Cookies are tiny snippets of data that websites place on a visitor’s computer. These data snippets contain unique code that identifies a specific computer’s browsing history. They do not contain any personal information about the visitor (eg, name, email).
For example, picture a shared family computer. One user is interested in veterinary medicine. Another primarily browses hiking trails and national park pages. The computer’s cookie history will show both areas of interest. The display network will serve ads for both interests since cookies cannot differentiate between users.
Cookies fuel off-network digital advertising. As a user browses the internet, they may be served relevant messages based on their browsing history on websites that are part of the display network.
Common Uses for Cookies
- Enabling retargeting advertising (as outlined above)
- Storing and retaining ‘stateful’ data (for example, items you’ve added to a shopping cart on an e-commerce website)
- Allowing the use of dynamic forms on websites that retain previously entered data for autocomplete functions, or for the serving of new questions based upon known data
- Saving and retaining user preferences
- Log-in authentication
- Tracking and recording user activity
Keep in mind that visitors to your website may have their cookies turned off. Others may be using browsers that automatically erase cookies. Avoid relying solely on cookies for information about website visitors. As concerns about digital privacy increase, cookie-blocking techniques become more prevalent.
The most reliable way to track users is to collect their contact information as early as possible. You can do this in several ways. Some businesses offer free content downloads to capture email addresses and names from interested parties. Others require account creation to access content.