So, medical issues aside, too many cookies can be harmful to the health of your online tracking. While cookies as a whole are a necessary part of the online landscape, the bad type, Third-Party cookies, can do a lot of damage to your tracking. Marketing in general, but more so online marketing, is nothing without tracking, so anything that can compromise your tracking is a no-no.
So what exactly do we mean by cookies?
In the early days of the internet, websites were far from the slick experiences we’re used to today. Early websites were a bit like Minecraft. Boxy and ugly. The potential was there for all to see, but the technology was primitive compared to modern websites.
One of the most significant issues early attempts at internet commercialization faced was the total absence of any way to track visitors. When a customer walks into your shop in the brick and mortar world, you ask them what they want and then show them stuff to buy. If you don’t know what a customer wants, you have to show them everything in the shop until you come across something they like.
That’s pretty much what the case was with early websites. Without the ability to track visitors, there was no way to know anything about them. All website users were anonymous, and the user experience was the same across the board – less than optimal.
That changed in the early ’90s when a Netscape employee, Lou Montulli, invented the HTTP cookie. His solution to the tracking problem was the HTTP cookie, essentially a piece of data stored on a web visitor’s browser that tracked on-site information and transactions.
Websites now had a way to collect and store data about their visitors. The idea was widely adopted and became the de-facto way websites tracked their visitors.
Not all cookies are created equal, however, and different types of cookies do different jobs.
Some cookie types include:
- Sessions cookies
- Secure cookies
- Persistent cookies
- First-party cookies
- Third-party cookies
What we know the best today as a tracking cookie is a persistent type. This type of cookie remains in the users’ browser history until it expires after a set number of days. Persistent cookies can originate from a website or a banner or other ads on the website from a third-party publisher.
Since these tracking cookies can be fired either from the website itself or from third-party ads on the website, persistent cookies fall into one of two categories. First-Party or Third-Party.
First-party tracking cookies are set directly by the website you happen to be visiting. Only the originating website can access these, and the cookie domain will be the same as the domain you’re visiting.
First-party cookies are beneficial to your overall web experience. Since they come from a known website, they are trusted and allowed by all web browsers by default. If you didn’t have first-party cookies, you’d have to keep logging in to YouTube, for example, or any of your other favourite websites.
Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are fired by an external server, for example, an ad server through the embed code used to host the ads on websites you might visit. That makes them a lot more intrusive since any website showing ads from the same ad server can now track your behaviour online. We all know the feeling. You click an ad on one website, and that same product seems to be following you around the internet on other websites you visit. Well, that’s because the third-party pixel is following you around.
This might seem innocent enough, but the problem with third-party cookies goes deeper than just being followed by an ad. Third-party cookies can collect all kinds of information about you, sometimes without you even being aware of them doing it.
This has lead to declining browser support for third-party cookies. Both the Firefox and Safari browsers now block third-party cookies by default. In January last year, Google announced they would be dropping support in Chrome for third-party cookies within two years.
If your marketing relies on tracking third-party visits, then this is all pretty much doom and gloom. However, there is light at the end of the tracking tunnel in the form of S2S (Server To Server) Postback tracking.
Server to Server Postback tracking doesn’t rely on cookies to work. S2S uses direct server communications instead, making for a much more reliable and elegant solution. S2S postbacks can be loaded with tags for specific actions, making for a much more accurate and flexible way to track your online marketing results.
Cookies may well be delicious, but in the online world, they will harm your tracking results. To stay ahead, you need to make the switch to S2S postbacks.
Are you stuck with non-performing cookie solutions to track your marketing? Talk to one of our account managers, and we’ll switch you over to an S2S postback solution faster than you can say “chocolate chip!”