In today's digital world, privacy is a hot topic and cookies are a central and continuing theme in this area, but the mechanism that you're using to inform your visitors about them could also be affecting how your business appears in search engines, a vital traffic driver for many small business websites.

What are cookies?

For those that need a refresher, a cookie is a small file which a website, plugin, app or other service uses to store small pieces of information about a users preferences (they should never contain details that can identify a user, either in whole or in part). These are created and saved automatically and the user is often unaware cookies are there.

Cookies are used for a variety of reasons, from personaising content, to storing preferences through to recording what visitors do and while some must be blocked at a user's request, others are allowed regardless such as those which are crucial to your website working correctly.

How a cookie warning is a bad thing

In the UK, a cookie warning and the ability for a user to be able to decline them are legal requirements so making sure these features are in place is a good thing. However challenges can arise when these cookie warnings aren't set up properly and this can happen for a number of reasons such as a developer not understanding impact on SEO, or a third party plugin not working quite as expected.

So how does this affect your SEO? If the website code which displays the warning is not well written, or put in the wrong place, the content of the cookie warning can be picked up by search engines and interpreted as key content. If this happens, search engines may misinterpret the purpose of your website and rank it less favourably for key search terms. Another impact is the content of your cookie warning being presented as the description of your page in search results which will reduce the number of times your search result is clicked on, which can further impact how frequently your website is shown in search results.

In short the consequence of this is that less people using search engines will see your website, you get less traffic and customers. Ouch!

Checking if your cookie warning is harming your website

Fortunately you don't need to be a developer or tech whiz to check if this is an issue for your website, though you may need a developer to help you fix it. You can check for yourself by looking at how your website is presented in search results, if the content of your cookie warning being displayed as the title and/or description for your website pages then you need to take action.

To check this for your own website, simply go to Google and search "site:yourwebsite.co.uk". The "site:" simply tells Google to only show you results from your website, you'll also need to look at verbatim results (click "tools" then the results drop down).

Here's an example:

As you can see here the description of the search result is being pulled through from the cookie notice. If you saw this in search results you'd probably be less likely to click on this result.

How you can prevent cookie warnings hurting your SEO

If you find that your website is affected by this issue then correcting it can be quick, for example if you use a website developer, ask them to fix it for you. If you don't have or use a website developer and have created your own website, the solution could be as simple as changing a setting in your website.

Most website platforms (Wordpress, Wix, Joomla etc) allow you to change the order in which plugins or features are presented, review the order of any plugins you use and how they are published into your website to be sure that your cookie warning isn't the first one. If this doesn't work or isn't possible, get in touch and we'll help you find the best solution.