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This summer, Twitter ads will get harder to ignore

The service is set to start showing ads in users' "timelines" within the next month, following through on plans it has talked about for more than a year.

3 min read

As Twitter raises even more money, it's getting more serious about making money. The service is set to start showing ads in users' "timelines" within the next month, following through on plans it has talked about for more than a year.

Twitter is pushing a new ad product called "Promoted Tweets To Followers," set to launch by early August.

They will give marketers a chance to place their messages directly in front of users that follow particular brands, via ads that will show up when a user first logs on to Twitter.com.

Twitter has been selling "Promoted Tweet" ads, which look and act like regular Tweets, for more than a year. But it's entirely possible for most users to spend all day on Twitter.com and never see one, since they usually only show up when a user searches for a particular term.

That's created an inventory problem for CEO Dick Costolo and his sales team, since Twitter users don't use search in the same way that Google users do.

"Promoted Tweets To Followers" are supposed to help solve that problem in two ways. They allow brands to send messages directly to people who have already said they care about them--that is, Starbucks can target people who are already following Starbucks on Twitter. And they can ensure that Starbucks' followers actually see the ad, by inserting them at the top of their timelines.

Twitter is moving cautiously with the new ads. It's telling marketers that it will limit the number of Promoted Tweets users see, and tweaking that number as it gauges consumer reaction.

And it's not pinning the ads at the top of users' timelines, like it had briefly tried to do with its ill-fated Twitter "quickbar" on its iPhone app this year. The ads will move down the timeline like any other Tweet.

Twitter has already tested Promoted Tweets in timelines via the Hootsuite Twitter client, but this will be the first time it has run the ads on Twitter.com. At the start, the ads won't run on any other clients, like Tweetdeck or Twitter's mobile apps.

The company has been pushing the ads to marketers over the past few weeks. Twitter wouldn't comment on its plans directly but offered this statement via e-mail: "We are taking a deliberate and thoughtful approach with our advertising platform. As that platform evolves, we will continue to focus on delivering value for both marketers and users."

Plans for ads in timelines have been in the works since Twitter first unveiled Promoted Tweets back in April 2010. And Twitter has occasionally told advertisers that they'd be coming soon: Last February, for instance, it said ads in timelines would be here by the end of Q1.

I think it's striking that it's taken Twitter so long to make its ads more visible, even as its valuation keeps skyrocketing. And even this is a modest step--if you don't follow any advertisers on Twitter, you still won't see their ads.

Eventually, that will change. Twitter executives say that one day, they'll have a targeting system that allows marketers to find receptive audiences for their ads even if they don't search for certain terms or follow their brands. But that's not happening anytime soon.