Twitter Ads Have Come a Long Way, Baby

  |  August 5, 2013   |  Comments

Twitter's advancements in the ad platform combined with a still growing number of active users means that there's opportunity for any size advertiser for direct response or social media growth.

black-twitter-birdMy first brush with Twitter Ads came in 2010 in the days before the self-service platform existed. The interface at the time was clunky, the mechanics rusty. But even then I could see there was tremendous potential for targeting potential customers on Twitter. Fast-forward to 2013. Twitter Ads has come a long way in three years!

The self-service platform is clean, easy to use, and fast (amazing how important that aspect is). More importantly, the targeting features have been expanded and now provide a robust set of options for advertisers. Twitter Ads is unique in the social media ad space, as there are multiple actions, or engagements, to target and track. There are clicks (on links and hashtags), retweets, replies, and follows.

When you set a bid, you are bidding on all of these engagements - thus, the cost-per-engagement (CPE) metric. Important note: the effective CPE (eCPE) metric reported on your Twitter Ads campaigns is not your actual cost-per-engagement. Twitter looks at clicks, replies, and follows that occur after someone retweets the Promoted Tweet. While you didn't pay for those engagements directly, they still occurred as a result of your ad. Just be aware and understand what that stat means!

There are two campaign types: Promoted Accounts and Promoted Tweets. As the names suggest, you advertise your account or your tweets. Easy enough, right!?


Within these campaign types there are four primary targeting methods. And on top of each of these methods, you can layer device, location, and gender targeting.

  1. Promoted Accounts. This is the targeting method for those advertisers looking to gain Twitter followers.
    • Choose who you want to follow your Twitter @handle. These can be users similar to your existing followers or based on other Twitter users (upload a list of @handles).
    • You can also opt to simply use interest categories. Proceed with caution - interest categories can get you a large number of impressions, but they're not always as targeted as perhaps they should be.
  2. Promoted Tweets - keywords in timeline. With this targeting method, you can target Twitter users based on the content of their tweets. The keywords you target will be semantically matched with tweet content.
    • Of the two keyword targeting methods, keywords in timeline will ultimately get you more impressions and engagements.
    • Keywords can be the following match types:
      • Any order (broad), phrase, exact, negative (broad), negative phrase, negative exact.
  3. Promoted Tweets - keywords in search. This targeting method emulates typical paid search activity through Twitter's search function. You bid on keywords and your Promoted Tweets appear when those keywords are searched.
    • Because of how Twitter is used, the search function doesn't generate as many impressions as you might expect. Twitter users are interacting with other users in discussions, not necessarily searching.
    • Keywords can be the following match types:
      • Any order (broad), phrase, exact, negative (broad), negative phrase, negative exact.
  4. Promoted Tweets - interests in timeline. Interests in timeline campaigns eschew keywords in favor of interests and followers to target Twitter users.
    • This targeting method is effectively a three-for-one deal. You can choose to target based on followers, interests, or a combination of both.
    • Followers: target your @handle's followers. Target users similar to your followers. Target users similar to a list of @handles.
    • Interests: Twitter has a comprehensive list of interest categories to choose from that bucket users based on the content of their tweets and profile information.

For all three of the Promoted Tweets targeting methods, it is important to note the following: when you set up your campaign targeting methods, there is a blue "follower meter" on the right-hand side that shows the estimated number of users your campaign might target. I've been told by Twitter reps to aim for at least 50,000 users to ensure a steady flow of impressions, engagements, etc.


Another important development for Twitter Ads is the reporting functionality. When the platform first launched, reports seemed to be an afterthought. Spend metrics were completely separate from performance data. Everything was top-line stats and as simple as you could get. Now the spend/performance metrics are all in-line in the reports. You can slice and dice data based on nearly every aspect of your campaigns:

  • By tweet
  • By device
  • By location
  • By gender
  • By keywords (keywords in timeline, keywords in search)
  • By @handle (Promoted Accounts, interests in timeline)
  • By interest (Promoted Accounts, interests in timeline)


The latest news from Twitter Ads is the inclusion of Cards. In particular is the Lead Generation Card where you can capture lead information directly in Twitter! For now this is only available to managed Twitter clients, but will soon roll out to self-serve advertisers, too.

Last but not least, who should use Twitter Ads? For a long while I held the belief that Twitter Ads were great for big spend advertisers or those looking to merely gain followers for their @handle. This simply isn't true anymore. Twitter's advancements in the ad platform, combined with a still growing number of active users, means that there is plenty of opportunity for any size advertiser for direct response or social media growth.

Twitter image courtesy of eldh on Flickr.

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John A. Lee

John A. Lee is an Internet marketing jack-of-all-trades with experience managing PPC, SEO, and social media campaigns. He is a Managing Partner for Clix Marketing, a marketing agency specializing in PPC, display, and social media advertising. Before joining Clix Marketing, John worked as Paid Search Manager for Wordstream and was a Senior Search Marketing Consultant for Hanapin Marketing in Bloomington, Indiana, where he was instrumental in the success of Hanapin's two search marketing blogs: and John's writing has also appeared on, Acquisio's Blog, Wordstream's Blog, and within Website Magazine.

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