Twitter Will Soon Start Showing Targeted Ads Based On User Account Information, Browsing History

Another step ahead for Twitter in its bid to step up the pace with advertising on its platform: today the company announced that it would soon start “experimenting” with ways of making ads more “useful” by matching ads more closely to users on Twitter using retargeting technology. Retargeting will rely on a browser cookie ID that gets matched to Twitter accounts and/or on contacts from, say, a businesses’ mailing list getting matched up with Twitter account names. “Users won’t see more ads on Twitter, but they may see better ones,” writes Kevin Weil, senior director of product and revenue for Twitter.

This will start first in the U.S. with no news on international rollout, and it comes ahead of what many believe may be an IPO within the next year, although Twitter itself has not confirmed that roadmap. Twitter is also not revealing the names of any brands yet that will be trying out the new retargeting format.

The new ad format sounds like it will work like this. Using the example of a florist with a Valentine’s day special, the florist may have a list of people who subscribe to its newsletter or visit its website. The shop may choose to target their Promoted Tweet ads to those users. With the mailing list it would match up names, and “to get the special offer to those people who are also on Twitter, the shop may share with us a scrambled, unreadable email address (a hash) or browser-related information (a browser cookie ID). We can then match that information to accounts in order to show them a Promoted Tweet with the Valentine’s Day deal.” Twitter says it wouldn’t give advertisers any additional user information, nor would ads be served to third party sites.

This is reminiscent of Facebook’s retargeting services and points to how the walled gardens of social networks are continually trying to tap into wider web activity.

Twitter says that users will be given a simple option to opt-out of these ads — all of them in a single go — by unchecking the box next to “promoted content” in their account settings. “Twitter will not match your account to information shared by our ad partners for tailoring ads. This is the only place you’ll need to disable this feature on Twitter,” Weil writes.

He adds Twitter’s support of Do Not Track (DNT) will mean that the site also “will not receive browser-related information from our ad partners for tailoring ads if users have DNT enabled in their browser.” The EFF has now endorsed Twitter’s new retargeting ad format as well.

Adding this feature to Promoted Tweets could give Twitter a few ways of boosting its ads business. For one, it will provide another bridge for the company to match what is happening in the offline, or outside of Twitter worlds, with what is happening in Twitter itself — a strategy the company has also been building out with other ad products like the Amplify service that links up with TV programs. That helps the company widen its appeal and usefulness to advertisers. And it gives Twitter another way of providing data and engaged “eyeballs” to businesses that want to be where their users are.

If Twitter’s thinking is right on this, it could also mean actually more relevant ads as well. If I’m a customer of that flower shop already, then I might actually be happy to see details of a discount offer.

The converse, of course, is that while Twitter is restricted in terms of how it matches users’ accounts with the details provided by the would-be brand, Twitter can’t vouch for how the advertiser picked your name up in the first place. I may have ended up on a flower shop’s mailing list having never actually bought flowers there before. Or I may have thought of buying flowers but decided against it at the last minute. In that case, the last thing I would want to see is that same flower offer coming through to me. Again and again.

In the last several months, Twitter has made several moves to build out its advertising business. In addition to the Amplify TV ads launch, it has released an ads API and an interactive ads dashboard to give marketers more control.