Suppose you own a website or are a part of the marketing team for an e-commerce platform. As a marketer, what will you be interested in? Your interest may lie in any or all of the following –
- Total no. of page visits
- Unique visitors on the page
- Total no. of clicks
- Total no. of purchases or transactions
- Average time a user spends on the website, etc.
Before we delve into the details on how we can pull out these numbers, let us understand a few things that happen in the background.
What happens when we hit a URL on the web?
A user (or a client as he is known in the tech world) enters the URL or the web address in the browser. For example –
Now, every website is hosted by a web server. A web server basically stores, processes and delivers web pages to the client (i.e. the user who entered the URL). All the communication over the web i.e. any communication between client and server happens using HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol).
Once, the user enters the URL on the browser, the browser contacts the web server and requests it for the web page. The server gives the response which contains the web page (or the requested information) and the browser displays it to the user. This exchange of request and response happens seamlessly in the background when we hit any URL on the web. Along with the response the server sends, it also sends messages called as the Cookies.
What are Cookies?
Cookies are files that contain information about a user’s visit to a website, as well as some user information like name, password, any information that user had previously entered like credit card number, stateful information like items added in the shopping cart or user’s browsing history like pages visited in the past or clicks. This piece of data is stored in the user’s web browser while the user is browsing. Every time the user loads the website, the browser sends the cookie back to the server to notify user’s previous activity. For this reason, Cookies are commonly used to track user’s website activity. A web server can gather information about which pages are visited the most, and which pages receive most hits. Every cookie has a unique id which is used to identify a user.
Use case 1 : A shopping website
When a user visits or makes any purchase on a shopping website, he usually fills out a form that includes his name, address, phone number and other details. Have you noticed that on subsequent visits, all the personal information is populated on its own? This happens because the cookie passed this information to the server on it’s first ride and on the next visits thereafter, the server passes all this information through the cookie which is displayed on the page automatically.
Use Case 2 : Personalization
What are the types of Cookies?
There are mainly two types of cookies –
- Session Cookies – As the name suggests, they are temporary cookies and last for a session i.e. until a user leaves the website. The shopping website example (Use Case 1) is a perfect example that uses a session cookie. Lets say a user selects one item and adds it in his shopping cart. This user now browses a few more products and add to his cart. This session cookie remembers all the items that were added to the cart irrespective of the number of product pages the user visited on that website.
- Persistent Cookies – These cookies remain in the cookie file of the browser for a longer duration and this duration depends on the lifetime of the specific cookie. The Personalization example (Use Case 2) is a perfect example that uses Persistent Cookies. It enable the website to remember the preferences or personalized settings that the user had selected in the past and displays the page accordingly when the user returns to that website.
The other thing called as Cookie Profiling!
Internet is smarter these days. It ‘knows’ everything about the user. User’s activity tracking does not happen only when a user visits a website. But, it happens all the time while the user is browsing. This is done by using the Persistent Cookies (Also called the Permanent Cookies).This is usually done for advertising. You must have seen an advertisement of a product that you might have searched for recently follow you everywhere. By using cookie profiling, a marketer, can target potential customers, by knowing their browsing habits, areas of interests and other personal details like age, gender, location etc.
How is Cookie Profiling done?
Marketers buy advertising rights from popular websites and collect all the cookie information and create a single user profile. This user profile may information such as user personal details, browsing history, browsing habits, preferences, demographic data etc.