March 15, 2010

Cookies: Personalization v Privacy


Hostway Team

By Samantha Gluck

Small business owners often use Internet cookies to gather data about prospects or customers visiting their sites. This can be a helpful exercise in streamlining the marketing process to align with customer preferences and tastes; however, there comes a point where this type of information gathering can become intrusive and scare off potential business.

What Exactly Is an Internet Cookie?

Internet cookies don’t come in chocolate chip or macadamia nut flavors, unfortunately. These cookies are unique digital identifiers that are placed on a Web surfer’s computer by a Web site he visited. These small text files gather data about the page visitor such as how long he stayed on the site, what pages he visited, what he clicked on, and any personal data offered up voluntarily, etc. The Web site, in turn, keeps a similar cookie with the same unique identifier. When the surfer returns to the Web site, the identifiers are matched up and any information gathered can be accessed by the Web site.

Web Profiling

The word "profiling" has earned a negative connotation in the English language. Americans do not want police to profile them, they do not want to be profiled in airports, and they are uncomfortable with marketers and businesses profiling them and using their information in ways that they may not like.

One method of Web profiling that truly turns prospects off is the practice of passing third party cookies on to page visitors and gathering data about them all across the web. This, sometimes very detailed information, is then often sold to various parties who use it for spam lists, direct mailings and other intrusive marketing practices.

Consumers became very upset and distrustful of cookies when it became public how marketers were using these tiny text files of encrypted information.

Because of this, Internet users now have the ability to turn cookies off on their computers. This will make it so Web sites cannot place a cookie on their computer.

Positive Aspects of Using Cookies

Using Internet cookies can be a beneficial practice for small businesses if properly handled. Any business owner knows that the better he knows his clientele, the better he will be able to serve them. For this reason, gathering information about customers’ tastes will allow small business owners to provide them with products and services they specifically prefer.

Things to Remember

Use "authorized marketing" practices. Customers become offended when Web sites seemed to be gathering information about them that is not necessary for their activities. Don’t try to force Web site visitors to use cookies. If the visitor has them turned off, do not turn them away or cause them to see an error message.

Provide a concrete benefit of using cookies to the page visitors. For example, produce a personalized greeting the next time they log on and offer them discounts and promotions on the products or services they are truly interested in.

Cookies are a valuable marketing tool for small businesses. Use them wisely.

About the Author

Samantha Gluck has had over a decade of experience helping businesses better focus their Web sites to enhance ecommerce and Internet presence by utilizing Web analytics, relevant design elements, and marketing campaigns.

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