The Evolution of Retargeting: Adapting to a Cookieless World

Cookieless is coming and retargeting as we know it, is going to change.

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February 1, 2024

Retargeting is a vital tool for travel marketers, with a staggering 98% of website visitors not converting on their first visit. Think about the path travelers take when making a purchase. They navigate from site to site, conducting extensive research before committing. This is where retargeting steps in.

Prospecting may grab the attention of new customers, but it's retargeting that brings them back to complete their booking. By strategically displaying relevant ads to travelers as they browse other websites, you can keep your offerings fresh in their minds long after they've left your site. But how you’ve typically done this in the past is changing now that the cookieless world is here.

Google is finally phasing out the third-party cookies that make some retargeting possible. Currently, in the testing phase with 1% of Chrome users, the company aims to eliminate these cookies by the second half of 2024. Here’s what that means for you.

The Current Landscape: How Retargeting Leverages Third-Party Cookies

With the impending demise of third-party cookies, adapting strategies becomes crucial for maintaining effective retargeting and driving hotel bookings on your website. Here’s how third-party cookies work now:

  • A traveler initiated a hotel search on a hotel website. A pixel on the website captures search details, like dates and the number of people, storing them in a third-party cookie on the user's browser.
  • After leaving without making a reservation, the traveler encounters a personalized "retargeting ad" based on the cookie data, reminding them of their travel intent and prompting a return to the hotel site.
  • The ad succeeds, leading the traveler to click, revisit the site, and book a stay directly.

The Pitfalls: The Case Against Third-Party Cookies

Using third-party cookies limits your ability to accurately retarget a single user across various devices, making 'people-based marketing' a difficult task, often leading to a less cohesive customer experience. This challenge ultimately increases costs for advertisers.

Imagine for a moment that you own a hotel in sunny Mexico and a potential guest begins looking for accommodations for their upcoming trip. They start their search on a mobile device during their commute home and find themselves on your website. They don’t complete a booking just yet, as they’re still in the early stages of planning.

From your point of view as an advertiser, they fit perfectly into your retargeting strategy for your business. Yet, the following day, they use their work desktop to continue their search for hotels. They return to your site with a new Google search and this time, they make a booking. Everything seems perfect, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, due to the limitations of third-party cookies, their booking isn't recognized across their devices. The mobile device is unaware of their completed booking on the desktop. Then, when they use their phone, they are still targeted with ads for your hotel, which they have already booked. This not only wastes your ad spend but also results in a poor customer experience.

This inaccurate targeting often confuses consumers, leading them to question why the advertiser isn’t aware of their completed transactions. This can result in annoyance and a negative perception of your brand. But fear not, Sojern has developed solutions to overcome this issue, offering improved retargeting tactics that reduce the limitations of working without third-party cookies. 

‍Sojern’s “Three Pillars” to Support Retargeting

Now we’ll focus on Sojern’s three pillars to support the deprecation of the third-party cookie. As a quick refresher, these pillars include:

Identifiers Like Hashed Emails, IP Addresses, and More

We are adapting to the changes by using various targetable identifiers (IDs), including hashed emails, securely-collected IP addresses, and other industry-standard IDs. These identifiers work by providing a way to recognize and differentiate individual users online without compromising their privacy. They play a crucial role in digital advertising, enabling you to deliver more personalized and relevant content to your target audience.

First-Party Cookie IDs

A first-party cookie ID lives on your website and collects information about your site activity. You share this unique ID with Sojern to match your consumers' onsite activity to their hashed emails so that customers don’t have to log in to your website each time they visit for us to be able to anonymously identify and retarget them. This approach will enrich our Sojern traveler profiles and ultimately enhance your campaign performance.

Historical Booking Data

This involves ingesting both the online and offline booking data (e.g. call center, walk-in, travel agent bookings) you have in your CRM into our Sojern traveler platform. Just like with first-party cookies, this data will help enrich our traveler profiles so we can supercharge your campaign performance.

By leveraging these three pillars, in the future there will be two approaches to retargeting:

Site Retargeting–allows advertisers to target travelers that come to their site and log in or book. They can then be retargeted later across the internet when logged in on any other sites, platforms, apps, or connected TV.

CRM Retargeting–leverages historical booking data from your CRM to retarget those who have previously booked with you.

The Emerging Paradigm: A Revolutionary Approach to Retargeting

  • Visitor arrives on your website, and their activity is tracked by a first-party cookie ID.
  • Upon booking or logging in, the traveler's email is hashed and shared with consent.
  • A traveler profile is formed by matching the first-party cookie and hashed email.
  • Retargeting ads are strategically served wherever the traveler is browsing and logged in.
  • The traveler responds to the ad, revisits your website, and completes a direct booking.

From Data to Conversion: Use CRM Retargeting to Build Traveler Profiles

CRM retargeting leverages historical booking data from your past travelers, offering extensive promotional campaign opportunities. By hashing their emails, you can retarget them across the internet, ensuring ads are delivered wherever they are logged in. Crucial for compensating the dip in site retargeting, CRM retargeting, especially when layered with CRM data, enhances traveler profiles for more impactful retargeting efforts. For example:

A traveler booked a hotel room with you in the past. This information is stored in your CRM or other database.

  • You share this historical booking data with Sojern or another partner and the emails are hashed.
  • You want to run a promotional campaign aimed at loyal guests.
  • Now travelers can be served ads while they are in any logged-in environment.
  • When a first-party cookie is matched to that hashed email we can layer historical booking data.

These components contribute to a more comprehensive traveler profile, empowering us to retarget based on both current and past behavior. With this enhanced traveler profile, what implications does it hold for future advertising?

A Glimpse into the Future of Online Travel

Returning to the example of disjointed retargeting across desktop and mobile devices, this issue will be resolved in the future through hashed emails or another permissioned ID type, facilitating "people-based marketing" and cross-device targeting. In this scenario, when a traveler initially searches for your hotel in Mexico on mobile and later switches to desktop for booking, subsequent retargeting on their mobile won't focus on the booked hotel but instead present an ad for an activity in Mexico, such as snorkeling.

This benefits both the advertiser, saving budget by avoiding ads to booked customers, and the consumer, providing a more relevant experience with information on local activities rather than redundant hotel ads.

Interested in discovering how to implement a cookie-proof marketing strategy? Reach out to Sojern now for insights and guidance.

This article was updated on January 31, 2024, and originally published in 2021.

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