Anatomy of a Retargeting Cookie

By • May 29, 2019

Or, how the retargeting cookie crumbles.

When it comes to programmatic advertising, a cookie is not a delicious treat – it’s an essential advertising component that helps you reach the right audience. Cookies can be a revenue driver, a tracking beacon and even a method to expand your online audience.

What is a cookie?

Cookies are small text files with a coded ID tag that stores within a user’s browsing platform to help keep track of the websites the user is visiting. In advertising jargon, it’s also known as a pixel.

When you visit a website, that site creates a cookie to tag your activity and keep track of your movements within the site. The cookie can help you pick up where you left off, remember your login, your preferences, and other customized functions. The website that places the cookie in your browser has a corresponding source code/file so they can track your movements on the site.

Websites also use cookies to keep track of any information that’s voluntarily given – such as email address or name when filling out a form. Clicking the “remember me” option next to forms or logins is a common way that cookies are used to enhance the experience of return site visitors. This is similar to how you return to your favorite coffee shop and the barista already knows your order (one medium coffee with a snickerdoodle, please). Cookies are used to help the companies behind websites get to know you and your preferences better.

The other main thing you need to know about cookies is that there are two kinds: session and persistent. Session cookies are temporarily created in your browser while you’re visiting a website. Once you’ve left the site, session cookies are deleted. Persistent cookies remain in your browser’s files and are activated once you revisit the site that placed the cookie. This type of cookie stays with you for as long as the website wants – usually up to 30 days – or until you delete it from within your browser settings. These persistent cookies are what advertisers use to serve you ads after you’ve left the original site.

Protecting user privacy

Cookies are harmless. They don’t carry records of any personal data from your browser or hard drive. They simply contain data created by your browsing habits: sites and pages visited, links clicked, images viewed, videos watched, and so on. Thanks to GDPR regulations, most websites must now ask users to enable or accept cookies before the website can add one to your browser.

Using cookies for programmatic advertising

Cookies are an essential ingredient for programmatic advertising because of their ability to help you follow website visitors after they’ve left your site. For example, if an association member visits your site and then moves on to visit a cupcake recipe, the cookie that your website placed on their browser will stay with them. This opens a new world of advertising possibilities because your association, or advertisers, doesn’t need to buy ads on this random cooking blog – the cookie acts as a reference that this user is also interested in your product based on their previous actions.

The cookie that is placed when the user visited your site is what allows the ad publishing program to recognize that this specific user is interested in your association ad – triggering the real-time bidding for the programmatic ad space on another site. The power of the cookie doesn’t lie in the ingredients but rather how it ties into a programmatic ad platform. As long as the website participates in a programmatic ad network, ads from your organization can display to site visitors across the internet.

Curious about how programmatic advertising as a whole can help associations reach their audiences beyond their website? Check out 3 Ways Associations Can Benefit from Programmatic Advertising or visit naylor.com/programmatic-advertising to learn more.

*Sorry, there are no chocolate chips involved in the anatomy of a retargeting cookie.

About The Author

Dominique Escalera is a marketing specialist with Naylor Association Solutions.