What’s a Cookie, Anyway?

The challenge of customer analytics

Are you a website publisher who’s trying to get up to speed on customer analytics? If so, you’ve likely come across a lot of technical information about how customers get recognized, measured, tracked, and categorized. Without question, it’s a lot to absorb.

So as you look at the analytics tools that are out there, it can help to learn more about how they work. One thing that has a real impact on audience measurement is a fundamental piece of the Internet called the “first-party cookie”.

Cookie basics

So, what exactly is a first-party cookie? It’s a small piece of data that gets sent from the website you’re visiting to the Internet browser you’re using. In a sense, this piece of data allows the website and your browser to talk to one another and share information.

Why do sites send a first-party cookie?

Software engineers introduced cookies into the Internet back in the mid-1990s. They designed cookies to help websites remember things such as a customer’s username and password or what’s in their shopping cart. This makes getting things done on the web faster and easier for the customer and helps websites deliver a smoother experience. Everybody wins, right?

Using cookies for audience measurement

One interesting thing about cookies is that they’re also able to remember a visitor’s browsing history. This led analytics professionals to begin using cookies to track customer behavior. Why? Because a cookie can see what web pages people visit and what buttons they click. And that anonymous audience data can tell website publishers how people are interacting with their content.

For example

Say a customer opens up their browser and visits the website of a major news publisher. If they’ve never visited the website before, a cookie gets sent to their browser.

A cookie is a small string that is set in your browser by the site you are visiting. When you visit that site again, it can see the cookies that it has set. This lets the publisher identify a user across browsing sessions, allowing it to store preferences, shopping carts, etc. Third party cookies redirect to a partner, such as Quantcast, who can deliver insights based on the wider browsing context of users.

What does this mean for audience analytics? It means that a website can learn a lot more about customers by looking at their behavior across the entire Internet as compared to only one website. This makes audience profiles even more detailed and accurate.

Take cookies into account when evaluating analytics tools

Getting to know your customers in the digital age can be difficult, but having good data can make it a lot easier.

As you decide which audience analytics products are right for you, remember to look at how they get the audience data you need. One product may rely on the direct record of audience behavior revealed by cookies. Another product may collect the data less directly and that can affect the accuracy of your data.

If you want to take a deeper dive into all things cookie, here is a good resource.

Additionally, here are some current tools that you can use to discover data on your audience:

No matter what tool you choose, taking steps to understand your audience is one of the most powerful things you can do for your business.

Sign up for Quantcast Measure to learn more about your audience.