Cookie Consent Popup Best Practices: Optimizing Your Consent Banner

At a glance

  • Gathering consumer consent, which often takes the shape of a cookie consent popup, is  an essential piece of compliance with data protection regulations like GDPR and CCPA.

  • Cookie consent notices should disclose cookie types, clarify data collection purposes, and offer users the choice to accept all cookies, reject all cookies, or customize in alignment with their privacy preferences.

  • To mitigate risks, companies should prioritize transparent consent practices, employ non-intrusive consent banners, and consider regional privacy laws when designing cookie consent mechanisms.

Table of contents

Cookie consent popups are small, often interactive, dialog boxes that appear on websites to inform website visitors about the site's use of cookies and, crucially, to obtain their consent in accordance with relevant data protection regulations.

These popups are often the first step in communicating with users about how their data is collected, used, and shared.

The necessity of these popups stems from a growing global emphasis on individual privacy rights. Laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States, and other comprehensive privacy laws around the world mandate that websites gather explicit consent from users before collecting, using, or sharing their data through cookies.

These regulations aim to give users control over their personal information, a core aspect of modern digital privacy.

Beyond legal compliance, cookie consent popups play a critical role in building and maintaining trust between websites and their visitors. By transparently asking for consent, websites demonstrate a commitment to privacy and respect for user choices, which can significantly enhance user trust and satisfaction.

Which laws and regulations mandate the use of cookie consent popups?

The requirements for cookie consent popups are primarily dictated by a patchwork of international laws and regulations designed to protect consumer privacy online. 

It’s important to note though that a popup, especially on a website’s homepage, isn’t always necessary. While consent homepage popups are one of the most recognizable iterations of modern consent management, they aren’t a specific dictate of any global privacy law—nor are they necessarily the best way for an organization to gather user consent. 

Either way, these legal frameworks share a common goal: to ensure users are informed about and have control over the personal data a website or online service collects.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The GDPR, which came into effect in May 2018, is perhaps the most well-known regulation requiring cookie consent. It applies to all entities that process the personal data of individuals within the European Union, regardless of where the entity is based.

Under GDPR, explicit consent is required before any cookies that are not strictly necessary for the operation of a website can be placed on a user's device.

This consent must be informed, specific, and freely given, meaning websites must provide clear information about the use of cookies and obtain an affirmative action from the user indicating their agreement.

California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)

While the CCPA does not explicitly mandate cookie consent popups, it requires businesses to provide clear information about their data collection practices and to offer California residents the option to opt-out of the sale of their personal information.

Given that cookies can be used to collect personal information and facilitate its sale, many websites choose to use consent popups as a way to comply with CCPA’s broader privacy protection requirements.

ePrivacy Directive (Cookie Law)

The ePrivacy Directive, often referred to as the Cookie Law, predates the GDPR and specifically targets the use of cookies and similar technologies for storing and accessing information on a user’s device. It requires websites to obtain prior informed consent from users before setting cookies, with exceptions for cookies that are strictly necessary for providing an online service at the user’s request.

Other global regulations

Beyond the EU and California, other jurisdictions around the world have enacted or are considering privacy laws that impact the use of cookies and similar technologies.

For example, Brazil’s Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados (LGPD), Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), and others include provisions that, directly or indirectly, necessitate transparent cookie practices and may require consent for non-essential cookies.

Essential information for cookie consent pop-ups

For cookie consent pop-ups to fulfill their role effectively, they must include specific pieces of information that ensure users are making informed decisions.

Clarity and transparency in these disclosures are not just legal requirements; they are foundational to building trust with users who visit your website.

Types of cookies used

A comprehensive cookie consent pop-up should categorically outline the different types of cookies the website intends to use. Common classifications include:

  1. Necessary cookies: Essential for the website's functionality, without which the site cannot operate smoothly.

  2. Performance cookies: Collect data on how users interact with the website, helping to improve user experience.

  3. Functional cookies: Remember user preferences and choices to provide a more personalized experience.

  4. Advertising cookies: Used to deliver targeted advertisements to users based on their browsing behavior and preferences.

Purposes of data collection

Equally important is the explanation of why these cookies are used. For each category of cookies, the pop-up should inform users of specific data collection purposes, such as:

  • Enhancing website performance and speed

  • Providing customized content and personalized user experiences

  • Analyzing site traffic and usage patterns for business analytics

  • Facilitating targeted advertising and marketing efforts

User consent options

The cookie consent notice must clearly present the options available to users, typically including:

  • Accepting all cookies: Giving consent to the use of all cookies as described.

  • Rejecting non-essential cookies: Allowing users to opt-out of cookies that are not strictly necessary for the website's operation.

