Cookies, ads, shopping carts, and search queries. What do these all have in common? Well, they all help form your own personal internet browsing experience. Pretty much everything you do on the internet is stored in your browser’s cookies, and/or stored server-side on each website. This data can be used by Google and other websites you visit to specially tailor their ads and content to your likes, dislikes, and browsing history.

The beauty of the modern internet is that you will never see most of it. As the internet progresses, and more advanced algorithms are created, soon only content relevant to you will appear and if you’re a company trying to better optimize your site or advertising for a specific target audience, check out How to Analyze Your Website Visitors.

The Benefits of Personalized Internet

There are some great benefits to having your internet browser know your interests. I’ve often clicked on some of the ads that Google had deemed relevant to my likes and it has led to a purchase of some kind. Hundreds of thousands of websites use the Google Display Network, which allows them to simply install a plugin, and pay a fee, and when someone whose interests align with their niche is browsing the web, Google will show one of their ads in the side bar, search results, banners, etc.

Google Display Network

This kind of marketing is not only beneficial for the companies taking advantage of Google Display Network, but also to you. It may not seem like it at first, because really these companies just want your business right? But, after a while of allowing cookies, and letting certain websites track your internet patterns, you’ll end up with very specific ads and search results. Once this happens, Google may be able to introduce you to products you’ve never heard of before, but are legitimately interesting to you. This has been the biggest hurdle in advertising since the beginning, getting your product or service to the people that are actually interested.

One version of this that you might be familiar with is called Remarketing. When you look at a product on Amazon, or eBay, a cookie is stored. If you put that item in your virtual cart, another cookie is stored. If you then proceed to checkout, but don’t finish, even another cookie might be stored. If the website or search engine is advanced enough, it can use these cookies to decide whether you bought the item or not, or whether you’re still interested in purchasing it at a later date.

Examples of this are when you see a specific item page highlighted in an ad, of an item you’ve looked at before. Or if you actually put it in your cart and left it there, the ad might say something like, “Hey (name), still interested in buying (item)? The price has been reduced!” This can help consumers find the best prices, or be reminded of an item they forgot to buy.

The Drawbacks

Online Security

One of the biggest concerns of people when they find out the details of the Display Network, Remarketing, and cookies is security. It can be concerning that some entity out there on the internet is collecting data on your whereabouts on the web. It’s also odd to think that they’re using this information to tailor ads to you, and guess your future actions.

In my opinion, this can be pretty creepy. Did those websites even ask if it’s okay to use your information like that? Did I give permission to them to collect this kind of data? Should I even trust them with that kind of information?

The likely answer to all of those questions is: yes. Usually in the EULA (End-User License Agreement) and Terms of Service statements these kinds of questions are asked, and you most likely agreed to them. As for whether you should really trust these websites it does come down to you. For reputable websites and companies such as Google, Amazon, etc. it’s probably pretty safe to let them collect this data.

If you want to avoid this altogether, it might just be better to disable cookies in your browser. It should be noted, however, that many websites either require, or highly recommend you have cookies activated.

The last drawback can be somewhat of a hassle. These cookies don’t distinguish between users of a computer, unless you’re personally logged into a service. So, if you’re Christmas shopping for a loved one and you buy their presents, the next time they use the computer, they might see ads in the sidebars or banners saying, “Thanks for purchasing (item)! Would you like to leave a review?” And so the Christmas surprise is ruined.

Overall you shouldn’t be too concerned about what your actions are going to be having on your internet experience. After all, you can always go in and clear all your cookies and start over. But you should remember that everything you do may be used later to “fine tune” your internet experience. Need help figuring out your own online marketing? Give us a call!

Photo Credit: Google, CyberHades

Jamie Bates