Now, I know I said at the end of my last blog post that my next one would probably be about Chicken Pox, well, it’s not. This blog post is about the EU Cookie Law and helping website owners avoid a £500,000 fine. The EU Cookie Law is a law, which will be enforced from 26th May 2012, that means that anyone who has a website, which uses cookies that aren’t essential to the function of the site, must inform the website visitor of this fact and the visitor must be given the choice of whether they want to accept the cookies.

There has been some ambiguity as to which cookies people see as being essential, but through discussions with people in the world of web design, I think it’s safest to assume that if a cookie is actually needed for the website to perform an action for which it has been designed, eg. making a payment on an online shop, then it is essential. If a cookie is being used to track the number of visitors to the website after an advertising campaign has been launched, although this is incredibly important to business, it isn’t actually essential for the website to function. I use cookies on this website as I use Google Analytics to track the visitors that come to my blog. I know that a lot of bloggers use this or a similar analytics tool and therefore we will all need to give our visitors the option to opt into using cookies. This does mean they can say no and if everyone says no it will look like we suddenly don’t have anyone visiting our website, which isn’t actually the case. Not only will this make us sad, we also won’t be able to see which topics attract the most attention, whether posting teasers on Twitter or Facebook attracts readers or whether the one person we know in Poland has visited the site recently – you know who you are!

When you think about the fact I can identify people like that it makes sense that we should be made aware of what information is being stored on us. As much as it will be a shame for someone like me not to be able to track the number of visitors I have to my blog, if people chose not to accept cookies, it will also mean that the comments function on my blog won’t work either for people who decline the cookies. This law obviously has an even greater impact on online businesses than it does the hobby-blogger. It’s like running a shop blindfolded so you can’t see how many people come in, what it is that catches the eye of most customers or see who is buying what. Therefore you can’t easily identify target markets or know how much passing traffic there is that isn’t converting to sales.

None the less, under this new law, we have to ask our visitors whether they accept the cookies before they are used. If we don’t, we, the website owner, not our hosting company or web designer or developer (if we have one), could ultimately be fined £500,000. We will be warned first and given time to get it sorted but I don’t know about you but I’m not really in the position to risk throwing away half a million pounds.

So, what do we have to do? Well, this is where it all gets a bit technical and it’s best if I hand over to someone who knows what they are doing. Fortunately I am married to one of them. My husband has developed two “Cookie Cuttr” plug-ins (the domain name Cookie Cutter was already taken but what’s an “e” between friends?). The first plug-in is a jQuery plug-in and it’s my understanding that if you don’t know about this stuff you will need a developer to help you install it into the code of your website, but the plug-in is free. The second plug-in is a WordPress plug-in, so if you have a WordPress blog you are in luck. It is my understanding that if you just use Google Analytics and nothing else on your website uses cookies then you will probably be able to install this yourself. If you have any other cookies you may need a bit of a hand from someone in the know. This plug-in is £5, but that’s got considerably less noughts on the end of it than the last monetary value I mentioned, so it’s probably worth it!

Here is a link to my husbands take on the EU Cookie Law, probably explaining it better than me. He links to the plug-ins in his post but also here is a link directly to the jQuery plug-in on the Cookie Cuttr website and here is a link to the WordPress plug-in from the same site.

Happy plugging-in everyone, I’ll be doing it myself soon!