What Is Cookie Tracking?

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Katie Broida
Katie Broida



Don’t be fooled by the name. “Cookie tracking” is not a new app for finding local bakeries’ freshest treats. Instead, cookies are a common way of keeping track of online visitors for a number of reasons, including website analytics and user logins.

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Whether you know it or not, your browser likely has a number of cookies picked up along the way during your browsing sessions. These small files are almost everywhere you look online, but they’re not always well understood, so let's dig into what cookies are, how your HubSpot-tracked pages use them to track your contacts, and how to avoid common mistakes.

Ready to learn how your users behave on your site? Check out our lesson on  traffic analytics.

What is a cookie?

In the most basic sense, a cookie is just a small text file that is stored on your browser. When you visit a website, the site developers may have a script on their pages to generate this text file and add it to your browser. Cookies don’t have the best reputation, but they are useful for a lot of what we want to do online. If you’re doing some online shopping, a cookie keeps track of your shopping cart for you and keeps you logged in while you switch between pages. Cookies are also helpful for website owners to understand their site traffic and how many individuals visit their website by tagging browsers with a unique cookie.

In HubSpot, we use cookie tracking to give you context for your site’s visits. When someone arrives on a HubSpot tracked page, a cookie is added to their browser to remember which site pages she viewed. Though this cookie does not have any identity information for anonymous, first-time visitors, it can still store the visitor's pages viewed. If your visitor enjoys your content so much that they choose to fill out a HubSpot form, they will have a record created for them as a contact in your HubSpot contact database. On this contact record, you will be able to see your visitor’s page history and interest in your content.

Why are cookies helpful?

Cookies are helpful for you as a marketer because it gives you the context you need to analyze what content resonates with your audience. Even when a visitor is not yet engaged enough to fill out a form, cookies still provide us with some useful information for site metrics. If someone does fill out a form and hasn’t cleared their cookies from when they were an anonymous visitor, you will have their visit information from that time as well. This shows you your audience’s interests and allows you to target your efforts on what is relevant to their needs.

Aside from page view history, cookies are helpful for contacts to update their email addresses. If a contact comes back to your site and fills out a form with a different email address, HubSpot will use their cookie information to update their record.  This means fewer duplicate records for you, and no information lost for your contact.

Sharing is caring, but not with cookies

Cookies are great for keeping track of contacts, but sometimes cookies cause HubSpot to overwrite contact records when you want it to create new ones. There are two common scenarios for this:

Multiple submissions from the same browser

When multiple people share a computer to fill out the same form from the same browser, the original contact record will be replaced with each new submission instead of new records being created. This is because the browser still has the same unique cookie, even when multiple individuals fill out the form. HubSpot will only be able to see this as a record update. One instance where this can be an issue is at tradeshows when attendees fill out a form on a computer at a tradeshow booth.

How to avoid:

If you know your contacts will fill out the same form on the same browser, turn off cookie tracking on the form. You find this setting when you edit the form in the options tab. Check out the image below for how it should look with cookie tracking turned off, or learn more on how to disable cookie tracking


Contact forwards an email and new recipient submits a form

It’s great when your contacts forward emails on to their friends and family. It helps your brand and brings in new contacts. However sometimes with identity tracking in emails, form submissions from these new contacts can overwrite the original contact’s record. This can happen when the new recipient clicks on a link in the email before the original contact does and then fills out a form. Because of the email tracking, HubSpot does not have a way to know that this new contact is not the original person and updates their record with this new information.

How to avoid:

Email forwarding is tough behavior to predict, but if you are promoting content you know your contacts will want to share (event or webinar registration, for example), you may want to disable identity tracking when you send that email and then re-enable it afterwards.

My contact’s record has been overwritten, now what?

If you notice a contact’s form submission has overwritten their information, you can separate their records. There are two ways to go about it, depending on how many contacts’ records you need to change.

Scenario A: I have a lot of records I need to change, and I don’t need the original contact’s visit history to stay on their record. In other words, my contacts all came from a recent conference where they submitted their contact information on a form that I had up on my laptop. These contacts were all created as one record that was overwritten over and over.  I just need their contact information separated out into individual records. I don’t need to save the original contact’s visit history or previous form submission information.

Solution: In this case, you could simply export your form submissions and re-import those submissions to re-create the contacts that were overwritten. This will give the original contacts an entirely new record and the new, overwriting contact will stay on the same record.


Scenario B: I noticed that a few of my contacts’ records have gotten overwritten from form submissions. The original record has been in my database for awhile, and I don’t want to lose their page views and email activity. I also don’t want that history attributed to another person that has overwritten this record. 

Solution: If you only have a couple of records to change, you may want to go about this manually to keep all of that valuable analytics information. To separate contacts manually:

1. Take a look at the overwritten contact’s record. By clicking the blue “i” next to a property, you can see what the past information was. Change the property’s information back to the original value.
2. At this point, you can re-create the new contact’s record. You can take a look at your form’s submissions for your new contact’s property values and create the new record with this information.
See also: How to view form submission data 

Cookies, not just empty calories.

And that’s it in a nutshell! Cookies add a level of complexity to managing a website, but with a little care they can be a very powerful tool for keeping your marketing efforts relevant to your contacts and make an impact on your business. Cookies provide a way to engage your contacts with information that they find interesting and gives you a window into how your marketing efforts are doing. They may be a sometimes food, but as a tracking tool, cookies take the cake.

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