I Support Breitbart News: The Perils of Remarketing

Ian Lurie

Internet advertising is perilous. Your ads can show up in all sorts of places. Remarketing is particularly dangerous. This story is an example of how remarketing can go horribly, horribly wrong.

I am, in case no one guessed, a left-leaning over-privileged pinko liberal. I’m a feminist. I’m pro-immigration. I like taxes. OK, that’s a lie, but I understand taxes. And, of course, I drive a BMW, send my kids to a private school and have a corner office.

So I popped an eyeball yesterday, when my friend Brent at Flowvella sent me a picture of a Portent ad proudly displayed on Breitbart News:

Portent, On Breitbart News

Cough. Choke. What?!

Breitbart News is insane. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Any site that publishes headlines like “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” has some journalistic challenges.

I want Portent’s ads on Breitbart like I want three-foot toenails.

How I Became a Breitbart Supporter

We buy remarketing ads. If you visit Portent.com and view specific pages, we put a cookie on your computer. We chase you around the Internet like a lovesick puppy. Thanks to Google remarketing, our ads appear whenever you visit a site in the Google Ad Network.

Remarketing makes me a great marketer and a total crap pile as a human being.

But, it does help us sell stuff. And I got bills to pay. So, lovesick puppy.

You can exclude sites in categories like “sensitive social issues.” I guess these headlines don’t count:

Breitbart News Headlines

A few Breitbart headlines. Sure, these are fine.

(Image from one of George Takei’s Tweets)


Google doesn’t have a category like, “Politics I don’t like,” or “Political Nutjobs.” Nor do they have a category like “Fake News.”


So, our ad showed up on Breitbart. It generated four clicks with a 100% bounce rate. I bet Portent earned the site $.25 or so.

Not my intent.

Google, You Must Fix This

Portent’s going to add Breitbart.com to excluded domains, of course. For our clients, too, after we ask. We won’t judge either way.

But Google, you need to create a new category. Call it whatever you like: Fake News. Extreme Left. Extreme Right. Asylum Newsletters. Whatever. Let agencies exclude sites like The Onion and Breitbart News from remarketing campaigns so that their CEOs don’t dig out their frontal lobes with blunt forks.

I didn’t write this article for fun. Our clients won’t always cheerfully support nutjob websites. I doubt my staunch Republican colleagues would want to show up on Shareblue, either.

So yeah. Create a retargeting category that lets us exclude ads from digital crazy town.


Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. This has ALWAYS been an issue for my clients, going back years. I’m not entirely sure how they can address it, but I sure wish they’d give it a try.

    1. It’s easy to include some of the obvious stuff. But things like this tend to sneak in under the radar. Gonna have to start building our list.

  2. I’m still not sure how Breitbart complies with Google’s terms of service in the first place (thank you AppNexus for having more backbone than Google here), but there is a category exclusion you can do for “Politics” and also a sub-category under that for Right-Wing political sites (and a Left-Wing option too, to be balanced) that is intended to be a catch-all for these types of sites. I am not sure if this category specifically blocks Breitbart because after having a few clients get upset their remarketing ads were showing there we added the site as a negative so they won’t show regardless of what site categories are excluded. I’ve contacted a few Google reps asking how Breitbart ads served if we were blocking profanity & rough language was selected but they seem to turn a blind eye to the problem and just say to upload a list of sites we want to block and its up to you as the advertiser to monitor and block the sites you’re showing on that you don’t find brand-friendly. I find it so disappointing Google doesn’t want to uphold some sort of quality standard in their own advertising network.

  3. Ye God and Little Angels. Poor baby!
    When I was webmaster for a huge international site, blocking ads from certain sites was a passion. It really didn’t take that long – I went into that area of AdSense and Words 2-3 times a week for a look-see and it only took a few minutes to block both the ads appearing on our site and the sites on which our ads appeared.
    It’s only if you let too much time pass that it’s a pain. However, I totally agree – adding the “political” category would save a lot of time, effort, and freak-outs.
    Albeit, two of the areas that big site addressed were hoaxes and notion-based conspiracy theories, so maybe our ads would have been appropriate. 😀

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