Why do I keep seeing eerily relevant adverts online?

It's all down to 'native advertising' - let's see how it works...

Wednesday, 20 October, 2021

You’ve probably noticed an online phenomenon where products or services you’ve recently searched for keep reappearing in adverts on unrelated websites.

Sometimes, they even appear on unrelated devices which share a WiFi connection.

This is an example of native advertising – a concept which originated in the early Noughties, before becoming a popular method of digital brand marketing.

But how does native advertising work? And is it something you should be concerned about?

Below, we consider how (and why) native advertising has become so deeply embedded in the online ecosystem.

Going native

Native advertising could be better described as curated advertising.

Hit-and-hope banner ads are often blocked by software, and have very low engagement levels because they appear indiscriminately.

Conversely, native ads are only shown to audiences deemed relevant to (or somehow associated with) a brand, product or service.

A car manufacturer might develop a native ad campaign for their latest model. Googling it demonstrates interest, which is fed back to the manufacturer, who targets you with ads.

The same might apply if you’ve recently visited a car leasing website, priced a hire car or even subscribed to a car magazine for a relative’s birthday.

The databases of information linked to each individual IP address (the address shared by all the devices on your home broadband network) are detailed, yet often frustratingly imprecise.

How does native advertising work in practice?

Consumer information is constantly being harvested, updated and sold on, to improve the accuracy of advertising results.

This matters because advertisers only pay when someone clicks on an ad to visit the site it’s linked to. The click through rate (or CTR) is immediately billed to the advertiser.

It’s in the native advertising platform’s best interests to only display ads to relevant individuals, maximising each advertising client’s return on investment.

Entire campaigns are built around recent search histories. First, you’re shown a product ad. Then a review. Then a reminder that items are in an online basket – no activity is sacred.

Companies like Taboola and Outbrain invest heavily in tracking buying journeys through to their conclusion, subsequently targeting buyers with accessories and aftercare offers.

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Another common native advertising strategy involves directing audiences to websites whose futures depend on maintaining high traffic volumes.

Some advertisers will only pay to appear on sites whose daily visitor numbers are substantial. In turn, this entails generating high-volume, low-quality editorial content known as clickbait.

These articles are promoted on social media sites and news outlets with hyperbolic headlines like “You won’t believe what happened next”, or “33 photos that are too strange for words”.

Designed to blend into their surroundings, these third-party headlines and images are usually housed in a ‘sponsored by’ or ‘you might also like’ box, below primary on-page content.

Clicking one of these links instantly adds more data to the demographic forms detailing your IP address’s activities.

This influences which native ads you see in future, perpetuating the cause-and-effect cycle.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!