I’ve spent a lot of time sampling cookies. Cookie plugins, that is. If they were real cookies, I’d have consumed a LOT of calories in cookies.
Fortunately, we’re talking about the other kind of cookies, which are calorie-free but come with their own kind of problems, namely: privacy.
I have spent way too much time sampling different GDPR/CCPA plugins, and I don’t live in an area with privacy laws, nor are my websites that large. On my most significant website, most visitors are local. However, I might have an occasional visitor from the EU or California and realized that many of the cookie notice bars I’ve seen were pretty much meaningless. What many cookies bars are saying to the user is: “You WILL accept our cookies, or you can go away!” They’re just a notice, nothing more. If I was going to have an obnoxious bar on my site, I wanted it to truly block cookies until the user either accepted them, continued, or rejected them.
Smart Cookie Kit Review
At some point, I’m going to write a review roundup of all of the cookie plugins I’ve tried. They each came with their own specific set of woes. But I thought I’d start with Smart Cookie Kit by Nicola Mondugno because it’s what I’m using on my website right now, is FREE, and does mostly what it is supposed to do — but sometimes blocks a little too much and may be difficult to remedy if you’re not a developer.
Let’s talk looks because that’s the easiest place to start, and that’s all you care about, …right? One of the criticisms I’ve read about Smart Cookie Kit is the appearance. But I don’t think it’s any better or any worse than most other cookie bars. A few you can easily make look very nice. I remember a movie a long, long time ago where (I think it was) Dudley Moore described a Volvo as being “boxy…but good.” That’s how I’d describe the look of this. If I wanted to, I could probably make it more rounded.
But that’s one place this cookie bar falls a bit short. It’s not too difficult to customize, but it requires the user to know some CSS. If you’re going to be making websites, yes, you should learn some, but many bars offer a user interface to customize the bar.
Here’s what the back end of Smart Cookie Kit looks like for this:
As you can see, if you want to change the way it looks, you need to be able to do some simple CSS.
Smart Cookie Kit: What it Does Well
Blocks cookies and scripts and allows them without a page refresh
One reason that the developer of this plugin cites for creating it was to offer a plugin that does not involve a page reload to allow scripts. Some plugins keep scripts disabled until the user refreshes the page. One of my requirements for a GDPR bar was that it did not. Here is why:
- Often plugins that require a page refresh don’t play well with caching plugins and are hard on your server (one that I will review later often caused 503 errors.)
- If you’re using analytics, you probably want to catch that first page visit to analyze what pages visitors are landing on and how they’re getting there. If the plugin only loads analytics after a page reloads, most of your traffic will look direct vs. organic.
Effectively blocked ads until acceptance
I use Google Adsense and had trouble with other cookie bars either needing the page refreshed to show the ads after acceptance or, alternately, not blocking any ads whatsoever, even when they were supposed to.
For me, this one worked seamlessly with Adsense and other scripts like Viglink or Skimlinks. No ads then accept, and then…there they are. No page refresh needed.
Blocks analytics and Google Tag Manager
Some cookie bars I tried make you add scripts to be blocked through the plugin and only allow them after a page reload. They’ll skew your analytics, and you’ll see an artificial increase in “direct” traffic.
This one nicely blocked analytics and has a setting specifically for Google Tag Manager. Here’s what the “logic settings” look like (yeah, this is all of them.)
Here are all the settings available for the function of the plugin:
- Block Google Tag Manager
- You can have a little tab at the bottom of the screen so the user can later decide to accept or reject the cookies.
- You can allow it to add a placeholder. If the user has rejected cookies but then wants to watch a video, the plugin will insert a placeholder with a link to allow them to change their mind and watch the video. This feature worked most of the time, but I had to disable lazy load for videos.
- Enable a banner back layer or “cookie wall” (now I’m thinking of a wall of chocolate chip!) If you want to, you can prevent the user from interacting with your site until they accept cookies.
- Reload the page to disable services. That way, if someone previously allowed cookies, and now want to reject them, it will take away the cookies when it reloads the page.
- You can do consent on scroll.
- You can save a consent log to your server. But you’ll have to look it up; it’s not accessible through admin.
As you can see, the settings here are pretty simple to configure. However, you’ll notice one thing it does not do is give the user granular control over their cookies. They can’t, for instance, decline analytics and ads and accept videos and maps. It’s an all-or-nothing deal.
Issues I had with this plugin:
Overall, I like this plugin. And I cannot complain too much about free plugins. The problems I had were due to it blocking some things a little too well. The primary issues I had were two:
I like to use lazy load on videos and have a placeholder image until clicked, which helps with site speed. To effectively use this plugin, I had to disable video lazyload. Otherwise, my videos would not show. Additionally, the Divi theme uses an overlay in its video module. Some of my older posts used the module, and videos would not show.
But with the regular Gutenberg YouTube module, disabling lazyload allowed the video to show on acceptance — but it was tiny. In this case, a page refresh after acceptance fixes the issue, but having the user do that is not ideal.
This website does not use maps. Overall the plugin works great here. But this plugin was a destroyer of maps in two different mapping plugins I use. Initially, I programmatically disabled the cookie bar on my map pages (which don’t have ads) and put a notice up, but this is a less-than-ideal solution. But when I added a routing plugin, the same thing happened, and it also disabled the ability to upload a .gpx route. For that one site with all the maps, I went with a different plugin.
Maps seem to be an issue that frequently comes up in the support forum for this plugin.
What I expect from customer support is different between a paid vs a free plugin. But I think highly of what Nicola is doing with this plugin, and he answered quickly through the WordPress support forums.
f the issues were not solved, it’s primarily because I gave up due to time issues — Nicola offered to look at a staging copy of my website, but I haven’t taken him up on that offer.
Smart Cookie Kit is a pretty smart cookie kit that doesn’t require too many brains to set up — in most cases. It does what it is supposed to do but may present an issue with maps and lazyload.
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