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Online advertising is the most common use of third party cookies. By adding their tags to a page, which may or may not display adverts, advertisers can track a user (or their device) across many of the websites they visit.
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If you login into a website, then shut down your computer, start it up again, and go back to the website to find you are still logged in - then it is using a persistent cookie to remember you.
Persistent cookies are also used to track visitor behaviour as you move around a site, and this data is used to try and understand what people do and don't like about a site so it can be improved. This practice is known as Web Analytics. Since Google started providing its own analytics technology free of charge to website owners, almost all websites use some form of it - although there are also paid-for services available to rival Google's.
Analytics cookies are probably the most common form of persistent cookies in use today.
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