Every month 307 million people around the world log in to their Twitter accounts to check up on what's going on in the world. But even more people -- more than 500 million, according to Twitter -- visit Twitter without logging in and without Twitter able to make any money from those visits. That's a problem -- or at least money left on the table -- and Twitter's ready to start testing a solution.
Twitter has started showing ads to some people who visit its desktop site without logging in. For example, now when someone who's not logged in to Twitter clicks on a tweet appearing in Google's search results, Twitter will be able to show an ad to that person and make some money. Twitter will not be sharing any of the revenue from that Google-driven traffic with Google, a Twitter spokesman confirmed.
This is only a test and will be limited to logged-out visitors in the U.S., U.K., Japan and Australia for now, though Twitter expects to eventually extend the ads to other countries as well as its mobile properties.
Twitter will be grouping these logged-out visitors into the larger audience pool that it sells to advertisers. That means that once Twitter widely rolls out these ads, it will be able to sell brands on reaching 820 million people as opposed to its previous ceiling of 320 million, when including the 13 million people who use Twitter via text messaging to follow specific Twitter users without registering their own Twitter accounts.
"Marketers obviously care about reach, and there are only a handful of companies and properties in the world where you can reach over 800 million people. And Twitter's one of them," said Twitter COO Adam Bain in an interview.
Twitter is starting this test on the desktop web because that's where the majority of this logged-out audience is visiting Twitter, according to Mr. Bain. He identified three main ways that those people end up on Twitter. One, they clicked on a link in Google's search results to a tweet or Twitter user profile. Two, they clicked on a link in an email. Three, they clicked on a tweet embedded on a third-party site or app.
Since those logged-out visitors are coming to Twitter through a side door -- as opposed to navigating directly to Twitter's home page -- Twitter will only show ads to that audience when they're viewing a Twitter user's profile page or a tweet-specific page, which Twitter calls a "tweet detail page." On the profile page, the ads will appear within the first handful of tweets that appear, whereas on a tweet detail page, they will show up below the main tweet but before any replies to that tweet.
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While Twitter won't be running these ads on the version of its home page that it shows logged-out visitors, the company plans to eventually add that placement to the mix, Mr. Bain said. "Any area that a consumer is logged-out is an area we think is a valuable opportunity," he said.
And since these visitors aren't logged into Twitter accounts -- meaning Twitter can't compile profiles of their interests based on what they tweet or who they follow -- Twitter will only target the ads to logged-out visitors based on the context of the tweet or profile page those visitors came to view. "A marketer who's targeting keywords or interests, for example, on Twitter will be able to have that campaign extend across into logged-out Twitter," Mr. Bain said.
This isn't the first time Twitter has tried to make money from people who aren't signed in. Earlier this year the company started showing ads to logged-out users across its network of third-party apps and sites. That off-Twitter ad revenue hit $66 million in the third quarter of 2015, according to the company's most recent earnings report.
The off-Twitter ad program has also informed which ad formats Twitter has picked to show the logged-out audience visiting its site. Mr. Bain said that promoted video ads "really performed for these logged-out users" and that "a lot of content viewing [on Twitter] is actually on desktop web for video," so Twitter's video ad format made the cut. Twitter's direct-response ad formats that brands buy to direct people to their own sites also "really work on the desktop web," he said, so that format also made the cut.