Third party, first party, chocolate chip… oh wait, we want to talk about an internet cookie, don’t we? You have likely heard about cookies and why they are important to your marketing tracking metrics. But what is the difference between a third party and a first party cookie? Which should you use? And why?
To answer that question, let’s take a quick step back and make sure we’re working from the same definition of a cookie. A cookie is simply a small piece of code placed on your computer by a visited website for the purpose of recognizing your specific browser/computer combination when you return to the site in the future. The word ‘party’ refers to the domain coded within that “cookie” placed on your computer.
Therefore, a first party cookie means the domain coded in the cookie equals the domain of the website you’ve visited. For example, I visit the website company.com and the domain listed in the cookie also shows company.com. The first party data information is a one-to-one connection between my computer and the website I am visiting.
A third party cookie is typically placed by large data aggregators and tracks information between your computer and the multiple websites you visit. Again, I visit the website company.com but the domain listed in the cookie is free-stuff.com. This makes it a third party cookie. Essentially, third party cookies collect demographic and behavioral information about your browsing habits and share it with advertisers and data providers for re-selling.
So what? Why should you care?
Third party cookies are by far the most prevalent data collection method today. They are the basis of the current digital ecosystem. But, more and more, we see third party cookies rejected and increasing numbers of consumers manually block or delete them on a regular basis. Most anti-spyware applications and default web browser privacy settings block third party cookies as well. This makes third party measurement incredibly inaccurate. If you rely upon that behavioral data to target returning visitors to your website, you are undoubtedly missing a large portion of your potential audience.
Conversely, very few consumers block first party cookies because without accepting them, Internet surfing is very difficult. Remember, it is a one-to-one relationship between you and the website you are browsing, and are necessary for you to be recognized as you. These websites are trusted and frequently accessed, so consumers allow the first party cookies to avoid any inconvenience in their browsing experience. The advantage for marketers is that unique and returning visitors can be more accurately identified and tracked so you can offer a more personalized user experience. Additionally, enabling first party cookies reduces form friction because repeat visitors are readily identifiable and can bypass form requirements and go directly to your content or offers.
So, are you ready to enable first party cookies on your website?
Most likely, your marketing automation platform offers the ability to enable first party cookies as part of the visitor tracking scripts placed on your website. This is great news for your marketing efforts! To elevate your marketing to meet best practices, you will need the assistance of your IT team to install one extra line of code and tweak the CNAME of your DNS record, and that’s it! Then you have time to sit back, watch the trackable visitor activity come in and finally enjoy those chocolate chip cookies.