All About Cookies while designing your WordPress Site
Cookies are tiny data files that websites send to the devices that access them. They help the website remember information about the device. By storing this data, the website makes the experiences easy, useful, and more targeted the next time the same device visits it.
Cookies help relieve the burden of a server machine as it doesn’t have to process data over and over again. It can simply use the data stored by cookies and make the experiences targeted for the user.
As a WordPress website owner, cookies can prove to be of tremendous help in serving your users better. They can also help make your website more functional, fast, and effective to attract more users.
I have compiled the complete guide to everything you need to know about cookies when designing your WordPress website.
1. What do cookies store?
Now that we understand that cookies are small files that save a website’s data onto a device for personalized browsing, let us take a look at what data they store exactly. This guide to cookies elaborates on how they function and their other legal aspects.
WordPress websites usually set cookies as soon as a user enters the website, logs in, or interacts with it by, say, leaving a comment. Here are some common pieces of information cookies often store:
- Login credentials of a user, such as their username, email id, phone number, and even the password.
- Items or products a user viewed during a session on the website.
- Items of products the user saved via a wish list or bookmark.
- Items or products a user added to the cart for purchasing but left the website without moving forward with the purchase.
- Cookies may track the user across different networks of websites.
- Analyze the user’s browsing behavior to show them targeted ads.
The goal of storing cookies this way is to carry information from website to website or session to session without burdening the server machine. Cookies help spare the server from excessive data processing in real time.
They do it by storing the website data inside the device itself. So the information gets stored on multiple devices instead of your website resources. The device itself helps in creating a more personalized experience for the user.
2. Different types of cookies
There are many kinds of distinctions for cookies, depending on their nature and usage in data collection and processing. Here are the ones relevant to your WordPress website:
Session or permanent cookies
With session (temporary) cookies, the website stores the information for a limited period i.e., for that session. The information gets erased as soon as you exit the session or after some time.
This is usually done for tasks or websites that deal with sensitive matters or time-sensitive events. For example, filling out a form to appear in an exam. The opposite of session cookies would be permanent (persistent) ones that remain until manually deleted.
First-party or third-party cookies
The website’s owner is the first party, and the website’s user is the second party. Thus, cookies stored by the first party/owner for various uses are called first-party cookies. The third party could be a marketing partner of the first party that collects information on their behalf. Cookies collected by them are called third-party cookies.
Cookies that are meant to stay on a computer regardless of the web browser being used are called Flash (Super) cookies. These remain even after all the other cookies have been deleted from a browser.
Zombie cookies are a unique type of flash cookie that can never be removed from a system. Such a cookie automatically creates itself even after a user has deleted it. They are often used in online games as a preventive measure for users cheating. But they can just as easily be used for malicious uses as they are hard to detect, delete, and manage.
3. Cookies and WordPress
WordPress uses mainly two types of cookies:
WordPress cannot function without the use of these cookies, making their usage an absolute necessity. They are strictly necessary; therefore, they use only the needed information and nothing outside. They are also session cookies in nature. This means that they will be deleted as soon as the user exits the website.
Cookies that are set when a user leaves a comment on a post. They are permanent or persistent and are not strictly necessary for WordPress to function. They store the user’s name, website address, and email address so that they don’t have to enter them again. They are set only when a user takes action and gives the site permission for it.
Some of the information stored by hosts or plugins is as follows:
- Location of the device
- Language preference of the device
- statistics such as pages visited most often visited
- Cookies that track user behavior for sending the user targeted ads
- If you embed content from YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, it will have its own cookies
4. Managing cookies in WordPress
To take a look at the cookies used by your website, go to the settings option in your browser. There, click on ‘content settings’. The very first option you see there would be cookies. It will elaborate on all the cookies used by your website.
Click on any particular cookie to learn further about what it does. You may clear your browser’s cookies to delete the stored data or let it stay there. Deleting them will remove pre-filled pieces of information from forms and login pages.
Set, get, and delete
To further manage your cookies, you can essentially perform three functions with them: get set and delete. However, you will need coding knowledge to attempt these commands. Also, ensure a reliable backup of your website before you attempt any of these functions.
The set function sets the cookies in PHP. It is used via the functions.php file inside your website’s theme. You can specify various parameters inside the parentheses, such as the cookie’s name, value, path, and domain.
Similarly, the get function is used to specify the information the cookie is supposed to collect. The delete option is used to delete cookies that are no longer useful. You can insert or delete the cookie after it has served its purpose or is no longer needed.
Cookies are powerful tools of internet navigation that collect and share sensitive information, often with third parties that involve the transfer of information. Both the first party and third party can misuse the information for malicious purposes.
To ensure the users’ safety, various laws, rules, and regulations have been put in place by supervising authorities. The European Union forced the general data protection regulation in May 2018.
While it protects the privacy and personal data of European citizens, with websites being accessed worldwide, GDPR has a global implication. It impacts and covers every WordPress website in the world.
Both WordPress and its plugins offer a variety of tools to help you stay compliant with internet safety protocols. They make it compulsory for you to obtain the permission of the user to acquire any needed information.
The compliance tools also make it necessary for you to inform users about the following about yourself:
- Who you are
- Why do you need to obtain the data you are asking for
- Where will you store this data
- How long will the data be stored with you