You’ve likely heard of cookies and session IDs. The difference between a cookie and a session ID, briefly, is that a session ID expires after a user closes their browser or leaves your website. The cookie is downloaded to the website visitors hard drive and the next time they arrive at your site you are able to see what they’ve viewed or purchased in the past. That information can be extremely valuable.
- With cookies, you can learn your users’ navigational preferences and tailor them to suit those preferences. In other words, if you have content on a tier 3 structure and there are multiple paths to a certain page, a cookie can tell you whether a visitor prefers to take Path A or Path B to get that specific content. You can then tailor your offerings to narrow down that navigational path for each user.
- Cookies also allow you to maintain password-protected web pages, or membership sites, and show only those features that require a password to users with a cookie that has a password stored on it. Non-registered users will get the “plain vanilla” version while your registered users can enjoy all the benefits of your content.
- Cookies can also restrict search engines from accessing and indexing certain portions or web pages on your website while allowing registered users the full benefit of the content.
- One of the most powerful uses for cookies and session IDs is to tailor your product offerings to users based on past purchases. Amazon.com has gotten real good at this. If you know that a certain user has a preference for yellow widgets versus blue then if you roll out a new product called Super-Duper Yellow Widget then your cookie can let you know when visitors with that preference are on your site. Your content will then be tailored to make an offer to those visitors while ignoring the visitors who prefer blue widgets.
- Cookies can also tailor your advertising toward visitors with certain content preferences – even on the same page. For instance, if that yellow widget customer decides to visit the blue widget page then they’ll still see ads for yellow widgets even though that page normally displays ads for blue widgets.
- Of course, the most common usage for cookies and session IDs is to improve user experience. Cookies can remember your visitors’ passwords and allow them to visit your site without having to login manually every time. You can even program the cookie to give your visitors a choice about that as some users are more concerned with privacy issues.
- Cookies can also help you tailor your advertising preferences to certain types of advertisers who have shows a tendency to prefer certain types of content over others for their advertising purposes.
Cookies are very powerful and can be useful to you, your advertisers, search engines, and your visitors. Information can be collected on all of the above from all of the above for all of the above.