While there is a common misconception that cookies are not supported on mobile, it’s simply not true. However, the functionality of cookies is certainly more limited in the mobile environment than in desktop.
Today, we’ll be kicking off a blog series on audiences. In our first post, we’ll explore what cookies are and how they behave in desktop and mobile environments. With a solid understanding of cookies, we’ll transition into broader audience topics, including first and third party data, and probabilistic vs. deterministic audience buying.
What is a cookie?
Cookies are small text files stored on a user’s browser created when users visit websites. Cookies improve a user’s experience by remembering login information, theme selection, preferences and other custom functions. When the website sets a cookie in user browsers, it stores another file with the same ID tag to keep track of user preferences and any helpful information, such as email address, voluntarily provided while visiting the website.
In addition, cookies also can be used to store information specifically useful to advertisers, such as what ads were recently seen, when they were seen and what websites they were displayed on. This is immensely helpful in the management of advertising campaigns as it allows for frequency capping, conversion tracking and audience targeting.
Cookies on desktop
Cookies are effective on desktop due to the relatively unified environment. While cookies are browser based, users mainly tend to use a single browser, providing a unified cookie environment that gives a more holistic view of a user. While users always have the ability to delete their cookies and may use more than one browser, overall, desktop remains a relatively hospitable environment for a comprehensive cookie profile.
Cookies on mobile
How cookies function on mobile is influenced by a variety of factors including device type, presentation context (whether in app or mobile web), type of cookie (1st or 3rd party) and if mobile web, the browser being used. This lack of consistency and the complexities involved have contributed to the confusion about how cookies function, or don’t, on mobile.
Cookies on mobile web
The ability to set a cookie on mobile websites depends on browser settings. Just like desktop, different mobile browsers will handle 1st and 3rd party cookies differently. There are generally three levels of cookies settings:
- Allow all cookies
- Only allow cookies from sites you have visited (first-party cookies)
- Block all cookies
Safari, for example, has tighter restrictions on cookies, only allowing 1st party cookies by default. On the other hand, Chrome’s default behavior is to allow all cookies.
Generally, advertising measurement occurs through the use of 3rd party ad tech providers, such as exchanges, and ad servers and SSPs, like SpotX. As such, if 3rd party cookies aren’t accepted, the interaction cannot be tracked. There is an exception here and that is if the user engages with the ad, which sends the user to a 3rd party’s site. In this case, the 3rd party then becomes the 1st party and can set a cookie.
Cookies on mobile apps
Unlike mobile web, which unifies a user’s experience under a single application, mobile apps operate independently of each other. Each app functions as a standalone product and has an incredibly limited ability to access data from other apps. Because of this, though cookies can store a user’s preferences within an app, other apps cannot access those preferences. With today’s users spending over 85% of their time on their smartphones using native applications, this creates some serious fragmentation.
Why cookies matter
Cookies play a key role in audience targeting – the practice of reaching desired audiences based on first or third party user data. Audience buying shifts away from using content as a proxy, allowing advertisers to buy audience segments based on key characteristics.
Interested in learning more about audience data and audience targeting? You’re in luck. We’ve published an entire series on the topic including:
- What is First Party Publisher Data?
- What is First Party Advertiser Data?
- What is Second Party Data?
- What is Third-Party Data?
- What is Deterministic and Probabilistic Data Modeling?
- The Skinny on Audience Buying and How it Differs from Contextual
This article was written by Leah Brite, senior manager of product marketing at SpotX.