If you’ve ever seen an ad pop up on your screen while browsing the internet, then you’ve most likely come across a targeted ad.
What is targeted advertising?
Targeted advertising is when online ads are specifically targeted for certain individuals based on information collected about their interests, frequent searches, geographical location, and many other factors.
You may be asking, “how does targeted advertising work?” and “how is it possible for an advertiser to target internet users in this way?” Well, it mostly relies on the data that companies collect about us.
What does target advertising look like?
Target advertising looks just like any ad on the internet. But there’s a catch: it’s tailored to you.
By monitoring our web browsing, advertisers can gather data about the types of websites we go to, the types of products we look at, and other browsing habits and user behavior information. They also gather information from social media posts.
This makes it possible for them to better understand who you are and what relevant ads might appeal to you. Companies then show you this in hopes that you will buy the product.
Targeted advertising in action
Ever browsed the web for a product, let’s say a new set of pillows for your bed, and was then flooded with pillow ads a few hours later? That’s targeted advertising at work.
This article will explore targeted advertising, how it impacts privacy, and what you can do to protect yourself from targeted ads.
Types of targeted advertising
Online advertising, especially targeted advertising, is a hot topic in digital marketing right now. The marketing industry is ever-growing and always finding ways to advertise products to consumers with targeted advertising campaigns to increase sales. So it’s no surprise that the demand for data and the popularity of targeted advertising have led to different types of targeted ads, including:
Contextual targeting is related to the content of the site. Traditional contextual advertising uses automated methods to place ads relevant to a site’s content based on keyword targeting.
For example, you may see an ad for a pair of reading glasses on a book seller’s website.
Behaviorally targeting ads look for internet users based on their online behavioral data. It makes comprehensive user profiles based on online searches, purchase history, and frequented websites.
For example, if you get flooded with ads for pet supplies shortly after looking up dog toys, then you’ve experienced behavioral targeting.
Advertisers use geo-targeting to determine in what parts of the world their ads will be seen.
For example, fashion retailers often customize their campaigns and on-site experience depending on a visitor’s local weather conditions. As a result, online shoppers in cold locations may see more ads for outerwear and vice versa.
Social media targeting
Social media is a powerful marketing tool since many customers prefer buying goods through social media rather than e-commerce websites or physical shops. Businesses can target consumers based on their search engine and social media behavior. Because of this, you can view social media targeting as a type of behavioral targeting.
For example, sponsored products that you see on your social media timelines and news feeds are likely a result of targeted advertising.
Brands can retarget customers who have previously shown interest in or interacted with them. They can do that by linking ad messages to your online activities.
For example, a consumer who buys a set of weights is likely to get retargeted with advertisements for additional workout gear like bands or even sports clothes.
How does targeted advertising work?
Now that we’ve answered the question “What is targeted advertising?” and we’ve gone over different targeted advertising strategies, let’s go over how they work to produce relevant ads.
Most market campaigns start with a website collecting data on its users, including their:
- browsing habits;
- activity on the site;
- device type;
- and preferred language.
Websites typically gather this information by installing cookies. Cookies are small files that are used to record your on-site activities and track information about you. This information is collected and then sent to the CRM or third-party services.
Search engines can be another source of data. They analyze search queries and user behaviors to offer sponsored advertisements on the search engine results page.
No matter how your data is collected, it gets sent back to the company analyzing it for marketing purposes. Companies and advertisers can use your data in combination with any of the types of targeted advertising listed above to show you targeted advertisements.
How can I stop targeted ads?
If you decide that you don’t want to participate in targeted advertising – then I’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of four easy steps you can take to protect your private data:
- Use ad-blockers.
Simply having an ad-blocker is a huge first step. Popular ad-blocking extensions work on the browser level to prevent advertisements, banners, and pop-ups. However, you can go further with an adblock VPN such as CleanWeb. It removes known adware and spyware ads from your browsers and applications, giving your private data an extra layer of protection.
- Don’t stay logged in to your Google account.
Even if you use a VPN, Google attributes all activity to your Google account. So when you stay logged into Google, it continues to collect data attached to your account for targeted ads.
- Use a VPN to hide your identity.
A virtual private network won’t hide all ads, but you won’t get any personalized ones. A VPN hides your internet activity from all prying eyes, which includes both marketers and your internet service provider (ISP).
The IP address used to connect to your VPN service also conceals your actual location, protecting you from geo-targeting.
Note: If you use Facebook or Google while logged in to your Google account, these services will still be able to track you via your profile.
- Don’t use your personal email to register to websites.
You should have an email purely for official business purposes. All information collected and attached to your name and email can be used for targeted advertising.
Is targeted advertising good? Not from a privacy perspective
At first, targeted advertising may seem convenient. Why wouldn’t you want ads and products curated just for you?
But while it is convenient for marketers and advertising agencies, the problem lies in the fact that targeted advertising puts your personal data at risk. Anyone can buy this data and use it for purposes other than targeted ads and advertising campaigns.
The collection of such user data raises privacy concerns because:
- Targeted advertising can touch on personal information about your age, gender, income, relationship status, political views, and sexual orientation. You wouldn’t want just anyone to get their hands on this type of information, as it could potentially cause you harm.
- Companies can forecast your behavior and incentivize your action. For example, Target can predict when a consumer is pregnant based on buyer behavior, even down to the current trimester. This means that Target can make an educated guess about the delivery date and use that information to advertise relevant products throughout the pregnancy.
- Insurance companies can use such data to predict whether they can charge people at higher rates. This particularly touches low-income consumers who have fewer market choices due to factors like where they reside, their financial literacy, or their socioeconomic status. In turn, such data can lead to unfair and discriminatory pricing.
Put a stop to targeted ads and protect your digital privacy
Targeted advertisements are not only irritating but also put your personal information at risk. Most people are unaware of how targeted advertising works and how much information is collected online. But given the fact that Target can anticipate a shopper’s trimester, we can guarantee it’s a lot. Not to mention, you don’t want just anyone to get access to your data to use for malicious purposes.
Are you ready to protect yourself from targeted ads? A VPN is the way to go, and Surfshark can help with that. The data sent between your device and Surfshark’s VPN service is encrypted, making it nearly impossible for advertisers or ISPs to access. The IP address used to connect to your VPN service also conceals your actual location, protecting you even more.
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