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Augmenting information using cookies

While the IP address you collect by either method may also help track a user’s path through your site, using IP addresses to uniquely identify visitors is inconsistent and inaccurate for a variety of reasons, no matter which of the tracking methods above you choose to use. For instance, a large number of internet users may share a single IP address assigned by their internet service provider (ISP).

That means that if your analytics solution relies solely on IP addresses to identify unique visitors, it will count these multiple users as the same visitor, skewing your data. On the flip side, users with mobile devices will be assigned a different IP address whenever they connect to a new Wi-Fi network, so a person returning to your site would be identified as a new visitor rather than a returning one, unless the analytics in place have an effective device-specific identifier applied for situations where cookies do not work.

At home, rebooting the household broadband router will often have a similar effect. 74 Understanding Digital Marketing To get around these limitations, and to remember site settings that help to improve the user experience, many websites and third-party tracking services employ hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) cookies to identify individual users. Cookies are small files that are sent to the user’s browser and stored on their local hard drive.

Typically they store a unique ID that allows the site (or tracking service) to identify a returning visitor, store site preference and personalization settings, and help to track that visitor’s navigation around a website. Cookies get a bad press because of the potential privacy issues associated with what are called persistent third-party cookies, or cookies that are set by a domain other than the one you’re visiting (by content on the page pulled from another domain, such as ads, widgets or embedded video, for example), and that persist beyond the scope of your existing browser session.

In theory, these cookies could be used to track visitor behaviour across multiple websites, building up a picture of user browsing behaviour as they surf the web. That is perceived as a bad thing, because large ad-serving and tracking companies can potentially use cookies to build up profiles of user behaviour across all the websites they serve, without explicit consent from the user. In practice, while cookies can be used to glean user data without explicit consent, they tend to be largely harmless.

Finally

The plus side is that they allow websites to deliver a better user experience to their customers and allow more accurate tracking of website statistics, which in turn allow website owners to optimize content and improve the visitor experience still further.

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