When we mention cookies, we don’t mean those delicious bakes that you buy from the shop, we’re talking about website cookies. A very different type of cookie – but they can be very helpful when it comes to boosting your online experience.

Let’s dive right into the ins and outs of website cookies.

What are website cookies?

Cookies are small text files that are sent by websites to your browser, they can identify users and help improve your online experience. Cookies remember key pieces of information, such as logins and shopping preferences, so that the next time you visit a site you get a more tailored experience.

Did you know? Website cookies originally got their name from an earlier term ‘magic cookie’, which also described packets of data much like the cookies now.

What are website cookies used for?

Whether you know them as web cookies, browser cookies, HTTP cookies or just cookies, we’ve all come in contact with them at some point. But what exactly are they used for? Well, cookies recognise returning users, their preferences and save information such as usernames and passwords for easy access. They can help sites to learn more about you and your searching habits.

The benefits of cookies

We’ve all accepted cookies on a site at one time or another, and it’s usually just to remove the pop up. But when you accept the use of cookies on a site, what do you stand to gain? We’re going to run through some of the benefits of using cookies – so next time you say yes to them, you know what you’re getting.

Making online life easier

Cookies can help save time when you’re making purchases. When checking out online, it can be a pain to enter your address details every time you shop. With cookies, these will be automatically filled in. This also applies to login details too, but not to more sensitive information such as bank details.

Always available

Browsers keep hold of your information in the form of cookies until you delete them, so you can have access to their benefits for as long as you need. And this data has been collected over a wide range of sites so you get a personal experience every time you return to a website.

Managing or deleting cookies

Most of the time, it’s probably easier to just click accept when the cookies pop up appears, but there is the option to manually manage your cookies or to delete them altogether. This gives users a bit more freedom over how the cookies interact with their browsing history.

Improving your shopping experience

Shopping sites use cookies to track what you’ve purchased in the past and use this to show you items you may also like. Cookies also make sure to hold your items in your basket even if you exit your browser. This can be great for retailers, to encourage you to buy more from them, but not necessarily great for your bank account.

Do I have to accept website cookies?

Once you enter a website, a pop up will ask whether you want to accept, decline, or to manage the cookies on that site. As a user you get to decide, and most of the time declining cookies will not affect your time on a website. If you’re on a well-known site that you visit often, and you often make repeat purchases from this site, then cookies can be very beneficial, but you don’t have to accept website cookies.

Can cookies be used by hackers?

There are actually a few occasions when you may want to avoid clicking the ‘accept cookies’ button. For example if you come across any unsecure sites, then it’s probably best to skip the cookies – especially if you’re using public WiFi. In this scenario, there isn’t a level of security that’ll prevent hackers from intercepting your cookies, and it's unlikely that you want your personal info to be acquired by them. That’s why we recommend avoiding cookies in this situation, as it’s your data you’re giving away after all.

What are the different types of website cookies?

There’s a few different types of cookies that you might come across online, and each one is slightly different.

First-party cookies: One of the more well-known types, the first-party cookie is created by the website you actively click on. These are generally thought to be safe, and you can manage these within the site you’re browsing.

Third-party cookies: Another type that you’ve probably heard of, is third-party cookies. These come from a site separate to the one you’re using, usually via the ads on the page that you’re visiting. Third-party cookies will then acquire information about your browsing history to generate more specific ads on other sites you may visit.

Session cookies: These cookies are temporary, and only remain active as long as the user is on the site. They are then deleted once the user leaves the page.

Permanent cookies: Permanent, or persistent, cookies are still available even after you have left a web page. For example, usernames and passwords are remembered for the next time you visit a site.

Flash cookies: This type of cookie is stored independently of a web browser, so even after all cookies have been deleted, these guys stick around.

Zombie cookies: Like the name suggests, these cookies return to life even after being deleted. This type of cookie is extremely difficult to get rid of, and can hang around permanently on your computer.

First-party vs third-party cookies

First-party cookies come directly from the website you’re currently on, and will only impact your experience on that one site. Third-party cookies however, are slightly different. They accumulate on your browser from a number of domains different to the site you’ve clicked on, and usually track your behaviour between sites to ensure that the ads you receive are relevant.

So if you’ve suddenly started seeing loads of ads for holidays, but you’ve also visited a few holiday booking sites in the past week, then it’s likely your data has been stored as a third-party cookie. Third-party cookies are seen as the more “dangerous” of the two as they let advertisers have access to a user’s browsing history. Although this is useful for advertisers, being tracked online is not every user’s dream.

If you’re interested in talking through any of our products or services, call our sales team today. We provide everything from domain names to web hosting and website builder. Or if you just want to learn more about the tech world, why not check out our blog for more helpful articles?