Cookies perform many different functions, from remembering that user log in information when visiting a site to what user preferences are selected. They also help identify which web pages are the most popular and what type of journey a visitor has through a website. This information helps website developers to plan and improve the content and layout of web sites and they play an important role in helping to develop a site that is easy to use and provides all the information needed for users.
There are different types of cookies which can be used at any time depending on what information the company needs to improve the site:
The information gathered from cookies is also used, on occasion, for promotional and market research purposes such as sending promotional emails about new products, special offers or email surveys to get feedback from users of the website.
Websites often use a Google AdWords remarketing service which allows them to advertise on third party websites such as Google Search results, targeting previous users of the site who may have shown an interest but did not complete an action such as pay at checkout or complete some basic information.
There is an option to opt out of internet based advertising like this by setting preferences on the Google Ad Preferences page.
Many websites contain social media portals including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Vimeo, Google+ etc. These are external social media websites and therefore will have content embedded in these links.
For example, Twitter has a cookie which is set at the first load of the twitter application. You must accept the cookie in order to get access to tweets.
Web beacons are transparent images which are normally 1 pixel in size. Web beacons are used alongside cookies to allow website owners to track user activity on certain pages such as tracking whether an HTML email has been opened or not. If it has then the web beacon sends the server data confirming an action has occurred.
Web beacons, together with cookies, help website owners understand how users interact with the site by ensuring that content is relevant and to improve website and email content.
More information on web beacons can be found here
Each cookie has an expiration date and when visiting a website for the first time, a web server sends a cookie and requests the user’s browser keeps that particular cookie for a specific period of time. Cookies can expire within a few minutes, hours, days or even years in the future.
It’s important to note that cookies are harmless and are used to help maximise website functionality and make the user experience better, however there are a number of ways to opt out of cookies:
Information about managing cookies can be found here