Cookies: How to Improve Your Website and Learn From Your Visitors

    August 21, 2001

Question: How can you improve your visitor’s experience of your website AND at the same time learn how to improve your website (or learn how to increase sales)?

Answer: cookies

Cookies? Yes. Let me explain…


A “cookie” is simply a small piece of text information which a web server stores temporarily with your web visitor’s browser. (Note: cookies are *not* programs.) This means your visitor’s browser remembers some specific information which the web server can later retrieve.

So cookies simply allow your site to store information on your visitor’s computer for later retrieval.

A basic example of a cookie in action can be found here –

Another example is the “online shopping mall” that uses cookies to add items to a user’s “shopping cart” as they browse. And I use cookies on my own website to make sure a pop-up window loads ONCE ONLY ( ).


Basically, cookies allow you to improve a site visitor’s experience of your website. I’ve listed a few examples to show how this can be achieved:

* Cookies can store visitor preferences. This means you can present customised information to your visitor, as per their own requirements. (This is how portal sites like MSN work.)

* Cookies can pre-fill form fields for your visitor.

* Cookies can automatically login visitors to your site

* Cookies can provide visitor statistics and therefore help you understand your visitor’s needs. Cookies can provide site metrics like unique visitors, average number of page-views, percentage of repeat visitors et cetera. And cookie-generated statistics are much more accurate than using log files.

(Do remember though, that people sometimes share computers; some browsers are set to reject cookies; and cookies can be erased.)

So not only are cookies an efficient way of keeping track of information, they also help personalise your site visitor’s experience of your site.

And that’s the point with cookies – how can *you* help your site visitor? (No, it doesn’t mean how can you invade your visitor’s privacy! The use of cookies can be abused by site owners, but this ultimately leads to cookie-blocking software being installed and used; so set your cookies cautiously!)


CookieCentral is an excellent resource dedicated to all things Cookie. The site’s described as providing “information of persistent cookies, HTTP cookies, cookies with JavaScript, magic cookies, [and] maintaining state with cookies and more.”

But don’t worry if that sounds too technical for you, CookieCentral really is a great place to learn about the pros and cons of using cookies. From the concept of cookies through concerns about privacy to JavaScript and CGI demo code – you’ll find it all at CookieCentral.


If you want to know more about how cookies work, then visit these sites:,4161,58390,00.html,aid,15352,pg,1,00.asp


As ever, the web is filled with free programs and scripts that allow you to use cookies. Whether you want to use JavaScript, CGI/Perl, PHP or ASP – there are free resources that help you implement cookies on your site.

JavaScript cookies –

CGI/Perl cookies –

Developing a User Personalization System with PHP and Cookies –

ASP and cookies –


You can find out a great deal more about using cookies on your site from the following excellent resources. Just do a search for “cookies” and off you go!

–Cookies can improve your visitor’s experience of your web site, through personalisation. Using cookies, your site may well run more efficiently too, and could provide you with accurate site statistics helping you deliver just what your visitors are looking for. Just use cookies carefully, so your visitors benefit!

STEVE M NASH is the author of the ebook: “3 Super-Tips To
Build, Promote And Profit More From Your Website.” Download
your free copy now!

He’s also the author of many popular articles aimed at
webmasters, affiliates, even complete beginners. Read them