We can hardly imagine the Internet without advertising. It seems like almost every website you visit has some form of advertising included—if not banner ads at the top or bottom of the page, at least some links to Google ads in a sidebar on the page.

Since the earliest days of the World Wide Web in the early 1990’s, companies have advertised online. Yahoo! was one of the first companies to understand the need for companies to have a way to sell products online. Yahoo! was (and is) a search engine that many people used to find information on the Web. Yahoo! made a bold decision in 1995; they began selling banner ads. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for banner ads to become extremely common, and rather annoying, because the ads on a page often (usually) didn’t have anything to do with anything a user might be interested in buying.

In the late 1990's, many sites began using pop-up ads. Tricky webpage designers even found ways of making pop-up ads that link out of other pop-up ads, so when you go to close the window for one ad...another ad pops up in its place. These are even more annoying than banner ads!

Google came along in the late 1990’s and changed the way online advertising worked. Instead of banner ads, Google sells keywords that users might search for in their search engine--we call this kind of advertisement keyword ads. When a user searches for a keyword that has been “sold” to a business, that business’s ad appears—usually in a separate list—alongside the websites the user’s search turns up. This makes a lot of sense for businesses for two reasons. First, instead of annoying their potential customers with banner ads or pop-up ads, the advertisements provided by Google aren't so "in-your-face." Second, because the users are actually searching for keywords related to the product or service the company is selling, Google’s ads are more closely related to what an individual user might actually purchase. Add to this the fact that Google’s ads can be easily added to just about any website and you have a recipe for successful advertising online!

While this advertising scheme makes a lot of sense for Google (it is a huge money-maker for them!) as well as the businesses Google’s Ads serve, it isn’t always great for users. Why not? Well…these ads actually might be invading your privacy! Many websites actually keep track of what you do while on their site using small pieces of software called cookies. Why bring up cookies in a conversation about advertising? Well...the cookies can actually help the website creators target you with even more effective advertising—they keep track of what you've been looking for in the past, so they can show you things you might like to see more of in the future. Is this a problem? Not necessarily...but it's a good reminder to think before you click!

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