What are website cookies? Illustrated by a predictable image of biscuits because it's SO hard to find anything better!

What are website cookies?

Everything you need to know about website cookies

Have you ever wondered why some websites remember your preferences, such as your username, password, language, or shopping cart? Or why some websites show you ads that are relevant to your interests or search history?

The answer is cookies. Standard boring “cookie” pun alert: no, not the delicious biscuits that you dunk in your tea, but the small files that are stored on your computer when you visit a website.

In this article, we’ll explain what cookies are, how they work, and why they are important for your online experience.

What are cookies and how do they work?

Cookies are bits of data that are sent to and from your browser to identify you. When you open a website, your browser sends a piece of data to the web server hosting that website.

This data usually appears as strings of numbers and letters in a text file. Every time you access a new website, a cookie is created and placed in a temporary folder on your device. From here, cookies try to match your preferences for what you want to read, see, or purchase.

You can think about cookies like giving your name with your order at your local coffee shop: It’s something that helps provide a service, it’s personal but they don’t know you so the data might be misinterpreted (how often is your name spelt correctly?!), it’s part of the system that gets you what you want, and is tailored exactly to you.

The coffee shop only needs it that one time to make sure you get your order, but over time you build a relationship and they will start to remember you and your regular order. Make sense?

What types of cookies are there?

There are two types of cookies: authentication cookies and tracking cookies.

Authentication cookies

These save your information when you log into a website. This includes your username and password, which account you’re using, and whether you’re currently logged in.

By authenticating your credentials through a unique session identifier, this cookie allows you to access the website without logging in again.

Tracking cookies

Tracking cookies record your web usage and save information about your “session,” i.e. your time on a website. They track pages you visit and personalise your searches, displaying custom content tailored to your interests.

When you use a search engine like Bing or Google, the website will note what you’re looking for and then show you products or services that you might find useful.

Why are cookies important?

Cookies are important for both users and website owners, as they provide several benefits. These include: improved user experience, enhanced website performance, and insights about the traffic to the website.

Improving user experience

Cookies make websites more user-friendly and convenient, as they remember your preferences, settings, and choices. For example, cookies let websites recognise you and recall your individual login information and language.

Enhancing website performance

Cookies help websites load faster and run smoother, as they reduce the amount of data that needs to be transferred between your browser and the web server. For example, cookies let websites store images and other media files on your device, so you don’t have to download them every time you visit the website.

Providing website analytics

Cookies help website owners understand how their websites are used and how they can improve them, as they collect data on user behaviour, such as traffic, bounce rate, and conversion rate. For example, cookies let website owners see which pages are popular, which pages need improvement, and which pages are not visited at all.

How can you manage your cookies?

Website cookies are generally harmless and useful. However, some people may have privacy concerns about how their data is collected and used by websites, especially by third-party advertisers.

EU Law requires every website to give you the option to manage your cookie settings. Previously, passive consent was acceptable. But this is now being tightened up and websites are required to give users the option to customise what cookies are used on individual websites.

Stay compliant with customised cookie banners and user-specified customisation

If you want to have even more control over your cookies, you can manage them through your browser settings. You can choose to accept or reject cookies, delete cookies, or block cookies from specific websites. You can also use private browsing modes, such as InPrivate Browsing in Microsoft Edge. Using these controls you can prevent cookies from being stored on your device.

Cookies are a hidden, yet integral part of the online experience. They help websites remember you, your preferences, and your interests, and provide you with a more personal and convenient website visit.

However, they can also raise privacy issues, so you should be aware of how they work and how you can manage them.

We hope this article helped you learn more about cookies and how they affect your online experience. If you have any questions or would like your website cookie consent set up checked, please get in touch.