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You may have heard a lot of people talking about the EU Cookie regulations and what it means for website owners, but what is it all about? Here is our summary of the cookie regulations in real terms!
What are Cookies
Most people in the UK do not understand what a cookie is and how it affects your website browsing. However by May 26th this month websites in the UK are expected to notify the public if they are using cookies on the site, and to give them the option to opt in or out.
Cookies are a simple text file used by your web browser. When you visit a website for the first time they are downloaded onto your computer. By downloading a cookie onto your computer, website owners can see if you have visited the site before and in some situations display different content that would be more applicable to a user that has already seen the site.
It is estimated that every website drops 14 cookies on average. Only 32% of these are from the website itself and the other 68% are from third party analytic’s or advertisers, and more often these days are social media sites that feed into the website.
Essential Cookies are cookies are, as the name implies, cookies that are needed for the website to function properly. These are usually cookies that are on shopping carts and security pages. Other essential cookies are needed to help pages load quickly by distributing the sites workload.
Non Essential Cookies
Non essential cookies are cookies that are not needed for the site to work, in particular, advertising cookies that display certain adverts and may advertise something they know you are interested in from your browsing history. Many adverts are affiliate links and these links will track a user from one website to another website, so the referring website can earn commission on a sale. These cookies are non essential cookies.
Cookies have been used to improve websites for years as website owners track which links are used and how many pages users look at on a website. By having this information website designers have been able to develop websites that are easier for people to use just by tracking how the majority of people use websites and where they may have problems.
The EU Cookie Law
On May 26th 2011 the EU cookie law was brought into play for most EU countries. The new EU legislation means that users need to know if a website is tracking their information and have the option to opt out. The UK was given an additional year to adhere to this regulation but time is ticking away and all websites targeting EU consumers are supposed to be in line with the EU regulations by the end of the month.
This law has come about to protect users privacy when browsing the internet and to protect them from unwanted advertising and marketing. The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) are responsible for enforcing the EU Cookie law in the UK and if you are found to be in breach of the new regulation you could be subjected to a £500,000 fine.
Although the EU Cookie Law is for countries in the European Union it also affects any websites that are targeting countries in the EU, so an American website targeting the UK would still need to comply.
If your website only uses essential cookies then the EU regulation is that users do not need to opt in to use the site. Sites that use non essential cookies must notify users that they are using cookies and ask them to opt in.
The Cookie Controversy
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the EU Cookie law as many website owners may not understand what is required of them and there is also a lot of confusion as to what cookies are deemed essential and non essential.
Cookies and Analytics
There has been a lot of disputes over whether analytics tracking is essential or non essential, a website can very easily run without analytics, however the website will not have any evidence to improve and give users what they want without this analytics tracking, therefore inhibiting growth and the user experience.
The general consensus is that analytics tracking is deemed to be non essential even though it is not an offending cookie, in that it isn’t tracking personal information and using this for advertising or marketing. It is an issue and sites that use any form of analytics tracking will need to find a solution to let users opt in.
Will every website have an opt in for Cookies?
It is the website owners responsibility to provide an opt in for users.
So far it is estimated that 95% of websites have not offered a solution for the EU cookie law and we have 2 weeks until the deadline. That is a lot of websites doing a lot of work to comply, and I would imagine a lot of the sites do not have a clue that this is to be put in place.
This also poses a problem for the ICO to enforce, as other than the big companies and websites that are obviously using cookies for advertising, are they really going to slap a £500,000 fine on Mrs Jones who lives down the street and has Google analytics installed on her website that sells home made cakes?
Cookies and the economy
It has been estimated that the EU Cookies will cost the UK economy billions. In some ways this is good but in others this will only worsen cash flow situations of small businesses.
Cookie solution development costs
Most websites are built by website designers and developers who are commissioned by the website owner. This means that most website owners will not have the skill set to develop a solution for users to opt in and use their website. Depending on the development solution you choose for your website it may cost you a few hours or a few days of development time.
This might be good news for web designers and developers, but is an added cost for small businesses which may effect cash flow when times are tight. In many cases the only cookie issue will be analytics and it may be cheaper to remove this analytics tracking. But of course, this will hinder the progress of the website and could affect the long term business decisions and conversion rates.
Cookies and conversions
Analytic’s tracking is used to help a website do well in search engines, target the right keywords and improve content and design on the website. All of this will help websites improve their conversion rate and generate sales. Without analytics, websites would have no data to make improvements to the user experience and generate sales.
Conversion rates have many attributes and one area that often limits conversions is the use of pop ups. Website users often associate pop ups with advertising and are put off websites that use them, making them less likely to convert. One of the cheapest solutions for the EU cookie opt in is to have a pop up which explains the website is using cookies and asking the user to opt in. This use of pop up and language will in many cases be off putting to the average website user – you know people who don’t know what cookies are, and that they are not all bad.
With website users now having to opt in you are adding another click to conversion. You are also adding the mis-trust in many peoples mind that they are being tracked and the chances of conversions are more likely to be reduced. This could be a big blow for some websites and industries and because of this could cost the UK economy a lot of money.
EU Cookie Solutions
If you are not sure what cookies your website is using you can use Ghostery to do a cookie audit on your website and see what cookies your website is leaving.
We have found a number of solutions for the EU Cookies and can adapt a solution based on your website and your needs. If your website is WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or Magento ECOmmerce we have an out of the box solution that can be added to your website just get in touch to find out about your websites options.