Why Do Ads Follow You Around Online?


By Julie Friedman Bacchini

Most people these days are aware of ads “following” them around the web. Maybe you looked at some shoes on Zappos or looked for clothing on Kohls or shopped for something on Amazon, but didn’t actually buy anything. Next thing you know, you see an ad on another web site or Facebook showing you the shoes, clothes or Amazon item in a display ad.

You are not imagining it. These ads are following you.

The practice is called remarketing or retargeting (the two terms are essentially interchangeable). In its most basic format, the way it works is that sites have a small piece of code on their pages that can be recognized on other sites that serve advertising so that a relevant ad can be shown to you as you move around the web.

On its face, it is either amazing (according to marketers) or creepy (according to some regular people) to have these ads following them around.

The technology has been around and in use for several years. As it continues to evolve, expect to see better and more personalized ads.

The execution of this kind of advertising is varied as well. Some companies do it really, really well. For instance, they will not show you an ad for a product you already purchased. Others are using the technology in a more primitive manner (showing the same message to anyone who visited the site previously for months afterward).

Can you stop the ads from following you?

With some effort, yes you can. There are a number of ways to do this including:

  • Deleting cookies from your web browser regularly. This is effective (at least until you get tagged again) and also can be a bit of a pain. There are probably sites you use regularly where their cookie makes the experience smoother and if you dump all cookies, you will lose them as well.
  • Using Incognito or private browsing modes on your devices. You will still see advertising on sites that run advertising, but it will not be personalized to you based on web activity. It may still be somewhat personalized if you are seeing ads on a site where you are logged in, because they have a certain amount of information about you from your login.
  • Ad blockers will also remove the personalized aspect of ads you see.

Retargeting is not going to go away any time soon. The best you can do is to limit it if you feel strongly or embrace it – you can often get an incentive offer like an extra discount if you put items in a cart but don’t checkout. As with most online experiences, your mileage may vary!


Julie Friedman Bacchini is the president of Neptune Moon LLC, a full-service internet marketing and web design firm. She and her blog are regularly included in many top search marketing influencer lists. Julie has presented on topics such as web site experience, local search visibility and paid search both locally and at national industry conferences, including SMX East and PPC Hero. You can find Julie on Twitter @NeptuneMoon or reach her via email at info@neptunemoon.com or telephone at 484-341-8181.

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