The Death of Cookies

Editors note: No Cookie Monsters were injured in writing this blog.

Did you know, the new Mozilla by Firefox web browser is built with tracking cookies automatically disabled?  Did you know on many iOS (Apple) devices, you have to enable Cookies manually and that Facebook won’t let you use their mobile site without turning the cookies on?  Did you know that according to SEOMoz and SearchEngine Land nearly 15% of internet users block or disable cookies?
Why is this important to you and your advertising on ResortsandLodges.com?  Because ResortsandLodges.com relies on cookies to help track and report on the effectiveness of your advertising program.  A couple quick stats in an image below shows 20 days of site usage by Web Browser on ResortsandLodges.com:
Browser Cookies Blocked
What does this mean?
It means nearly 42% of Visitors to ResortsandLodges.com potentially block or have disabled cookies.
Why is this important in judging the success of your advertising on ResortsandLodges.com?

In your ResortsandLodges.com marketing center and in your Google Analytics tracking, you may have noticed that year over year, your referral visits from ResortsandLodges.com as a traffic source are considerably higher than previous years.  This is not a mirage, ResortsandLodges experienced 60% year over year growth in visitors in 2012 and we are seeing another significant lift in Q1 2013.  Many of our partners have seen their referrals double or triple year over year from ResortsandLodges and are seeing us as a Top 3 direct referrer in Google Analytics.  Yet, somehow, you may have also noticed if you are part of the call tracking platform ResortsandLodges offers, you may not be seeing as many calls as last year – or you are seeing more, but they are not consistent with the growth in visitors we are sending.  This has generated some questions we’d like to address.

Questions many of our advertising partners are asking include:

Why would I be seeing more visitors and less calls?
Are the visitors less qualified?
Is there less demand for my product?
Is there less demand in my destination?
Does my website need to be updated?
Are more people booking online?
Is my website mobile friendly?
The answers to these questions may vary.  Over the next few weeks we’ll be diving deeper into the answers to these questions.  But a couple of quick insights we’ve been able to gather over the last 12 months leads to some fairly obvious conclusions.

A major shift in consumer data is happening right now.  Cookies, are an essential way online tracking is able to gather information about people browsing, shopping and purchasing products.  Without cookies, the ability to effectively track transactions becomes difficult, especially those that take longer than 1 day and more than 1 visit as is the case with leisure travel.

Once a traveler researches, plans and selects your property, then clicks direct to your website, they may make a phone call at that time, or they may save it for later.  Then a few days later, they go to a search engine and type in your brand name bypassing ResortsandLodges alltogether.  With cookies in place, as long as the user is on the same device / computer, we would be able to see that the user originated from ResortsandLodges.com via the cookie and we would be able to re-direct that user back to the proxy site (your site with the tracking in place).  Thus, capturing the second call and hopefully the conversion (that’s up to you :))
Without the cookie, that user returns to your website, calls your regular reservation number and the transaction occurs without being attributed to a specific advertisement that generated the booking.   Based on the data, an argument could be made that nearly 42% of calls being generated by ResortsandLodges.com to our partner properties are not able to be tracked and reported on.  With Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Browser losing market share and Chrome, Safari and Firefox gaining market share, we are bracing for this trend to continue.
Yes, more people are booking online than ever before, but, based on the data in google analytics and think tanks and round tables with some of our 2,000+ customers, we have found that still 50% to 70% or more of leisure vacations are transacted over the phone, particularly, the higher the dollar value, the more likely it is transacted over the phone…especially if they are new guests which is what ResortsandLodges.com and sites like ours generate.
Without the use of cookies, the majority of these conversions can not be accurately tracked.  Thus with the proliferation and growth of browsers and consumers that do not accept or allow cookies, we are starting see a dilution in the number of calls tracked vs the number of referral visits.  Does it mean the calls aren’t happening?  Likely not.  The calls are likely increasing, it just cannot be displayed with current technologies.  How are we working to combat this?
As a premier publisher of travel content, we, along with many other publishers who’s primary business is helping our clients (advertisers) reach a targeted audience to sell their products direct to, realize this is a challenge we all face.  We have been working diligently to innovate and enhance our tracking services and provide more clarity to the results of advertising with ResortsandLodges, but it’s not perfect.
Many top marketing directors simply choose to look at their Google Analytics and realize that if we are a top referrer of guests to their website with a high % of new visits, low bounce rate, high time on site and pages per visit, it likely means their advertising with ResortsandLodges is working.  This is much the same as the way they judge the effectiveness of traditional media by looking at brand search and brand lift.
However, for those that go deeper into the data, we’re right there with you.  Our ultimate goal is 100% transparency, but we as marketers have to remind ourselves that online advertising is still a young industry and the analytics around it are still being innovated and perfected.  Cookies are presenting a challenge in the market place right now and we’re excited to continue developing innovative and leading solutions to help measure and report on the effectiveness of advertising on ResortsandLodges.com as well as other advertising verticals.
Now lets go get some milk.

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