What are Cookies? Cookies, Code Snippet, Facebook Pixel, and Tags Explained

If you’ve worked with a digital marketing agency or a web developer, or if you’ve tried your hand at online marketing, you’ve probably run into all or most of the terms: cookies, code snippets, Facebook Pixel, or meta tags. Each describes the different ways in which data is sent, stored, and used by businesses and individuals on the internet. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but not always correctly. Let’s explore what they mean below.

cookies floating in a nebula

What are Cookies?

Cookies, (formally called “web cookies,” “browser cookies,” or “HTTP Cookies,”) are little pieces of data stored in your web browser. These pieces of data are sent from a website to your browser, and your browser then sends them back without altering them. Imagine it as an ongoing game of catch: a website and web browser throwing a piece of data back and forth. 

Cookies can be very beneficial. When a website remembers your username or keeps your shopping cart set for later, that’s due to an authentication cookie. Other types of cookies can be more invasive; a tracking cookie can store years of users’ session data on a web browser. This immensely helps companies market products and services as they can use the data to create a better user experience. However, users may be uncomfortable surrendering these large quantities of data.

If you’d like to remove tracking cookie data from your browser, go into your browser options and click to clear all cookies. A quick Google search will tell you how to do it based on your browser of choice.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was passed in 2016 by the European Union to help protect online privacy. Businesses that have website users in the EU must announce to their local customers when they are using cookies to collect data, and give them an opportunity to leave the site if they don’t want their information to be shared. Among other things, this act gives users the right to contact a company and ask that any information they may have on them be permanently deleted. (Think email, address, phone number, shopping habits, etc.)

What is a Snippet?

Generally speaking, a code snippet is small-ish portion of reusable source code, machine code, or text. Snippets are used to help programmers avoid typing long, repetitive code. (Think of it as an opportunity to “work smarter not harder.”) Many behavior-based applications such as Google Analytics, Lucky Orange, FOMO, Facebook, and Linkedin use customized snippets to track relevant data. For example, the Google Analytics snippet is a small piece of JavaScript code that you paste into your webpages. It activates Google Analytics tracking when someone is on that page. We often use Google Tag Manager to implement these snippets. Learn about other basic Google Tools.

What is Facebook Pixel?

A pixel is a snippet of code that’s placed on a website by a third party ad tool to track user behavior. For example, when a user clicks on a Facebook ad, the Facebook Pixel tracks whether the user buys products from the website. Ad servers, (in this case Facebook), use pixels because they cannot communicate with the browser directly through other websites using cookies. Without the pixel, the website can’t accredit which third party ad tool a sale came from, and the ad tool can’t track which ads lead to the most sales.

If you’ve ever looked online for a new jacket, logged onto Facebook, and immediately seen an ad for that exact jacket, you can thank the Facebook Pixel.

Facebook Pixel helps companies market their products or services to users solely on Facebook (and Facebook-owned Instagram). When a company has gathered enough user data, it can use the sales trends to optimize ads for conversions, create look-a-like audiences based on current user behavior, and remarket ads based on specific actions taken on a website. For example, if you’ve ever looked online for a new jacket, logged onto Facebook, and immediately seen an ad for that exact jacket, you can thank the Facebook Pixel. 

What is a Tag?

Tags are small snippets of code that label and describe certain elements on the page and its attributes. Tags include the meta title and description that tell search engines the main focus of a page, the copyright tag that displays when the website was made, and the robots tag that tells search engines whether to add certain URLs to their index.

Optimizing certain meta tags is an important aspect of SEO, as it directs search engines to the most relevant information available.

In Summary...

Cookies, snippets, tags, and pixels each house small segments of information on a website. The main distinction is where this information goes. Cookies communicate between the website and a user’s browser, tags convey information from the website to the search engine, pixels are a link between the website and the ad platform, and snippets stay in the website’s code. Each serves a different purpose in how websites operate.