Internet cookies are very small text files that are downloaded to your web browser when you visit certain websites. The main purpose of a web cookie is to identify users and prepare a more personal customized experience for users.
Data stored in a cookie is created by the server upon your connection. This data is labeled with an ID unique to you and your computer. When you visit the same website again, it is able to recognize that you have been there before, and tailor the content it displays to you accordingly.
For instance, login data may be recorded in a cookie, allowing you to re-enter secure areas of the website without having to re-submit a username and password.
More sophisticated tracking cookies can also record data on the length of time you spend on certain pages, which links you tend to click, even things like your language, preferred page layout and color scheme. In this respect, cookies are used to improve the browsing experience on frequently-visited websites.
How are they used in online advertising?
Cookies have become crucial in online advertising for a number of reasons. By tracking a user’s online surfing habits, it is possible to target them with adverts that should be more relevant to their interests; this is behaviour-based advertising. Advertising space on websites is auctioned on real-time bidding exchanges, with advertisers bidding for space not just based on the type of site, but also the type of visitor.
The cookies stored in a user’s web browser provide a profile of that particular person and their browsing habits, allowing advertisers to target specific groups of people.
Website cookies are known as ‘first-party’ cookies, and the advertisers which have subsequently been invited to target the user of the site can also download ‘third-party’ cookies to the user’s browser through their ads.
Third-party cookies manage how ads, widgets and other elements of the web page appear and can control how often ads are repeated for the same user, while also tracking the user’s browsing habits for advertising purposes. By combining data received from both types of cookies, advertisers are able to characterize and segregate the target audience in a variety of different ways.
The future for cookies
The death of the third party cookie
The use of third-party tracking cookies has often been a contentious point, as they can be downloaded to a browser despite the user not actually visiting the site they originate from. And early on in January 2020, Google issued the official death warrant for third-party cookies, setting in motion plans to kill third-party cookies in Chrome by 2022. This is hardly a shocking development for anyone who has been observing trends in the media industry, marketing technology, and privacy sensitivities in recent years.
The future of digital advertising without cookies
Over the past decade, an over-reliance on third-party cookies has changed the industry – and not necessarily for the better. What does a future without cookies look like? Publishers must switch their strategy to focus on first-party data, and contextual targetting– allowing publishers to leverage their unique, valuable relationship with their audiences.