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7 tips for better use of cookies

Dane Christensen
7 tips for better use of cookies Dane Christensen

Email marketers have long realized the benefits of personalized messages to make relevant connections with their intended audiences. But many overlook their ability to capture even more information about these audiences right from the comfort of their company websites. The information stored in cookies can reveal important preferences and settings that your customers and potential customers use that can affect your marketing decisions. And like email or other online marketing communications, cookies can be customized to ensure you capture the information about site visitors that is most important to your business, whether it's geographic location, monitor resolution, or the length of time spent browsing a site.

In this article, we offer seven tips to customize and mine your cookies for optimal data analysis.

Identify the web browser
Web pages might display differently, depending on which browser is in use. Some browsers might not even run crucial programs that are important to the receipt of your marketing message, such as Active X or Flash. If these factors are important to you, a simple snippet of code can be added to your web pages in order to determine the browsers your site visitors are using, so you can plan accordingly.

The first part of the code determines the user's browser, while the second writes the information into a cookie for you to use. In order to make sure this data is useful, try simplifying it for easy use. Pare down the scripting language to modify the user agent strings to three categories, such as IE, Mozilla, and "others." Or, even simpler, simply write the string to determine which visitors are using antique browsers versus new browsers. There are many pairings you can apply. Then let your web analytics software do the work for you to track the cookies you create.

Determine monitor resolution
When it comes to email and online marketing, it is crucial to make sure your message fits within the recipient's screen. Therefore, insight into a recipient's monitor resolution is key. Lower resolution monitors might cut off important information while higher resolution monitors offer plenty of real estate, allowing the user to view messages in more detail. If a visitor is using 800x600 resolution monitor compared to 1600x1200, your web page should be designed to reflect this. Design cookies to track the resolution of your visitor's monitors so you can lay out your web pages to reflect their preferences. A piece of JavaScript in the of your pages can determine the resolution of a visitor's browser and then write that value into a cookie. Surprisingly, there are several types of browser resolutions, so try writing the cookie so that it breaks them down in three groups, such as low, medium, and high.

Uncover the operating system
Mac versus Microsoft is not just a catchy advertising program; it could affect the success of your online marketing efforts, depending on which operating system a visitor is using. Whether a user is on MAC OS X, Microsoft Windows, or Linux, scripting language in your cookies can determine which operating system a user is on to display web content accordingly. Simply drop OS information in a cookie and create labels based on the type of system in order to render specific information toward your visitor by OS type, thereby personalizing their interaction with the site.

Determine time between visits
Understanding when users visit your site can help you determine why they are coming back. In order to track the time of their last visit, develop a cookie with a timestamp on it. Once the cookie is placed and a user revisits your site, place another cookie that determines the lapse in time. To make it easier, don't measure the exact time between visits; instead manipulate the data into broad groups, such as: less than one hour, one hour to 12 hours, one day to two days, one week to two weeks, and so on. The time difference in these groups can be as broad or narrow as you want, depending on the information that is most valuable to you.

Determine the number of visits
Similar to the time difference between visits, the number of times a user visits your site is also important. In order determine this, create a value within the cookie that will recognize the user, then create a calculation method for how many times a person has visited. In order to create meaningful data, group the number of visits into broader groups, such as one to five visits, six to 10 visits, 11 to 20 visits, and so on. These labels can help you calculate the average number of visits per user before a sales conversion and can translate into the lifetime value of customers.

Determine a visitor's location
Often, specific geographical regions can be vital to the success of a marketing campaign. Visitor location data can also help marketers decide where their efforts are performing well and vice-versa. Cookies can track a visitor's geographical location using a backend-database that stores information about the user. Assuming you have an ID code for your visitor by way of a cookie, you can retrieve the geographical information and upload the data into another cookie. Again, make sure the information is labeled in a way that is useful to you, such as broad two-letter state abbreviations or the first two numbers in a city's zip code. Use your scripting language to get as specific as necessary to best achieve your marketing objectives.

Develop roles
Determining which registered website users might be brand champions, and not just regular customers, can provide significant value for your company. A backend-database can help define and assign roles to each enrolled visitor to your site. Data can be placed in a cookie for you to gather a little more information that might be of use based on the actions registered users take. Understanding the different actions taken by active members versus a regular visitor could help marketers understand what drew the user to your site and could potentially determine the difference in how much money a user spent.

Cookies afford marketers the power and flexibility to obtain personalized information to customize a visitor's experience, and in turn, affect the company's ROI. By crafting customized cookies and analyzing the data they yield, marketers can be confident their efforts are reaching customers in the way they are intended.

Dane Christensen is SEM manager for Lyris.

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