The Skinny on Google Analytics Cookies

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Google Analytics uses cookies to track visitor activity on your website. Find out what they’re all about and how they affect you.
 
Google Analytics Cookies

What are Cookies?

Cookies are text files that are stored locally (on your computer itself) that are associated with the domains you have visited. Cookies aren’t malicious and can’t harm your computer.

Cookie information is vital to Google Analytics because it identifies visitors, where they come from and which pages they visit on your website.
 

Difference Between First Party and Third Party Cookies

A first party cookie is one that is created by the website domain itself. It’s created when a visitor visits your website. As a security precaution, only the domain that set these cookies are able to retrieve information from them. First party cookies are necessary in order for you to be recognised as an individual

For example, if you visit www.cloudrock.asia and the domain on the cookie says www.cloudrock.asia, then it is a first party cookie.

Google Analytics cookies are first party only.

Third party cookies operates in the background and are not directly requested by your visitor. It is usually associated with embedded content delivered by a different domain. A third party cookie can list other domains that can retrieve information from the cookie. This is done without the permission (and often knowledge) of the user. In general, this isn’t a good thing.

For example, if you visit www.example.com and the domain on the cookies says www.anotherwebsite.com, then it is a third party cookie.
 

Types of Google Analytics Cookies

Google Analytics uses a few types of cookies that stores specific information.
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Common Issues with Cookies

Several issues do crop up because of Google Analytics’ use of cookies. Marketers should be aware of these problems because they will affect the accuracy of your reports.
 

a) Some Visitors Delete Cookies

Users are getting more tech-savvy and some of them delete cookies on a regular basis. Aiya, we’re sure you’ve deleted your entire web browsing history before (you’re not alone). One implication of this is that returning visitors will be reported as new visitors. This will inflate the number of new visitors in your reports.
 
Delete Google Analytics Cookies

Some web analytics software give you the option of setting third party cookies. Now, that’s not the best idea since most anti-spyware programs will automatically delete these cookies. First party cookies aren’t usually affected.
 

b) Users Owning and Sharing Multiple Cookies

If someone visits your website on his home computer and again on his work computer, Google Analytics will report it as two separate visits, even though it’s from the same person. The multi-device nature of today’s world exacerbates this problem.
 

Common GA Cookie Questions

a) What happens if Jim visits my website, goes for lunch for 31 minutes and comes back to browse the site again?
Google Analytics will set a new _utmb cookie (which expires after 30 minutes, remember?) after Jim returns from lunch and report it as a new visit.

b) What if his lunch is only for 29 minutes?
Then Google Analytics will treat it as if he didn’t leave your website

c) Jim visits your website at 2358 hrs on 18 Jan and leaves it as 0015 on 19 Jan. How is this visit tracked?
Google Analytics will treat it as two visits. The first one ends at 2359 on 18 Jan and the second one begins on 0015 on 19 Jan begins on the first pageview after midnight [see Ash’s comment below]. The end of your day is determined by your profile timezone settings.

Great! You now have a basic knowledge of how Google Analytics uses cookies. Hit me up if you have any more questions.

And yes, CLOUDROCK provides Google Analytics if you need a professional implementation.