As a full-time freelance writer, I spend a huge amount of my time cruising around the Internet looking for ideas and conducting research. And it’s on these digital travels that I started to notice just how clever and almost scary Internet marketing ad campaigns are.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been naive about the ways companies collect data about us, but it’s when you start analysing the situation more closely that you realise the full extent. Also, I’d like to point out that it’s not necessarily a bad thing – well not to me at least – but I can understand why some people don’t like the thought of their data being collected.
So what exactly am I talking about?
Well, whenever you’re surfing the Internet you’ll undoubtedly see ads. Perhaps you don’t notice them because you’re transfixed on what you’re doing, but they are absolutely everywhere. Even the most innocent looking website will almost certainly be serving you up a few choice ads in the hope that you’ll click one of them, earning the site owner a little bit of money from Google or whichever other ad network they’ve chosen to use.
Despite each click being only worth maybe £0.15 to the site owner, with enough traffic and enough clicks it can be a lucrative business. And with ads being served that are specifically tailored to the site visitor’s browsing habits, the chances of a click are inevitably increased.
Let’s look at a few examples of big brother Google serving me up some ads based directly on my recent browsing habits:
Starting my blog
When I started my blog at the end of 2014, I had to buy myself a domain name. My first course of action was to go straight to Google and search for a registrant that suited my needs. One of the sites I visited (and eventually purchased my domain through funnily enough) was namecheap.com.
However, I didn’t complete my purchase the first time I visited their website and the next few days saw Google haunting me with their ads.
Here’s a screenshot of a website I use on a daily basis, thesaurus.com:
As you can see Google managed to squeeze in two ads for namecheap.com – one at the top and one on the right. You can imagine my thinking because I was still in need of a domain name and here was a reputable company being shoved right in front of me.
Google knows where you live
But ad networks get even cleverer than that. Take a look at the following screenshot from the BBC News website:
It’s just a plain old article, but on the right side there is a laser-targeted ad screaming out, “James, click me!” That’s because I am an ‘expat in the Philippines’, so the ad strikes a chord immediately. Okay, so the anti-aging cream isn’t as relevant – unless Google is trying to tell me something – hmmm…
Even if I didn’t do anything other than click on the ad, a few pennies would still go into the BBC coffers; despite not making a purchase or signing up to anything.
Facebook are at it too!
We all spend a huge chunk of our time checking our favourite social networks. Therefore, it makes sense that they would be trying to entice us too, right?
As you’ll see in the following screenshot, Facebook also jumped on my namecheap.com bandwagon and not only threw a suggested post at me, but also a sidebar ad as well!
There’s also an ad for Lumix digital cameras – something I was also looking to buy at the time.
Facebook charges companies to get their ads put in front of people who matter. People like you and I. People who have already made a subconscious decision, but who may need a little reminder from time-to-time. Those subtle ads and suggested posts serve to trigger our innermost thoughts and lure us in for a click.
Like I said earlier, all these targeted ads aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but something you become very aware of when you actually start analysing the ads you’re seeing.
James Devonshire is a freelance writer who specialises in creating content for social media, SEO and digital marketing purposes for a wide variety of businesses. With a strong knowledge of website monetisation, entrepreneurial practices and optimisation techniques, James has carved out a literary niche for himself from his adopted home in the Philippines.