When Does Retargeting Become Stalking?

I’m a big fan of companies knowing general information about me so that I can see better ads as I browse the web. I’m going to see ads anyway, might as well be ones that are interesting.

I’m also fine with retargeting, the strategy of serving me ads based on a site I’ve been to but chose to leave without making a purchase. Offline stores would love to be able to do that.

However, let’s imagine a scenario where an offline store had a sales rep follow you out of the store and start showing up everywhere you went. Starbucks, the grocery store, the driving range, church — you name it, there he was. Always.

It wouldn’t take long for you to get pretty freaked out.

Well that’s what happens when you turn your retargeting up to 11 like Liquid Web has. For any site running AdSense ads, they magically turn into Liquid Web ads when I view them — even on my own sites. Over the past month or two, it has gone from interesting to creepy to very annoying. In just one week, here are the various sizes of Liquid Web ads I’ve seen:

Now I’ve probably been Liquid Web’s biggest fan over the past few years, but this is really annoying.

Be very careful if you ever choose to use retargeting. Not only could you fail to make the sale, but you could also drive the customer away forever.


  • Pittsburgh Content Writer

    March 3, 2011
    at 9:58 am

    I’m so glad you posted a clue about this. It’s been happening to me constantly. I’d never heard of LiquidWeb until a client asked me to look into them as a hosting option. Now, that girl from LW is EVERYWHERE! I gather from your post that there’s no way to turn this off…


  • David Ng

    April 14, 2011
    at 12:39 pm

    I can definitely see how this is creepy. I would be browsing along on a totally different website and it will be recommending things that I was searching before. I guess, publishers might like it though. Since it can increase click through ratios.


  • Arthur Cundy

    June 10, 2011
    at 9:34 am

    I agree. This has happened to me a few times. And it makes me feel like they are pushing too hard. When it does happen I refuse to click on the ads.

    It’s the equivalent to walking down the street and because a store knows I like apple juice they are selling it to me everywhere I walk…in the elevator…in the car…at the movies… very annoying.

    Very opposite of the Thank You economy.


  • Michael Rachap

    October 3, 2011
    at 10:23 am

    There’s a way to stop seeing retargeting ads (which used to really annoy me). Go here: http://www.networkadvertising.org/managing/opt_out.asp

    This actually works.


  • Shane

    October 3, 2011
    at 10:36 am

    I actually don’t mind the retargeting; it’s just when they start showing up EVERYWHERE that it becomes annoying. If companies don’t learn how to use this correctly, enough people are going to start blocking it that it will become useless.


  • Pavlicko

    January 11, 2012
    at 1:26 pm

    The biggest area that I see a lot of marketers fail at with this is Frequency Capping – Make sure to set this at something reasonable if you’re going to retarget, like no more than 2-3 times a week for a week or two, then a huge drop off, like once or twice a month.

    @Michael – yes, the opt-out method does work, but it’s a very heavy hammer. They need an option to opt-out of JUST retargeted ads or else you wipe out all the ads across that ad network. That’s the last thing you should want to happen if you’re an advertiser.


  • Shane

    January 11, 2012
    at 1:31 pm

    Great feedback, Pavlicko. Thanks!