  • Customizing cookie preferences: Offering users the flexibility to select which categories of cookies they consent to.

Clarity and transparency

To ensure the information provided is both clear and transparent:

  • Use simple language: Avoid technical jargon, making the information accessible to all users, regardless of their expertise.

  • Be concise yet comprehensive: While brevity is important, ensure all necessary details are covered.

  • Visually distinguishable: Use design elements to make the pop-up noticeable without being intrusive, ensuring users can easily engage with the information presented.

This approach not only aligns with legal mandates across various jurisdictions but also fosters an environment of trust and respect between websites and their visitors.

Consequences of cookie consent non-compliance

Not complying with cookie consent best practices can result in consequences beyond legal and financial penalties. It can also include significant reputational risks and the potential erosion of consumer trust.

Legal and financial penalties

Failure to comply with cookie consent regulations, as stipulated by laws like the GDPR in the European Union, the CCPA in California, and others globally, can result in substantial fines and penalties. For instance:

  • Under GDPR, organizations can face fines up to €20 million or 4% of the annual global turnover, whichever is higher, for the most serious infringements, including violations related to consent.

  • The CCPA allows for fines up to $7,500 per intentional violation and $2,500 per unintentional violation, in addition to giving consumers the right to bring private lawsuits for certain data breaches, potentially leading to further financial liabilities.

These financial penalties are designed to be proportional to the severity of the breach and can vary significantly based on factors such as the nature, gravity, and duration of the infringement.

Reputational risks and consumer trust

Beyond monetary fines, the intangible consequences of non-compliance can be equally, if not more, damaging. The reputational damage stemming from perceived negligence in handling user data can lead to:

  • Loss of consumer confidence: When users feel their privacy preferences are disregarded, trust is eroded, which can lead to a decline in user engagement and loyalty. This is particularly impactful in sectors where brand reputation is a key competitive advantage.

  • Negative publicity: Incidents of non-compliance often attract media attention, leading to negative publicity that can harm a brand's image. News of organizations mishandling privacy spreads like wildfire across social media and online platforms, amplifying the reputational impact.

  • Impact on partnerships and business opportunities: Potential partners, investors, and other stakeholders are increasingly scrutinizing companies’ compliance with privacy regulations. Non-compliance can therefore limit business opportunities and lead to the termination of existing partnerships, especially with those in the EU or California.

How to find excellent cookie consent examples

The best way to find inspiration for cookie consent popups is to study how successful, established organizations obtain cookie consent.

Here's an easy way to do that:

  1. Head to Crunchbase, a website that provides information about businesses that have recently gone through private funding.

  2. Search for companies and filter for organizations that have recently gone through Series B-D funding rounds. When risk-averse investors are willing to buy into companies, it's likely a signal that the company handles user data responsibly and has capital to spend on data privacy best practices.

  3. Fire up your browser of choice and open a private browsing window (an Incognito Window in Google Chrome, for example). These browser instances do not save cookies, so you can experience websites as a first-time visitor.

  4. Go through each of the companies you've discovered on Crunchbase, and study how they ask for cookie consent.

Using this method, you can discover a plethora of examples - both good and bad - of cookie consent popups, as well as other consent management mechanisms.

Transcend's Consent Manager is built to simplify the process of complying with stringent cookie consent laws such as the GDPR, CCPA, and other regional regulations.

By automating the deployment of customizable cookie consent banners, it removes the guesswork and manual effort involved in staying compliant. It also dynamically adjusts consent requests based on the user's location, ensuring that businesses meet the specific legal requirements of each jurisdiction.

Full-stack data regulation

Full-stack data regulation for consent means managing consent comprehensively across every piece of your company’s digital infrastructure, including websites, web applications, mobile applications, secondary websites, backend data stores, trackers and pixels, managed marketing audiences, server-side vendors, and more. 

By adopting a consent management platform (CMP) like Transcend Consent, companies can simplify compliance efforts, save time and resources, and mitigate the risk of non-compliance.

Visibility in data collection

To ensure compliance and foster trust with users, organizations must provide full transparency into their data collection practices. Traditional consent management solutions rely on static cookie scans, which may overlook real-time changes in data tracking methods. 

However, with advanced technology deployment, modern CMPs like Transcend offer continuous tracker detection across a company's entire website. This real-time monitoring allows organizations to swiftly identify potential compliance issues and take immediate action to address them appropriately.

Seamless user experience

In the age of user-centric digital experiences, companies must balance robust compliance with a seamless user experience. Legacy CMPs often use intrusive banners or disruptive interfaces, negatively impacting user engagement.

