Twitter Ad Potential: Huge (Source: History, Users’ Love of Searching)

Regarding that last post about Twitter and monetization, I haven't changed my mind on all of it, but for the projection/prediction part about Twitter potentially putting up very modest ad revenue numbers in the first two years. That part, I realize, is wrong!

Certainly, they're well behind Facebook in many areas (revenues included) and possibly will continue to be forever, but what they have going that Facebook doesn't have as much of yet? Search! (Fascinating piece today by Eli Goodman of comScore: What History Tells Us About Facebook's Potential as a Search Engine, Part 1).

Goodman's point so far seems to be that as search improves and as users come to expect it to be highly useful, usage increases, familiarity with the tools increases, etc. This is going to happen with Facebook, and it's going to happen with Twitter.

By contrast with Facebook, though, Twitter already gets 19 billion monthly searches -- about 19% of what Google does in a month. Astounding. That with a search platform that often doesn't work well, or sometimes return any results at all. Twitter searching is going to grow to incredible levels. And where inventory and granularity are that huge, even very cautious forms of monetization lead to sizeable revenues and positive feedback loops in CPM rates and user satisfaction.

So I'm coming to the realization that 2011 is going to be a strong year for Twitter's ad revenues, and 2012 could shock people.

A huge wrinkle here, though. Those supposed 19 billion monthly searches count API calls from third parties, and that would include standing queries from users, more like how people use feeds to display their favorite content. But hang on, isn't that a good thing? That's great contextual information and where there is such great contextual information, eventually there will be ad deals, and ad revenues. Sure, there will be ad-free ways to use third party tools, just as some advertising will actually appeal to users (or at least they will tolerate it).

Based on a more conservative definition of a "search," let's dial the 19 billion back, then, to around potentially one billion actual searches per month in 2011 for either Twitter or Facebook (so, more like 1-2% of Google's overall volume). That's still impressive. Based on Eli Goodman's logic, that could certainly lead to a snowball effect of bona fide search product development and bona fide user addiction. In essence, the search product and ad product teams at Twitter and Facebook alike won't be able to hire people and build products quickly enough.

Promoted tweets, then, should be viewed just a light pilot project to try something sort of "alternative" in the space for a reasonably guaranteed amount of cash. Down the road, Twitter can monetize something we're all very familiar with as the highest-CPM, win-winningest, digital advertising channel: search and keywords. I doubt Twitter's founders or any of the early adopters predicted this type of user behavior in the early going. Certainly, it's a credit to them and their far-sighted investors that they all bet big on the potential and the direction of user excitement, rather than trying to get too specific about how it would get used or how it would make money, too early on.

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