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

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Time for a quick question and answer session. Question: How can you improve your visitors’ experiences of your website, AND at the same time learn how to improve your website (or learn how to increase sales)?

Answer: Use cookies

Cookies? Yes. Let me explain…

COOKIES EXPLAINED

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 use.

A basic example of a cookie in action can be found here – http://www.jsworkshop.com/js3e/list24-1.html

Another example is the “online shopping mall” that uses cookies to add items to a user’s “shopping cart” as they browse.

Here are two examples of how my own sites use cookies (I use them to make sure a pop-up window loads at a set frequency):

- Pop-up ONCE ONLY http://www.shoptour.co.uk/webmaster.shtml

- Pop-up ONCE PER DAY http://www.anyonecansellonline.com/tips.shtml

For those interested, the cookie code is stored here http://anyonecansellonline.com/makemoneyfiles/cookie1.js

WHY YOUR WEBSITE SHOULD USE COOKIES

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

* 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 visitors’ needs. Cookies can provide site metrics like number of 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 visitors’ experiences of your website.

And that’s the point with cookies – how can you help your site visitor?

No, it doesn’t mean you can now invade your visitor’s privacy! The use of cookies is often abused by site owners, but this ultimately leads to cookie-blocking software being installed and used; so do set your cookies cautiously, and include a privacy statement on your site explaining your use of cookies! (See below.)

USE THIS COOKIE RESOURCE

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.

- http://www.cookiecentral.com/content.phtml?area=2&id=1

OR VISIT THESE SITES TO LEARN ABOUT COOKIES

If you want to know more about how cookies work, then visit these sites:

- http://www.howstuffworks.com/cookie1.htm
- http://www.newbalancecatalog.com/General/cookies.htm
- http://www.allaboutcookies.org/cookies/index.html

OR JUST DO IT YOURSELF!

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 – you can find free resources that help you implement cookies on your site.

JavaScript cookies – http://webdeveloper.earthweb.com/webjs/cookies/

CGI/Perl cookies – http://cgi.resourceindex.com/Programs_and_Scripts/Perl/Cookies/ (all 1 word)

PHP User Personalization System with Cookies – http://www.devshed.com/Server_Side/PHP/Cookies/

ASP and cookies – http://www.w3schools.com/asp/asp_cookies.asp

PRIVACY WARNING!

More and more web users are becoming sensitive to their online privacy. Rightly so. And this includes cookies, and how your site uses them. So do make sure that you understand the issues involved, and set your privacy statement accordingly.

This article explains more… http://www.sitepoint.com/article/p3p-cookies-ie6/1

READ MORE…

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!

http://www.workz.com
http://www.iboost.com
http://www.sitepoint.com

Cookies can improve your visitors’ experiences 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 that your visitors benefit!

(And continue to learn from the invaluable resources above, and below ;-) !)

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! http://www.wise-buys.info/bonus.shtml

He’s also the author of many popular articles aimed at
webmasters, affiliates, even complete beginners. Read them
here! http://www.wise-buys.info/webmaster-articles.html

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