May We Feed You Cookies? Tips for Gaining Visitor Permission in the EU

Continuing our series on the European Union’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, today we are examining tips for writing permission prompts persuasively.

First, let’s critique the ICO’s own messaging:

The ICO would like to use cookies to store information on your computer, to improve our website. One of the cookies we use is essential for parts of the site to operate and has already been set. You may delete and block all cookies from this site, but parts of the site will not work. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy notice.

I accept cookies from this site.

Translation: “We want to track your activity on our site, and have already dropped some spyware on your machine. If you decide to not allow cookies, our site likely won’t work properly for you. If you don’t understand this, scour our site in search for a privacy notice and good luck making sense of our legalese.”

Okay, that’s the worst-case-interpretation, but this copy leaves a lot of room for grokking to make it more persuasive. Here’s why:

  • The opening text “store information on your computer” is an immediate red flag, creating anxiety about privacy that likely didn’t exist before
  • “To improve our website” communicates that the cookie is for the business’ benefit, not the user’s
  • The text does not explain what cookies are
  • “Parts of the site will not work” = i’m outta here (the ICO likely has no competition, so it’s not as bad as for it as for an ecommerce site)
  • The copy is written in a block paragraph, bullet points may make it easier to digest

Enough with the bad, the last sentence is actually pretty good, the privacy policy is very clear and easy to understand.

Suggested rewrite:

The ICO would like to use cookies to improve your experience on this site. Cookies are small files that store non-personally identifiable information on your computer. Many are deleted when you close your browser. One of the cookies we use is essential for parts of the site to operate and has already been set. You may delete and block all cookies from this site, however this will disable some of the features of this website. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy notice.

I accept cookies from this site.

This could also be truncated and tested as a “radical redesign” short-version (looks visually shorter and quicker to read):

We Respect Your Privacy

The ICO requests your permission to use cookies to improve your experience on this site.

  • Our cookies do not keep personally identifiable information
  • Tracking is limited to this site and is not shared with third party advertisers
  • We use web analytics cookies to help us understand what content is most useful to our visitors
  • Certain cookies are essential to the proper function of this site. You may delete or block cookies, however this will disable some useful site features

To learn more about cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy notice.

I accept cookies from this site.

Again, the copywriting keys are to:

  • Stress the value proposition to the user of allowing cookies – better user experience and increased functionality of the site
  • Explain what cookies are and that they are not used for a sinister purpose on your site
  • Ensure your copy does not arouse anxiety, rather subdues it
  • Use bullet points in accordance to web usability best practice
  • Include a link to a more detailed privacy policy

The above copy is not “template” – your copy should be written to reflect the types of cookies you use and for what purpose. If you choose to pursue user testing, you may wish to experiment with short/long copy, bullets/no bullets etc.

Looking for help with ecommerce? Contact the Elastic Path consulting team at consulting@elasticpath.com to learn how our ecommerce strategy and conversion optimization services can improve your business results.

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