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What Is Ad Tracking?

In today’s digital marketing world, online ads are everywhere. But how do advertisers keep up with the performance of their ads? That’s where ad tracking comes in. Ad tracking is when advertisers collect data on users in order to better advertise to them. There are many different ways ad tracking is done across platforms. Some forms of ad tracking collect data on the websites you visit in order to provide you with more personalized ads. Others may track how successful certain ads are. Regardless of the type of ad tracking, many internet users aren’t comfortable with having their data collected and used by marketers. If you’d like to learn more about ad tracking and how to stop it, keep reading as we delve into ad tracking and all it encompasses. 

Ad Tracking

As we’ve discussed, ad tracking is market research that monitors a user’s data in order to improve advertisements. While a lot of attention focuses on ad tracking’s impact on users and their data, that is not the only type of ad tracking that exists. Sometimes, ad tracking focuses on a brand’s overall ad performance, rather than trying to personalize ads to individual users. Regardless of the type, all ad tracking aims to understand how users are interacting with a brand. 

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Cookies

There are several different types of ad tracking that are common among online advertisers. One of the most common forms of ad tracking involves cookies. Many internet users are familiar with cookies because of how prevalent they are. If you’ve spent enough time on the internet, you’ve likely been asked whether or not a website can use cookies to personalize your content. 

Cookies are small pieces of code that track your information across websites, creating a profile based around your activity. When you visit a website, cookies register you as a specific user. It keeps track of your activity, so that the next time you go to that website, it can recall your previous cookies and pull up data from your last visit. Cookies are used for a wide variety of things within a website. They can keep you signed in from a previous session, even remembering your setting preferences. For e-commerce websites, they can be used to store information about what products you’ve viewed. That way, the next time you log in, the site can suggest similar products for you. Cookies can also be used to track user information across websites, creating personalized advertisements. 

There are two kinds of cookies: first-party and third-party. First-party cookies come from a website directly. Third-party cookies are from an outside source other than the website a user is currently on. Because they’re third-party, these cookies can be shared across different websites. Third-party cookies are responsible for most of the personalized ads you see. They share information about users across sites in order to create specific, targeted ads.

URL Trackers

URL trackers are another common form of ad tracking. This form of ad tracking uses something called an Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) tag. A UTM tag is added to the end of a URL to track how often that URL is visited. When a user visits a URL with that tag, the creator will receive a notification. This type of ad tracking can provide information about the source of online traffic. Advertisers can know how to improve their ads if they know where users are engaging with their ads enough to click on a URL.

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Tracking Pixels

Similarly, tracking pixels also monitor when something is accessed by users. Tracking pixels are small images within an ad, email, or website that record when content is being accessed. They may also collect data on how that content is accessed. Sometimes called web beacons, they are very useful for seeing what content is engaging enough to be accessed by users. For example, promotional emails may include tracking pixels that register when a user opens the email. This can provide valuable insight about how often customers are opening emails and what kinds of emails are appealing to them. 

Other Forms of Ad Tracking

There are other methods of ad tracking, many of which operate similarly. Many forms of ad tracking seek to collect data on how users interact with ads. While some of these methods only track things like the number of clicks a link receives, many users are uncomfortable with some of the more personalized forms of ad tracking. One of the most popular forms of online tracking that users are uncomfortable with is retargeting. Retargeting is the process of collecting data on users in order to provide ads to them based on their internet history. For example, a user who visits a shopping website may receive targeted ads encouraging them to pick up where they left off and complete a purchase. 

Stop Tracking Me 

If you’re unhappy with ad tracking, there are several ways you can prevent advertisers from tracking you and your information. One way is to block cookies. In most internet browsers, you should be able to find an option to block third-party cookies under “Privacy and Settings.” You can also delete your current cookies. 

When prompted by websites to accept cookies, you can choose to reject them if you don’t want them tracking your information. Under the same Privacy and Settings tab, you can also select “Send Do Not Track.” By selecting this, you’re asking your browser to send websites you visit a message asking them not to track your info. You can also download privacy software that will prevent websites from collecting information. Other preventative measures may be more specific to the type of device you use. That being said, most devices have privacy settings that you can adjust to your comfort level. Some other tracking methods like URL tracking and web beacons may be harder to avoid. Luckily, these tracking methods focus more on monitoring whether or not users are engaging with certain content, rather than collecting personal data. 

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Stop Advertisements

Blocking all forms of advertisement online is difficult without the use of ad blocking software. Ad blocking software prevents ads from showing up across any website you may want to visit. Some ad blockers cost money while others are entirely free to use. Typically, however, the paid ad blockers are more effective than the free ones. Even with ad blockers, you may still encounter some ads. Because so many websites rely on ads, some advertisements may be creatively embedded into content. This may make it hard for ad blockers to prevent ads that are incorporated into videos or paid promotions on social media

There are also some downsides to using ad blocking software. Some ad blockers collect and sell your data. For many users, this might defeat the purpose of blocking ads in the first place. Ad blockers may track what websites you visit, how you interact with them, and for how long. This functions very similarly to cookies, which might be a downside for users looking for privacy from advertisers. Ad blocking software may also prevent some websites from functioning properly. Since many sites are dependent on ads, they may not even allow you to visit a web page if you have an ad blocker. 

Ad blocking software may also decrease the quality of content you receive. Preventing tracking and advertisements across all websites protects your data, but it also prevents websites and ads from being personalizing. VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks are also downloadable pieces of software that may prevent ads. While not all VPNs prevent ads, some do. Many VPNs can also limit the amount of information websites collect on you by creating a private network that hides your online activity. 

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To Track Or Not To Track? 

Knowing what you now know about ad tracking, how you choose to engage online is up to you. Ad tracking is market research that collects data on online advertisements. One of the most common forms of ad tracking is the use of cookies. Cookies collect user information to create a profile based on that user’s interactions on the website. The website then uses cookies to recall this information the next time they visit the website. This information can be used to keep someone signed in to their account or even provide them with personalized ads. 

Many users feel uncomfortable with organizations tracking their data for advertisements. If you’re uncomfortable with ad tracking, you can check the settings in your browser and your device to limit ad tracking. You can also reject cookies when prompted. Privacy software is also available for download for those needing extra peace of mind. While preventing all advertisements may be difficult, you can download ad blocking software in order to block a majority of ads. This may limit how you interact with some websites, however. Ad blocking software may also track your information, which might be counterintuitive for someone looking to increase their privacy.

Likewise, some VPNs can also ensure privacy and ad blocking, depending on the one you download. While preventing ads and ad tracking may protect your data, it may impact your ability to use some websites. Ultimately, the way you choose to protect your privacy and internet history is up to you. 

FAQ:

  • How do ads track you?
  • How do I stop ad tracking?
  • Is ad tracking good?
  • Is ad tracking illegal? 
  • What are methods of ad tracking?

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