24 Mar 2021

  • Digital Marketing
  • Data-driven Marketing
  • Data Compliance and Privacy

What is a web or internet cookie?

Internet or web cookies are a hot topic these days. This article provides a web cookies overview, as well as explaining different types of cookies and what are they used for.

What is a web cookie?

The term "cookie" was introduced by the programmer Lou Montulli. It’s a shortened version of the term "magic cookie", which refers to a piece of data exchanged between communicating programs.

A web cookie, internet cookie or http cookie is a small text file containing information about your computer and your browsing history.  When you browse the internet, the cookie file stores information about your unique user ID, websites’ names you have visited and your website settings information. The web browser you use will store cookies locally on your device, so next time you return to the website you have visited earlier, your browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari etc.) will send a cookie to the web server. This cookie will contain the information about your previous website visit as well as your device settings.

The original purpose of the cookie was to track your website activity and help digital marketers improve your online experience based on your previous website sessions.

What cookies are used for

Tracking website visitors
Shopping websites will use cookies to analyse users’ shopping habits – most visited pages, time spent on these pages, products purchased etc. When users come back to their sites they can offer other products based on users’ previous browsing and purchasing history as well as keep users’ items in their shopping cart.

Customised advertising
Information about users’ browsing patterns can be used for crafting specific types of ads or content that will be more relevant to the users. Cookies are used for building advertising target audiences, which makes ads more relevant because they are being served to a “warm” audience.

Session management
When you login to the website you have already visited, cookies allow the website to recognise you as a returning visitor -  your login details can be recalled, and login page fields can be prepopulated with your login details. Your site setting preferences like language or the news category you prefer will also be recalled on our returning website visit.

First party cookies are stored by the website you have visited by default. These cookies allow websites to collect information about your browsing session and to provide users with a better website experience (UX) as well as remember users’ website settings preferences and login details.

Second party cookies refer to sharing data with a partner businesses via a data sharing/affiliate partnership.

Third party cookies are cookies that are set by a website other than the one you are currently on. – a third party website. These cookies are used by digital advertising platforms because they assist with  tracking of user behaviour across multiple websites, collecting browsing history and building user profiles. The User profile information is then used for building target audiences to serve users more targeted ads.

Collecting information about users has serious implications for users’ privacy and this is the reason why third party cookies have been attracting a lot of attention recently. The increasing pressure from users and regulators to protect users’ privacy led to Apple and Firefox redefining third party cookies usage on their browsers, with  Google then following suit , announcing it will no longer allow the usage of 3rd party cookies on its browser. Google changes will likely take place in 2021/2022 and will have the most impact to marketers and advertisers given that the Chrome browser makes up 65% of third party cookies.

Even though only the third party cookies usage is under review, these changes will drastically alter the way digital ads are being served. A lot of ads serving platforms that require data from the third party cookies will be hit by this “third party cookies apocalypse”.

Stay tuned for more news about third party cookies usage in the months ahead as the updates roll in.

Learn more about Internet cookie changes and how to manage them at ADMA Internet Cookies Masterclass.

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