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What is a website cookie?

person typing on laptop on webpage
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Website cookies are small text files, created when a user visits a website and stored on the user’s browser. Cookies are unique to each user, and allow websites to customize browsing sessions for each visit. Many of the best website builders have built-in cookie functions that let you do things like remember user preferences, manage their shopping carts, and other useful, customer-focused features. 

A cookie helps your website visitors and provides a unique, personalized browsing experience. A web server creates one or more unique cookies when a user accesses your website. The browser and website use these cookies to: 

  • Manage the current browsing session: Websites use cookies to recognize individual users during their time on the website, which lets the site adapt to the preferences they’ve selected for that current session—for example, what they’ve already browsed, their navigation through the site, and choices that don’t need to be “remembered” between sessions
  • Manage persistent preferences across multiple browsing sessions: Cookies also recognize visitors across multiple sessions; this allows websites to store user settings and show information—for example, their login and password, the contents of their shopping cart, and other persistent choices
  • Tracking user behavior: Cookies can track how people are using your website, allowing you to understand how they use your site and to optimize for the customer—for example, tracking the pages they visit, the items they want to purchase, and other user experiences

 Cookies are critical to a well-functioning, customer-focused website

How the best website builders use cookies 

When you’re creating a business website, the website builder you use can set and use cookies to create a better browsing experience. Here’s how the most popular website builders handle cookies.

Wix logo

(Image credit: Wix)

Wix and website cookies

Wix states that it uses cookies in several ways: 

  • Providing an excellent user experience for visitors and customers
  • Identifying registered members when they visit your website
  • Monitoring and analyzing the Wix platform
  • Ensuring the Wix platform is safe and secure

Shopify logo

(Image credit: Shopify)

Shopify and website cookies

Shopify has an extremely thorough cookie policy page. Shopify does place cookies when visitors interact with an ecommerce store that you’ve built on their platform. These cookies are used for: 

  • Navigating through a storefront and website
  • Managing customer logins, account access, localization, and privacy settings
  • Tracking items in a shopping cart
  • Managing the checkout and payment process

Squarespace logo

(Image credit: Squarespace)

Squarespace and website cookies

Squarespace makes extensive use of cookies and details its policies here. Squarespace uses cookies on the websites you build as follows: 

  • Remembering and securing customer logins and profiles, across and between sessions
  • Managing shopping carts and checkouts on ecommerce websites
  • Customizing popups, information bars, and similar interactive elements
  • Tracking and analyzing user behavior and sessions

Weebly logo

(Image credit: Weebly)

Weebly and website cookies

Although Weebly websites do use cookies, Weebly itself does not seem to have a cookie policy page. 

BigCommerce's logo

(Image credit: BigCommerce)

BigCommerce and website cookies

BigCommerce is an ecommerce plugin for WordPress websites. WordPress itself has hundreds of add-ons and plugins that allow you to customize cookies in thousands of different ways. BigCommerce itself doesn’t specifically list how it uses cookies, but it gives several examples of general cookie usage, so we can infer that their cookie usage includes:

  • Customer logins
  • Persistent shopping carts
  • Wish lists
  • Product recommendations
  • Custom user interfaces
  • Retaining customer address and payment information

Features and benefits of website cookies 

zoomed in image of Google's homepage

There are a wide range of benefits to having website cookies on your site (Image credit: Unsplash)

Cookies provide major benefits for website visitors, and helpful features for website owners and managers.

Remembering user information across and between website visits

Imagine how annoying it would be if you had to enter your login and password every time you wanted to check Facebook, or if an ecommerce website forgot your shopping cart contents whenever you browsed to a different page.

Website cookies stop that from happening. They uniquely identify your browser so that website systems can provide persistent information. That means a website remembers your login and password, user preferences, cart contents, and more. This removes hassle and creates a better browsing experience, which is essential to creating satisfied visitors and customers.

We want to personalize and customize websites to meet our unique needs. Website cookies mean you can remember a user’s choices and display information that’s relevant to them. From prioritizing a visitor’s favorite product categories, to changing how you display personal information, website cookies allow for deep, individual configurations and settings.

This helps users to easily interact with your website, creates a sense of security and trust, and builds a connection with your customers.

It’s vital to understand how visitors are using your website, so you can optimize for better user experiences and higher conversions and sales. Sites often use tracking cookies to help administrators understand and guide user behavior.

