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Pinterest Will Test Promoted Pins -- but Won't Charge for Them (Yet)

Part of Social-Bookmarking Company's Inevitable March Toward an Ad Business

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Pinterest's inevitable march toward an ad business now seems more imminent.

The social-bookmarking company announced today in a blog post bylined by CEO Ben Silbermann that it plans to start testing promoted pins. The message was also emailed to Pinterest users. The company, however, didn't give a start date or divulge the names of the participating businesses.

The company did say it won't charge any of the initial testers, since the stated intent is to test the product. Their pins will show up in search results and category feeds that surface trending pins about topics like "health and fitness" and "home decor," but not in users' streams at this stage.

The post also took care to emphasize that ads will be "tasteful" and not disruptive to the site's user experience. In light of the high population of ex-Facebookers who work at Pinterest, the desire to make that point clear makes sense. However, Pinterest may be less vulnerable to the perception that it's become too commercial, since many of its users already visit the site with commercial intent, looking for wedding dresses or tablecloths they eventually intend to buy.

"I know some of you may be thinking, 'Oh great...here come the banner ads,'" Mr. Silbermann wrote. "But we're determined to not let that happen."

The announcement that Pinterest is developing ads may surprise some users but won't shock anyone who's kept an eye on the company's product and hiring moves. In May, it introduced "rich pins," which let brands automatically attach information like pricing and availability to content pinned from their sites and presumably make Pinterest an even more alluring marketing channel to retailers. And in June it hired John Yi to run partnerships with marketing developers; Mr. Yi had held a similar role at Facebook and worked closely with the companies that sell Facebook ads via its API.

Even without formal ad products, Pinterest has been popular with brands since it exploded in popularity in late 2011. Publishers, in particular, were among the first to rush to the service. Retailers are another avid category. J. Crew last month debuted its fall line on its Pinterest page before revealing the same line in printed catalogs. And Nordstrom is drawing attention to its most frequently pinned items in some stores by marking them with a "P" logo.

Pinterest currently doesn't generate any revenue, though it once tested affiliate links. It partnered with a company called Skimlinks, which identifies links to e-commerce sites with affiliate programs and then shares revenue passed on from completed purchases with the traffic referrers.

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