The credit crunch cookie conundrum

In these challenging economic times, we’re all watching the pennies a little bit harder. We’re looking to save where we can and when it comes to investing our marketing budgets, we want to direct it towards the channels that deliver us the most revenue.

In these challenging economic times, we're all watching the pennies a little bit harder. We're looking to save where we can and when it comes to investing our marketing budgets, we want to direct it towards the channels that deliver us the most revenue.

Thankfully for us at Equator and all you smart people with good websites, that usually means online getting an increasing piece of the pie. However, just "online" isn't smart enough for us Equator people. We need to get a little more granular and work out whether it should go to PPC, SEO, Affiliates, eMail, Media or something else. Which channel is delivering the most sales? Where can I get more sales from?

Of course, your analytics will tell you all you need to know about how all your channels are working, where your visitors come from, what converts into a sale and so on. But there's something that your analytics doesn't often tell you… Cookie length.

For the uninitiated, cookies, more commonly referred to as Web cookies, tracking cookies or just cookies, are parcels of text sent by a server to a browser and then sent back unchanged by the client each time it accesses that server. Cookies are used for authenticating, session tracking and maintaining specific information about users, such as site preferences or the contents of their electronic shopping carts.

The important part often missed is that every cookie has a length - a period of time they are valid for. This is known as their deletion date and tells your browser when the cookie should be removed. Some cookies only last for the period your browser is open - commonly known as session cookies. Some last 24 hours, some a week, some a month and so on. It is this variation in time period that so many people overlook. As a result of this, many find that each online marketing channel gets measured in a different way. Here's a typical scenario we recently encountered:

  • Sales from natural search (SEO) - the cookie lasted 7 days
  • Sales from paid search (PPC) - the cookie lasted 30 days
  • Sales from affiliate marketing - the cookie lasted 60 days
  • Sales from email - the cookie lasted the length of the session

What's going on here is a dreadful contriving of the truth as to how the four online marketing channels delivered sales to the site. Visitors coming from the company's email campaign had to make a sale in one visit. If not, then email couldn't "claim" the sale yet if a visitor coming from an affiliate marketer's campaign came to the site, they had 60 days in which to make a sale that the affiliate could claim. Somewhere in the middle, the company's natural search rankings had a week to nail the sale and PPC had a month.