For the past several quarters, Twitter (TWTR) has told investors that its relatively slow user growth isn't a huge concern because its audience is much larger than its core user base. At its analyst day in November, the company gave us a few more details about its opportunity with "logged-out visitors," which totaled more than 500 million unique page views per month as of November.
With the amount of free advertising Twitter receives from other websites and TV, it's no surprise that twitter.com sees a lot of traffic. In fact, the company says more than 125 million people visit twitter.com, but never log in every month.
Previously, that page resulted in a dead end unless you signed up for an account. But Twitter has come to terms with the fact that some people simply aren't going to sign up, and others just need a bit more convincing. So, Twitter updated its homepage with some notable changes.
"See what's happening right now"
At the top of its page, Twitter simplified its message to potential new users. Instead of three or four awkward sentences, Twitter simplified it: "See what's happening right now. Find community, conversation and inspiration about the things you love."
At the company's analyst day, management emphasized that Twitter wants to "connect everyone to their world." It's done a poor job of communicating its utility in the past, but the new welcome message tells people Twitter isn't about connecting with friends. It's about learning more about things that interest you.
And that's a key distinction Twitter needs to make to separate itself from other social networks. Ultimately, Twitter derives more value from its users connecting with people and publishers they find interesting rather than people they just know. It allows them to target ads more accurately on its network and through MoPub.
You can finally search Twitter from the homepage
The lack of a search bar on Twitter's homepage has been a glaring omission. However, even without easy access to the search bar on twitter.com, more than 75 million unique (logged-out) visitors found their way to a Twitter search results page each month last fall.
These users were mostly coming from web search engines, and often times, they had searched for specific hashtags. Twitter's recent deal with Google (GOOG -0.57%) (GOOGL -0.49%) should help increase the number of users that find Twitter through search engines. Part of that deal, however, is that if a user clicks on a tweet in Google's search results, they will be redirected to a special logged-out page -- likely very similar to the new homepage.
Placing the search bar on the new homepage is an easy way for Twitter to get people engaged quickly and easily; but it needs to erase the damage it's done with people who are familiar with searching Google for hashtags instead of going to twitter.com.
The final new feature of Twitter's new home page is a collection of curated timelines. It displays what it thinks a visitor will find most interesting down the middle of the page. A full list of options is available down the left side of the page.
This feature allows people who have heard of Twitter before, but don't know what they'd use it for, to discover the value of Twitter. Twitter previously saw success with its curated timelines for the FIFA World Cup and NFL matches last year, but says those timelines only served to increase engagement -- not new users. Future curated timelines for big events like awards shows or NBA Playoff games may find similar interest among users, and now non-users can access them, as well.
The benefits for investors
The new home page is designed to engage visitors rather than ask them to sign up, if they've just heard about Twitter. It clearly explains the value of Twitter; then it shows them that value. This should help Twitter convert more of those 125 million-plus visitors into actual users.
At the very least, Twitter's design lends itself to easy monetization. Last year, Twitter CFO Anthony Noto told investors that it's easier for him to monetize a curated timeline compared to most people's home timelines. That's because a curated timeline is focused on a specific interest, like technology, so Twitter can display ads from tech companies with excellent accuracy regardless of whether users are logged-in.
This is the best step Twitter has taken yet to capitalize on the opportunity it has with logged-out visitors. Look for it to kick-start user growth in the second quarter -- and it might improve monetization down the road.