Google Remarketing: It Only Appears as Stalking

I know it’s happened to you. You visit a website, look at some shoes, and then suddenly, those shoes are everywhere.They aren’t on the feet of your friends, however; they are in the Google AdSense boxes that are served up on your favorite websites. How does that happen? How does your web-browsing history correlate to the ads you see on sites such as our own Persephone Magazine?

It’s a little feature of Google AdWords called remarketing.

Google AdWords is the largest pay-per-click (PPC) marketing program on the Internet. It nets Google billions of dollars every quarter, and it accounts for most of Google’s revenue. It’s rather remarkable – only a small percentage of Google users will ever click on an ad, yet that small percentage of users are who keep Google in business.

Google AdWords remarketing is unique in that it is a more targeted approach. Basically, a company using Google AdWords remarketing inserts snippets of code to track visitors to each page (or selected pages) of their website. They then create ads specific to those who visit pages or complete a specific action on their site (like sign up for membership). Advertisers also specify the number of days they want you to see these special ads; the default number is 30 days, and the maximum number of days is 18 months.

Take a look at this example:

Let’s say you go to a website looking for breakfast, so you go to TheBreakfastSite.

Bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, and coffee on a table.

You investigate this product, but end up leaving because you feel more like a bagel, instead.

If TheBreakfastSite is engaged in remarketing with AdWords, the next time you come read Persephone with your morning coffee, you’ll likely see an ad that looks something like this:

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Order Now!


And then you’ll go to a news site, and you might see an ad that looks like this:


Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. EAT IT.

This could go on and on, for as long as the advertiser has set the remarketing campaign to market to non-purchasing customers.

Another use of remarketing is the upsell – an advertiser might have a set of ads to show to customers who’ve recently completed an order. This past holiday season, I purchased a gadget for my brother. For a few days afterward, I saw ads for other products in that product line.

The remarketing tool is set up to be incredibly flexible for advertisers, so the combinations are endless, especially for a big e-commerce sites with a lot of products. You can create groups such as “browsed but didn’t buy,” “put items in a shopping cart but abandoned it,” etc. Basically, if it’s an action you can track, you can remarket to those users.

As a pay-per-click professional (did you know, I have a day job?), remarketing is fun and another way to reach current and potential customers. As a consumer, I’ll admit it, it sometimes freaks me out. It can feel a bit voyeuristic.

Here’s the thing though – advertisers aren’t really watching you. They don’t get access to IP addresses or a list of the email addresses of people who’ve click through on their ads. All they see is the number of times an ad has been served as well as the number of times said ad has been clicked. If they have conversion tracking set up, they’ll be able to tell if you purchase anything after you click through an ad, but advertisers have always been able to do that with Google AdWords.

Here’s one more tip, if it does feel too much like stalking. As a user, you do have an out. If you’re on a site that uses AdSense (like us), simply click the AdChoices button at the top of the display ad. There you can read more about the information Google collects and its privacy policy. Google also provides a link to their Ad Preferences page, where you can opt of out of being served ads based on what they perceive to be your interests and online habits.

Does remarketing freak you out? Where else on the Internet do you feel like your browsing habits are being used for marketing purposes?

23 replies on “Google Remarketing: It Only Appears as Stalking”

I kinda love it.  Sometimes ads remind me I was looking for something I wanted to buy.  I’d much rather see ads that are relevant to me than random ones.  As long as you realize they you are being targeted and still make a choice to buy I don’t see the problem with it.

I particularly like it when I’m researching something to buy, because I almost without fail get an ad for a discount.  I was going to buy anyway, I just hadn’t decided what yet.

That’s my view on it, too. Although sometimes it reminds me that the reason I didn’t buy those cute rain boots is because they were $50 and I’m broke.

But, yeah, every time I see a Fire Mountain Beads ad come up, I think “Oh, yeah… I still need to decide what beads I want for my mala.” So it’s helpful. Targeted marketing feels creepy, but like you said, I’d much rather see relevant ads than tune out ads because there are never any that I would actually click on.

Facebook is terrible for this.  Sometimes I get in moods and report the ads as offensive, then choose a silly reason.  The dating ones?  Sexually explicit (even though they’re not).  Some shoe site?  I pick other, and then say that they are fug.  Sometimes it’s fun to annoy them too.

I go on occasional “block all the ads” binges. Most get marked “uninteresting.” Anything diet related gets marked “misleading.” And anything religious gets marked “against my views.” C’mon, FB, you’re advertising Bible study to someone on a site where they are clearly identified as an atheist? I judge the supposed savvy of your marketing!

Great intro to it:) At home I use AdBlock and/or my browser in an incognito mode, so it doesn’t really occur to me, but we do use it in my job. Once you know how it works – and that you can opt out – it’s not scary and it’s actually kinda cool: you could be getting totally random ads, but remarketed ones have a better-than-normal chance of being of interest and useful to you.

Interesting.  It freaks me out a bit, but it also amuses me.  Advertising things I already know about, checked out, and moved on from is silly to me.  Then again, I don’t click on these ads…so yeah.

My current ad on this site is for  It stems from my search for recipes that included lemon chips a few days ago.   I clicked on the site thinking they had a yummy recipe, but they were only selling lemon chips.  Fail.

Remarketing makes me giggle more than anything, because now every time I browse from my work computer I’m getting adds for NEMA rated electrical enclosures. Because I was pulling some info from a company we represent, so I spent some time on their site. Before that it was pin and sleeve plugs and receptacles. Sorry guys, but I don’t buy this stuff, I sell it.

It kind of freaks me out, but also kind of works. It’s also a little annoying/embarrassing, if you happen to have been looking at body shapers, to have them come up on your laptop which you use for school all the time and everyone behind you can see them. I don’t need everyone to know about my shapewear!

This was so interesting, though! I love knowing how these things work, even if it terrifies me.

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