What Are Tracking Cookies? [FAQs]

Alisa Meredith
Alisa Meredith



tracking-cookiesThis post originally appeared on Inbound Insiders, a new section of HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Blog. To read more content like this, subscribe to Inbound Insiders.

Mmmm, chocolate chip! Oatmeal Raisin! Oreos (more addictive than cocaine, apparently)! Yes, many of us have a weakness for cookies -- but those aren’t the ones I'm talking about.

What I'm referring to are tiny files stored on our computers when we visit certain websites that provide information (such as a name, username, or email address) in a form.

How Do Cookies Work?

When a web server reads the cookies it previously placed on your computer, it can deliver a page tailored specifically to you or report information about you and your browsing habits back to the site owner.

Ever made a return visit to a website and been greeted by name? That’s because on your first visit, a cookie was installed. When you came back, the website server read your cookie and recognized you.

How Might a Marketer Use Cookies?

Since cookies can also be considered food, let's go with a tasty analogy to help you understand why cookies are so important for marketers.

You walk into the diner where you have breakfast every morning, and just like every other day, Ethyl comes to your favorite corner booth and asks what you’d like when she should know exactly what you want: The usual!

You don’t mind the first time or two, but when day after day, no one remembers you and your preferences, you start to feel more like another restaurant check than a human being. You might even start looking for a new breakfast joint.


Effective use of cookies can give your website the feel of a comfortable diner. You’ll find it keeps people coming back for more. In fact, HubSpot found that personalized content performed 42% better than standard content!

On the example landing page below, our servers look for cookies to give the viewer a more customized experience. The content shown below is triggered if the visitor belongs to a particular contact list (in this case, people who have downloaded our Online Marketing ROI ebook).

If the company name is on file, it appears in the title. Since the visitor already has the previous ebook in the series, a link is provided thatballows them to quickly grab it again. It also addresses the visitor by name. Form fields that have already collected certain contact information, such as company name, are replaced by new fields like job title. By doing this, we avoid asking for the same information over and over again. No more, “How do you want your eggs?” Every. Single. Day.


On the very same page is another version of the content that is shown to contacts who haven’t yet downloaded our ebook. Since the spreadsheet will be a lot more useful to people who have read the ebook, this content suggests that they download that offer as well. If they are an existing contact, we can address them by name and use their company name in the title.

If we have no information at all on the visitor, they will see default content. Next time they come back, though, we’ll know who they are and be able to provide a more personal experience.

Don’t be an “Ethyl.” Remember your visitors, their behaviors, and the things they have told you about themselves. That way, you’ll always keep that corner booth full!

Alisa Meredith is the co-owner and inbound marketing strategist at Scalable Social Media, an inbound marketing agency in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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