Understanding Cookies Part 2: A Guide for Marketers

Avatar Act-On

PC cookiesDigital marketers are also online consumers, and most of us understand how cookies work. (Or at least, we know that they work, without worrying too much about the how.) And yet, we too can sometimes be taken by surprise at the level of behavioral targeting enabled by cookies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with cookies, and they can make parts of online life easier. But when people feel like they’re being followed or watched, it can make them anxious, which leads them to delete and block cookies. (Read Part 1: A Guide to Cookies for Consumers)

The Benefits of Cookies

By taking advantage of technology like cookies and web beacons, marketers can get insight into online behavior and encourage visitors to take the next step in the buying process. For example, if a visitor looks at a pair of boots but doesn’t buy (and she has signed up to receive email), the store can send this potential customer an email a day or two later that offers free shipping on all shoes, and maybe even a discount on the particular brand and style she was looking at.

This technology also makes it possible for advertising to appear on other sites after the shopper leaves. If the shopper visits Facebook, the boots might show up in a promoted post. And the next day, when she’s reading the news online, the boots could appear in a banner ad.

Most people like getting personalized information. They often appreciate the reminder that they never actually bought the item they looked at, and they enjoy getting discounts on products they’ve considering buying. Marketers appreciate the level of insight they gain from website visitor tracking, and they also enjoy the results they see when ads are targeted based on visitor behavior and demographics. Website visitors who are “retargeted” with online ads are 70% more likely to convert on your website.

But some consumers feel like they’re being watched too closely when it’s obvious that companies can see where they’ve been on the web.

Best Practices for Using Cookies

the diagram made of wafers with a vanilla creamAs marketers, it’s up to us to educate consumers so they can continue to enjoy content and offers that are tailored to their needs and interests, while making sure that they understand how much control they have over the process. Let’s take a look at some best practices and see if we can find a way to create customized experiences for our customers – without making them want to toss their cookies. It all comes down to the golden rule: Do unto your customers as you would have done unto you.

  1. Have a clear privacy policy. Spell out what kind of information cookies collect, and how that information will be used. (Here’s ours.)
  2. Track your cookie use. Understand and periodically review how cookies are being used on your site as well as how you’re using cookies on third-party sites.
  3. Be consistent. Make sure that the way you’re using cookies is compliant with your privacy policy or the privacy policy of the third-party site where your cookies are placed.
  4. Give them an out. Provide a way for your customers to opt out of cookie tracking, especially if you have customers with organizational policies that place restrictions on the tracking of website visitors, or who are subject to different privacy laws in other countries.
  5. Be transparent. Inform your customers about the benefits of cookies and what they can expect from using them – as well as what may happen if they disable cookies from being placed.

In the future, cookies may become obsolete, and the term will go back to referring only to baked goods. Some experts are pointing out that many of us use multiple devices – a computer at home, another at work, a tablet, and a mobile phone – to go online. That means we’re accessing the web using a wide variety of apps and browsers, leaving cookies everywhere, and these bits of data don’t up to a complete picture.

There’s also some chance that cookies could be outlawed in the future – or at least highly regulated. Legislation was enacted in Europe in 2012 to control the use of cookies, and the demand for online privacy isn’t going away any time soon. CookieChoices was recently launched by Google  to help consumers – and publishers – navigate this legislation. But in the end, it’s up to all of us to understand the technology behind the online experiences we create, and to help our audiences understand them as well.

Are you making the most of evolving digital marketing techniques? Download this toolkit to find out how to generate sales leads through your website, read online body language, and track key performance indicators.

Digital marketing funnel 15 minute toolkit