Transcend Consent provides comprehensive consent management without intrusive elements. By eliminating banners, your company can maintain a smooth and seamless user experience, reducing friction and enhancing overall customer satisfaction.

Data tracking and management

Granular tracking and data control is key to achieving a balance between data rights and business efficiency. Legacy CMPs often force businesses to choose between shutting down their entire marketing stack when someone opts out or allowing unrestricted tracking. 

Transcend Consent allows businesses to selectively block tracking data at the network level while keeping essential tags operational. This empowers organizations to exert greater control over their marketing efforts, respect user preferences, and safeguard data privacy.

Quick, scalable implementation

Regardless of company size or industry, a CMP that facilitates swift implementation and scalability is crucial. This agility enables businesses to adapt rapidly to market changes, new business lines, and evolving regulations.

Implementing Transcend Consent is quick—even large enterprises can go live within three weeks.

By embracing a consent management platform that promotes rapid scalability, companies can stay ahead of regulatory requirements, ensuring compliance while maximizing operational efficiency.

FAQs about cookie consent popups

What is implied consent vs. informed consent in regards to cookies?

Implied consent refers to a passive agreement to something (in this case cookie usage) inferred from a user's actions. For instance, continuing to browse a website might be taken as consent to the use of cookies. In contrast, informed consent requires a clear, affirmative action from the user, indicating they understand and agree to cookie use.

It involves providing users with comprehensive information about the cookies in use (including third-party cookies) and requiring them to actively accept or reject them. Informed consent ensures the user's consent is obtained explicitly, rather than assumed.

What are the best practices for an non-intrusive, yet effective cookie consent banner?

Cookie consent notices should be non-intrusive, informative, and thorough, without detracting from user experience or using vague language.

A footer banner is often preferable, as it's less intrusive than a full-screen overlay. Cookie banners should clearly state why cookies are used, the types of cookies in operation (including third-party cookies), and how users can accept, reject, or customize their preferences.

It's also a best practice to provide a direct link to the website's cookie policy for users who wish to learn more. Effective cookie banners obtain consent without overshadowing the content or functionality of the site.

What constitutes valid consent for cookies under GDPR?

Under GDPR, valid consent for cookies requires an active, affirmative action by the user, indicating a voluntary, specific, informed, and unambiguous agreement to the processing of personal data. This means pre-ticked boxes, implied consent, or inactivity cannot constitute valid consent.

Users must be given clear information about cookie usage and must actively opt-in (request consent or give active consent) for their data to be collected. They should also have the easy option to reject non-essential cookies and must be able to withdraw consent as easily as they gave it.

Can a website block access to users who do not accept cookies?

While websites can technically restrict access to content if users do not accept cookies, especially those necessary for website functionality, this practice can be contentious under GDPR and other privacy laws.

For non-essential cookies, such as those used for marketing or analytics, denying access to content until the user consents (known as "cookie walls") can be seen as undermining the principle of freely given consent. Regulatory guidance suggests that consent obtained under such conditions might not be considered valid.

How often should users be prompted to renew their cookie consent?

The frequency at which to prompt users to renew their cookie consent isn't explicitly defined in GDPR or other regulations, but best practices suggest doing so at least once a year.

It's also wise to request consent again whenever there are significant changes to the cookie policy or the types of cookies used. This ensures that the user's consent is current and reflects any new data processing practices.

How should websites handle cookie consent across different jurisdictions with varying privacy laws?

Handling cookie consent across jurisdictions requires a nuanced approach due to the diversity in privacy laws. Websites should employ geolocation techniques to identify the user's location and adjust cookie consent notices and mechanisms accordingly.

This may involve presenting different cookie banners or consent options based on the specific requirements of each jurisdiction, such as offering an opt-out option for CCPA compliance in California or ensuring active consent for GDPR in the EU. Utilizing a dynamic footer banner that can be customized based on the user's region is an effective strategy.

Additionally, websites should make it easy for users to view, modify, or delete cookies at any time, further aligning with global privacy expectations.

About Transcend Consent Management

For when your legacy solution relies on static site scans, requires tedious maintenance, and still leaks unconsented data. Transcend Consent Management collects consent and automates enforcement across every interface, from websites to mobile apps, offering your organization:

  • Continuous detection of 200+ kinds of trackers across every inch of your site.

  • Automatic network-level enforcement–no manual tag manager configuration.

  • Out of the box support for IAB TCF, Google Consent Mode, and Do Not Sell (eg. Meta LDU).

Reach out to learn more.

Share this article

Discover more articles


Sign up for Transcend's weekly privacy newsletter.

    By clicking "Sign Up" you agree to the processing of your personal data by Transcend as described in our Data Practices and Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

    Discover more articles