Third-party cookies—we love to hate them. Although they’ve enabled website visitor tracking, data collecting, and retargeting over the years, consumers have made their voices heard by demanding more consent and privacy online.
Apple and Mozilla have already done away with third-party cookies on their browsers, with Google following suit in late 2023 (a postponement of one year). At that point, approximately 84% of the Internet population won’t be targeted with ads via third-party cookies anymore.
However, first-party cookies are here to stay, and the rich consumer data collected from those will be worth even more than their weight in gold to businesses across industries.
If your hotel hasn’t jumped on the first-party cookie bandwagon yet, now’s the time to do so. That way you’ll be well ahead of the game once the third-party cookie finally crumbles.
Here’s a look at how you can start growing your database from first-party cookies and using it to your hotel’s advantage.
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Brush up on your cookies and pixels
Believe it or not, there are seven types of Internet cookies. These small text files allow the website itself or the browser to gather user data and enable user-specific features that make online processes easier and more intuitive. What’s more, they help us as consumers benefit from highly targeted ads that are tailored to our interests. All things considered, cookies aren’t as bad as they seem.
So, how what’s the difference between third- and first-party cookies?
When a third-party cookie is placed on your browser by a domain you aren’t visiting (i.e., company.com), it’s for advertising purposes on behalf of the owner’s website. Your data is stored by the advertising vendor who will then use it to track your history of online behavior across various websites and promote content through retargeting ads. The data that’s collected from this type of cookie is only visible to the advertiser.
As for a first-party cookie, the information that the website owner collects is stored in their database for the purpose of analytics and to optimize website functionality (e.g., buying multiple items in one session or remembering preferences).
The first-party data, which is only available to the website owner, can also be used for measuring marketing campaigns, conversion rates, pageviews, as well as advertising on other websites relevant to your interests.
And, of course, when we talk about cookies, we need to mention tracking pixels, too. While a person browses a website, a tracking pixel loads and begins collecting information. That can range from pages being viewed, clicks, the time of the visit, and even the person’s IP address. Contrary to cookies, pixels can follow users across all their devices.
Although there are several kinds of tracking pixels, let’s look at two that can be of interest to you:
Retargeting pixels: These help you get the right content in front of the right audience. And based on the analytics you gather over time, you’ll be able to tailor your ads to match user behavior.
Conversion pixels: These let you know how well your online ads perform and, of course, which ones don’t. What you learn can then guide you on how to modify your ads, so that you continuously improve conversions.
Curious to give tracking pixels a try? An easy way to get your feet wet is with your hotel’s Facebook page. In your Business Manager account, follow the steps in the Data Sources section to create one. Once you have your unique pixel, you can then install it on your website to begin tracking results of your ads. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the last technical step yourself, reach out to a freelance developer to give you a hand.
Build up your first-party data
To quote The Economist: “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.” By gathering this highly sought-after commodity of the 21st-century, your hotel can reap the rewards of using it to create the best guest experience possible, from the moment travelers discover and book you online to the time they check out.
At the same token, it should come as no surprise that 61% of consumers feel they’ve lost control over how their personal data is used. So, it’s imperative to show that you’re trustworthy, transparent, and safe.
Whenever you acquire travelers’ first-party data, you’ll want to ensure that it flows seamlessly to your hotel’s database (e.g., PMS and CRM). That way, you always have your data house in order.
What ways can you start gathering first-party data?
Enable your website to work for you: Depending on the type of website builder you use, it’s possible to integrate a first-party cookie yourself by installing a first-party-cookie plug-in. In addition, you’ll also need a consent management platform (CMP). This user interface allows individuals to manage their consent settings on the cookie banner that pops up on the very first visit to your website.
Collect email addresses: Since your website is an extension of a stay at your hotel, think of different techniques to make yours more engaging, including multiple touchpoints that could inspire guests to sign up for something particular. That could be a loyalty program, a monthly newsletter, or a specially hosted event.
Though your goal is to get a traveler’s email address, you also need to consider what you’re going to give them in return. A special offer, a discount, or a complimentary service are enticing incentives.
Nevertheless, be open about how you’re going to use their email address (e.g., sending promotions), keeping in mind that guests must be given the choice to opt out of receiving those, too.
Drive direct bookings via metasearch: Not only does metasearch enable future travelers to find and compare a broad scope of accommodations, it’s also a fundamental channel for hotels to generate direct bookings.
For instance, on trivago, you can encourage potential guests to book directly with you by advertising your hotel’s website rates on your profile with Rate Connect. When they click on those rates, trivago will send them straight to your booking page to complete the reservation process. The guest data that comes with the direct booking is yours to keep. That way you can build the guest relationship leading up to check-in, as well as nurture it and generate repeat business in the future.
Along with the promotion of your website rates on trivago, your hotel’s profile also plays a role. One that’s full and attractive will certainly elevate your booking appeal on trivago.
Compete with booking channels on trivago with your direct rates.
Leverage your data for marketing campaigns
Once you have data from first-party cookies, tracking pixels, and your CRM, you’ll be able to set your traveler-engagement strategy in motion across different channels and at different stages of the online customer journey.
But before you get started, think first about what your property has to offer and the goal you want to achieve.
When you re-engage with previous guests, remarketing by email and social media will remind them of their stay with you. Since historical data from your CRM provides you with robust guest profiles, you can take your personalized offers to a deeper level, too.
Let’s say you know that past guests indulged in wellness sessions, are enthusiastic foodies, or live for the outdoors, a tailored offer based on their interests can compel them to book again. For example, book 3 nights and enjoy a discount on a spa treatment, a complimentary lesson with the chef (even if it’s you), or a free guided hike. The creative possibilities are endless.
And what about the curious travelers who visited your website, clicked around, but then left? Not all hope is lost.
This is where your retargeting efforts can help bring them back. Even though you don’t know exactly who they are, your tracking pixels and first-party data can give you an idea, enabling you to reach out to them with online ads based on their interactions with your website.
With a grasp on who your current customer base is, you can expand it by targeting new people who are similar to them and are likely to be attracted to your type of hotel. The way you do that is by creating a lookalike audience, which you can determine by demographics, interests, or location to name a few. One place to experiment with a lookalike audience is on Facebook. By creating one based on your Page fans, Facebook will then promote your ad to the people who are just like them.
As the sun sets on the third-party-cookie era, the significance of first-party cookies will continue to rise. Whether you run a B&B, a medium-sized hotel, or an independent chain, this cookie plus tracking pixels need to be the next instruments in your hotel’s marketing toolbox. After all, it comes with actionable data directly from the source. And how can you put a price tag on that?