Cookies are bad right? Wrong. Some cookies could be considered as bad by visitors, but unfortunately this perception has spread so it is believed that all cookies are an underhand way of stealing personal information. As we’re about to show, the truth is that cookies aren’t bad, they’re just misunderstood.

How cookies help visitors

Web visitors are able to control their cookies and the personal data they collect – and so they should – but the reality is that lots of cookies are actually very useful for visitors. Cookies allow users to save preferences to simplify their journey, show them more relevant content or streamline their next visit. Preferences including location and what audience type you belong to are all ‘cookied’ (stored by cookies) to make our lives easier. It means we don’t have to repeat ourselves each time we visit.

Let’s look at this from another angle, take Netflix for example. Every time I watch something Netflix captures what I have watched, the genre, if it was a film or series and how far through I watched (in case I would like to continue where I left off). They then suggest what I may like to watch based on these preferences and it is, on the whole, very helpful and a feature that many really value. Now Netflix may not be based solely on cookies but the principle remains. Why then should our websites be any different?

Aside from some visitors making their own lives more difficult, the other major issue here is analytics – analytics cookies don’t fall into ‘strictly necessary’ cookies, which is an option many visitors now choose because ‘cookies are bad’. These analytics cookies are imperative for us marketers’ understanding of our websites and how users use them. They allow us to create better websites, more effective user journeys and they inform what we show to new vs returning visitors. It’s this information that enables us to be better marketers and provide superior web experiences for our visitors.

Changing requirements for cookies

A recent legislation update means website cookies have to be set to ‘off’ as standard and users will have to provide explicit consent to opt in. This again makes it less likely for a visitor to turn on all cookies. We’ve already seen some firms experiencing large drop-offs in analytics data as a result. So what can we do?

Our goal is to help visitors understand what cookies do and make a decision about them. Unfortunately for us, our visitors don’t often have time to read through a plethora of cookie descriptions to understand what each one does.

Our websites should therefore have one short sentence in our consent banner to describe in layman’s terms what we require cookies for. I highlight that word because all too often the legal team are tasked with writing the cookie acceptance copy and it isn’t always clear to a visitor what they are accepting, so they simply decline. Don’t underestimate how powerful this sentence can be, this sentence determines the number of visitors who accept cookies vs those that only accept ‘strictly necessary’ cookies.

Improving user experience with cookies

The second part of the equation is the often overlooked and undervalued user experience (UX) aspect. The goal of our cookie banner is to encourage a user to accept the cookies that they are comfortable with. At the very least we would like acceptance of analytics cookies. We need to be totally clear to visitors what cookie acceptance means for them;  compliance with the regulations and that an understanding of this among our users come before all else.

The more visitors that accept analytics cookies, the more data we have and the better informed decisions we can make about our websites. The way choices about cookies are presented to users through a combination of content and effective UX, will have a significant impact on the analytical data that can be collected from our websites.

UX will encourage users to either:

(a) accept only strictly necessary cookies

(b) find out more about each individual cookie

(c) accept all cookies

The best of both worlds is to encourage users, through UX, to accept all cookies while also allowing them to quickly and easily understand the detail behind cookie usage on your site, should they wish to do so.

The data provided by cookies is the lifeblood of our decision making capability as marketers. Next time you visit your website, do so in incognito mode and review your cookie banner. You may look at it and think ‘how much data are we missing out on due to the way we ask this question?’