Picture this. You’re curious about a video game sale, so you find yourself on the site of an electronics retailer. While there, you check in on a game you want, but you’re still not ready to buy.

After leaving the site, you notice an ad for the same game, sale, or company keeps popping up later in your browsing experience. You’re a little creeped out.

However, what you’ve experienced happens all the time, and it’s called ad retargeting. In this article, we’ll take you through what that is, why some websites use it, and ways you can prevent it.


What Is Ad Retargeting?

Ad retargeting happens when you visit a business’s website, but you don’t complete an action the company would like you to take. For example, browsing video games with an electronics retailer and leaving the site without making a purchase.


Illustration of a product page and a matching ad on another page

Using cookies or pixels to track you, ads for the company then find their way into other areas of your browsing experience.

For instance, if the electronics retailers signed up for ad retargeting with Google Ads, the retargeted ads will appear on other websites that use Google Display Network—which there’s a vast number of.

Even social media sites like Facebook retarget ads. So, if the electronics website you visit uses a Facebook pixel, its ads will later appear on the social media site too.

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Related: Internet Cookies for Beginners: What Are They and How Do They Work?

This is why it can feel like an ad is following you around the Internet. It’s because it truly is.

Are Retargeting and Targeted Ads the Same Thing?

No. Ad retargeting isn’t the same as targeted ads. With ad targeting, you may see ads that are similar to what you’ve browsed previously, but not necessarily an exact match.

That’s because the browser or search engine you’re using may share tracking information with the web or social media site you’re on.

Using that information, it will try to suggest relevant ads based on your search history, browser history, and other data it can use to learn about you. It’s an educated guess rather than using data.



Illustration of search results and a web page layout with geared ads

It’s very similar to retargeting in how it works, however, targeting is more along the lines of browsing apples and getting ads for oranges, grapes, and bananas.

The ads still may interest a fruit lover, but with targeting you won’t see ads from an exact website you looked at previously—unless it’s by coincidence, or the site uses retargeting.

Why Would Websites Use Ad Retargeting?

Some people find ad retargeting creepy. Some find it annoying. It’s not exactly perfect either because you sometimes end up seeing ads for items you’ve already purchased.

Either way, these types of ads are meant to remind you of the products or company you were browsing previously, and get you to go back and complete an action, like making a purchase. However, what some see as a reminder, others may see as invasive.



Illustration of buyer's journey with four circles and a line

It’s the same with ad targeting—which has an extra layer of creepy because websites and social media use your profile information to make assumptions about your needs, wants, and lifestyle.

Related: How You Can Use Chrome Extension AdNauseam to Confuse Google Ads

If you’re not a fan of geared ads, you can definitely just keep scrolling or take steps to prevent data tracking.

Ways You Can Prevent Ad Retargeting

Simply disabling cookies in your browser can make your browsing experience challenging. This is because not all cookies are bad. Some websites use them to remember your login information or preferences to make your visits convenient.

Other sites won’t allow access at all unless you have cookies enabled, and some features may not work with ad blockers.


Screenshot of an ad blocker showing the number of ads it blocked

However, there are a number of actions you can take to prevent ad retargeting. Keep in mind, you can’t block every ad on the internet, but the ones you see will be more generic and less creepy.

Delete Your History, Cookies, and Cache Data

By deleting your history, cookies, and cache data, you’re getting rid of the information websites use to send you geared ads.

However, this gets rid of your saved login information and preferences as well, so repeatedly clearing this isn’t the most convenient option as you’ll be losing out on your own useful data.

Share Less Information

Though social media sites have plenty of fields to add information to, it doesn’t mean you need to fill them all out. By leaving certain things a mystery, you’re giving advertisers less demographic information about you.

Keep in mind, social media tracks which types of content you engage with as well. So if you do click an ad, it will keep showing you that company’s ad or ones that are similar.

Use a VPN

When you use a VPN like NordVPN, it becomes challenging for sites to place cookies in your browser because the VPN hides your IP address. This means websites won’t know where to send the ads.

Related: The Best VPNs for Mac

Use an Ad Blocker

While ad blockers don’t get rid of ads entirely, using them will reduce the number of ads you see around the internet by hiding them or simply not allowing them to load in your browser.

Use a Private Web Browser

Certain web browsers are more privacy focused than others. Take Brave, for example. Not only does it have an ad-blocker built in, but it also blocks trackers and third-party cookies. Additionally, the browser doesn’t track your search history.

You can also use private windows in your browser, such as Chrome’s Incognito mode, to prevent cookies. However, you won’t have any record of your search history if you need it later.

Use a Private Search Engine

There are a variety of search engines that don’t track or share your search history, such as DuckDuckGo.

Turn Down Cookies

When a website offers you cookies, look into why it uses them or simply turn them down.

Limit Ad Retargeting for a More Pleasant Browsing Experience

Now that you know why you keep seeing the same ads, it’s up to you to determine if you find them helpful, or if you’d like to take measures to avoid seeing them. Each of the solutions listed in this article will also help reduce the amount of targeted ads you see as well.

Just keep in mind, you won’t be able to block every ad, especially in the case of social media sites as they’re built into your feed. But, you can work to change the number and types of ads you see.


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