Whether it’s a new site, an online shop or even trusty old Wikipedia, pretty much every site uses one way or another.
Have you ever wondered why when you looked up DIY tips you got ads for power tools for the next couple of weeks?
That’s thanks to cookies, and advertisers love them.
Cookies come with far-reaching implications, ranging from privacy concerns to influencing your digital strategy. But despite their importance, very few people put much thought towards understanding what cookies do.
So, what do they do exactly? And how do they factor into your digital strategy?
How web cookies work
To say that online privacy is a hot-button topic is underselling it.
With the recent online privacy controversy in the wake of Facebook failing to protect user data from being taken for political campaigns, and with a slew of other high-profile data breaches fresh in everybody’s memories, you’re probably worried about how safe your data is right now.
You might also be wondering about cookies. Namely, what are they, how they work and what implications they have for your privacy!
But first, what are they?
Simply put, cookies are small pieces of data stored locally on your computer or phone, collecting data from your web browser regarding your activities on said website such as searches, login details and personal preferences.
Every time you return to, your cookies are updated with new information and data to enhance your browsing experience.
Why web cookies matter
Cookies serve many different behind-the-scenes functions, from enhancing your browsing experience to - you guessed it - digital advertising.
For all the talk about digital ads leaving cookies behind in favour of account-based systems, the fact is that even today, online advertising is still highly reliant upon cookies to reach web users.
Every time you visit a site, your browser generates first and third party cookies.
Say you visit Buzzfeed.com. Your computer generates cookies from Buzzfeed itself that track details like login details and articles you’ve read. But it also generates cookies that tell third-party ad platforms (Google AdSense, Exelate, BlueKai, etc.) about your browsing habits.
The result? Buzzfeed will remember your login details and preferences, but you’ll also be telling advertisers a lot about you - namely, your interests and what you search for on the internet. And from that, advertisers can figure out what you might like to buy.
Cookies allow online advertisers to target your ads towards internet users who are more likely to be in the market for your product or service. Instead of taking a scattergun approach to advertising, cookies allow for precise targeting. And that means more conversions than a flier-in-the-letterbox approach!
Cookies and retargeting
Cookies are a defining feature of retargeting campaigns. In fact, without cookies, retargeting wouldn’t even exist!
Here’s a real-world example: did you know that over 70% of online shoppers abandon their shopping carts without making a purchase? Maybe they wanted to check prices elsewhere, or had second thoughts.
Without retargeting, only 8% will return to complete their transactions.
When those same customers are followed up (retargeted) with ads for the products they were looking to buy earlier however, this percentage jumps to 26%!
Busting the most common cookie myths
Cookies are a pretty big deal. But despite that, a lot of people don’t really understand what they do or how they work - in fact, many hold onto information that’s plain false!
Myth #1: cookies are programs
Like we mentioned before, cookies are data files, not programs. This means they can’t do anything to your computer, other than sit there. If you’re worried about cookies frying your computer, you’re in the clear - it’s malware and viruses you should worry about!
Myth #2: Cookies are malicious
From a health standpoint, yeah, they are, and you should probably lay off!
When talking about web cookies however, it’s not all bad news. Cookies are designed to enhance your online experience, by remembering things such as your:
- Previous searches
- Past purchases
- Personalisation (site themes, content you’d like to avoid)
- Login details
You know how most sites have an option to “remember your password?” That’s powered by cookies!
Myth #3: Once it’s out there, it’s out there for good
A common piece of advice many a parent gives their kids is that anything put up online stays online forever.
It’s a good piece of advice to live by, but when it comes to cookies it couldn’t be more false.
Since cookies are stored locally, the data they contain is also stored locally.
If you want to delete your cookies, you can go to:
- Windows PCs: C:\users\username\appdata\local\microsoft\windows\inetcookies
- iOS: settings/Safari/privacy/clear cookies and data
- Most Android phones: browser/settings/privacy settings/clear cache
Alternatively, you can go to your browser settings and clear cookies from there.
Join us next week for part 2!
Cookies are more than just a delicious snack - they’re a key part of any online advertising campaign and when used on your site, can enhance the experience for end-users.
Of course, technology changes and it’s impossible to make sweeping statements about anything digital marketing when the entire basis of your digital strategy can be made obsolete overnight.
That goes for everything in our field… even something as deeply-rooted as cookies!