You might use Google Analytics cookies to see what your most and least popular pages are, or to understand how users navigate your website. You could take advantage of ecommerce analysis to identify popular items or abandoned shopping carts.

You can take that data, make improvements to your website, track changes, and continue to refine and optimize.

Website cookies give you a better return on investment for your marketing, and help you optimize ads that are relevant to your visitors. From a marketing perspective, this could mean tracking newsletter clicks or social media shares. From an advertising perspective, platforms like Google AdSense use cookies to show website ads that are relevant and specific to a user’s interests.

Some of these types of cookies, known as third-party cookies, are being phased out. This is due to privacy concerns. Currently, we don’t know if these cookies will be replaced by other technologies. 

Cookies can be used in many other ways. For example, web-based Software as a Service (SaaS) applications use cookies to collect, store, process, and show information. Other cookies may provide a safer and more secure website experience. 

keyboard with GDPR superimposed on return key

The GDPR requires you to notify EU users about cookies being used on your site (Image credit: Pixabay)

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and cookies

The GDPR and the ePrivacy Directive mean that you have to inform users from the EU that you’re using cookies on your website and then get their consent. This is the reason you see the cookie notification on websites where you need to click “Accept” to continue.

Here are some useful resources to find out more:

Many website builders have built-in “cookie bar” functionality where a user needs to consent to cookies when they first visit your site. 

Phasing out third-party cookies

Concerns about privacy and user tracking across websites mean that third-party cookies are no longer supported in Firefox and Safari web browsers, with Chrome set to follow suit in 2023. It’s important to stress that this applies to third-party cookies only. These cookies are typically the type that “follow people” across the web, normally for advertising purposes.

This change will not affect the cookies your website or your website builder uses for the purposes we’ve discussed previously—like remembering logins and settings, customizing the user experience, or tracking website usage. Those types of cookies, known as first-party cookies, will continue to work normally.

FAQs about website cookies 

Why are cookies used on websites?

Websites use cookies to identify and track visitors. This allows the website to remember and record specific information about the user. This may include their login information, profile, preferences, pages they visit, shopping cart details, and other data.

Almost all websites will use cookies of some type. If you require users to log in to your website, you will use cookies. If you track user behavior on your website, you will use cookies. If you sell products or services via ecommerce, you will use cookies. They are ubiquitous across the internet.

You don’t create website cookies as an individual. Instead, cookies are created by the technologies you use. This might include the builder you use to make your website, your Google Analytics installation, your membership software, or any of thousands of different applications and add-ons.

Users can manage and delete their cookies through their web browsers. They can delete all of their cookies at once or choose to manage them on a site-by-site basis. Some browsers even allow users to refuse cookies altogether, although this would make web browsing much more awkward!

In most cases, website cookies are extremely useful—both to a user’s browsing experience, and to help an administrator or owner to optimize their website. Bad opinions of website cookies typically come from privacy concerns, where third-party cookies will track visitors across multiple websites to understand their behaviors and interests so they can target ads or sell their data. Fortunately, the major browser makers recognize this and are disabling third-party cookies.

We want your website cookie takeaways to be delicious. Here’s what you need to know: 

  • Cookies enhance your website and make it much more user-friendly, which reduces frustration, builds trust, and creates customers
  • You can use website cookies to further analyze, understand, and optimize your website experience, boost conversions, and make sales
  • Website builders and other technologies will take care of most cookies for you, making them easy to implement
  • There are some data regulations that require you to inform users about cookies and get consent
  • Third-party cookies, which are mainly used to target advertising and marketing across the internet, are being phased out. Other types of cookies, including those used just for a specific website, will not be impacted by this change

Further reading on website builders

We’ve got plenty more information on cookies and website builders, although sadly there are no oatmeal cookie recipes! If you want to build a website, read our guide outlining how to build a website from scratch. We recommend using a builder to make site creation a breeze, and we’ve ranked the best small business website builders and best ecommerce website builders.

Before you start, you’ll need a good domain name; you’ll want to register it; and you'll want to protect it with domain privacy. Finally, it's worth considering the best web hosting services, which often offer the top website builders as part of their plans.

Paul Maplesden

Paul is a professional writer who creates extensively researched, expert, in-depth guides across business, finance, and technology. He loves the challenge of taking complex subjects and breaking them down so they are easy to understand. He can quote 'The Princess Bride' in its entirety and believes the secret to good writing is Earl Grey tea.