Twitter to target ads based on tweeted keywords

The targeting feature for advertisers makes the content of tweets a 'first-class citizen,' Twitter says

Users on Twitter are now more likely to see ads based on what they tweet about.

The new feature, which Twitter is calling "keyword targeting in timelines," is designed to give advertisers the option to place Promoted Tweets in users' timelines by targeting certain keywords or phrases of the advertiser's choosing.

Previously, Twitter primarily used a variety of signals to determine whether to place advertiser-purchased tweets in users' timelines, such as who users follow, how they interact with a tweet and what they retweet.

But the new feature, announced Wednesday, allows companies to target their advertising campaigns to specific users based on keywords, in addition to other attributes like geographic location, device and gender. The tool is available in all languages and markets where Twitter ads are supported.

"This is an important new capability -- especially for those advertisers looking for signals of intent -- because it lets marketers reach users at the right moment, in the right context," said Nipoon Malhotra, Twitter's product manager, revenue, in a blog post.

Today, the content of tweets "becomes a first-class citizen," Malhotra added.

Twitter provides the following example: If a person tweets about a favorite music album and that band is due to play a concert at a local venue, "that venue could now run a geotargeted campaign using keywords for that band with a tweet containing a link to buy the tickets." The person who posted the original tweet may then see the Promoted Tweet in his timeline letting him know that tickets are for sale nearby.

Setting up a campaign to target keywords in users' timelines is very similar to setting up a campaign for search, Twitter also said.

Twitter's decision to use a music-related example to illustrate how the advertising feature could work in that industry is worth pointing out. Last week the company announced its acquisition of the San Francisco-based music discovery service We Are Hunted, and the Twitter-branded music site suggests the site is also working on its own stand-alone music app, though Twitter has not confirmed any new music product yet.

In a test of the new service with a small group of advertisers and agencies, users were more likely to engage with Promoted Tweets using keyword targeting in timeline than other forms of targeting in the timeline, according to Twitter.

With keyword targeting, users will not see ads any more frequently than they already do in their timelines, Twitter said. Still, the site is always free to change the way any of its features work whenever it wants, said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst with the Altimeter Group.

But how successful the keyword targeting feature will actually be for advertisers is at this point hard to say, Lieb said.

A lot of it depends on the specific advertising campaign and how broadly the company wants to target certain keywords. Starbucks, for instance, may have varying degrees of success reaching users depending on whether it targets words like "vanilla latte," or just "thirsty."

Also, on Twitter, people may not have as strong of a purchasing intent as they might have while using dedicated search engines like Google, so comparing Twitter's keyword targeted advertising to search targeted advertising is not an apples-to-apples comparison, Lieb said.

"Twitter is its own channel," she added.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Zach Miners

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