess what you’re interested in, based on websites you’ve visited — that’s the “retargeting” technique you hear a lot about — but in general, there’s a whole lot of fumbling around.

If Twitter can prove that it really is serving up intent signals to advertisers, and that its ads perform accordingly, that’s a really big deal. If it works, you’ll hear a lot about it in the coming months — and eventually, in Twitter’s IPO.

Update: Some smart readers note, (on Twitter, of course — remember when people left comments on websites?) that even in the best-case scenario, there are limits to the Twitter/targeting Google/AdWords parallel.

For starters, Digiday’s Brian Morrissey points out, typing into the Google search box and typing something on Twitter aren’t the same thing at all.

Sulia’s Jonathan Glick is even more explicit: Some of you may use Twitter to announce your interest in buying something — but most of you won’t.

I’ll let Twitter make its own sales pitch here in response. But again: If keyword targeting works — meaning, if it improves advertiser results, even if they don’t come close to Google search results — it’s meaningful for Twitter’s future.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/mack2happy)

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