Ecommerce Fundamentals Part 4: Retention

Learn how to drive user engagement and maximize your retention strategies with our expert tips for publishers, bloggers, and content creators.

An abstract illustration of a shopping basket surrounded by various 2D shapes — all in vibrant blue hues.

The ecommerce lifecycle doesn’t end when someone makes a purchase. The opposite in fact — the most important phase begins after a sale happens.

As a publisher, your ultimate goal is to grow the size of your audience and deepen their level of engagement with your content. This is especially true if you’re using standardized IPSOS rankings to negotiate deals with advertisers.

Potential advertising partners want to see that your site is generating a strong number of unique monthly visitors and deep on-page engagement (a.k.a. Time spent on page).

Advertising is just one part of your monetization strategy. Along with direct sales and programmatic advertising, you’re likely using subscriptions and affiliate commissions to earn revenue, too.

Audience retention is what allows you to lower the costs of your acquisition strategy, foster ongoing relationships with your readers and boost the lifetime value of your audience base.

And that’s where commerce content comes in — it offers uniquely personalized, highly-actionable first-party data that can be used to boost engagement and make it easier to re-acquire and retain your audience.

The problems with traditional affiliate marketing for publishers

Until recently, affiliate links have been the most common way to earn revenue from your partner brands. But, links come with two main problems for publishers, particularly in the context of retention.

Firstly, links redirect your audience away from the content you’ve created. This cuts down the length of their session and reduces their time on-site.

This presents a problem for you as a publisher: less time on site means fewer ad impressions from programmatic ads and lower average minutes on page per visitor (a key metric used in your ad sales negotiations).

Secondly, links lack the level of data and insights needed to deeply understand audience behavior.

By now you know that the best practices for acquiring and converting audiences are this: using data to pinpoint user behavior and reduce the resources and costs needed to acquire and convert high-intent audiences in the future.

In a nutshell, relying on affiliate links alone prevents you from effectively growing your returning visitor base, meaning you’re not able to grow your total audience as effectively, too.

Let’s take a look at how this plays out in a real-world scenario.

Publisher A has $100 to spend on acquiring visitors each month. This budget has to cover everything from producing content to SEO efforts and paid advertising.

If Publisher A is able to acquire 100 users for every $100 they spend, their acquisition cost per user is $1.

In this scenario, let’s say Publisher A’s returning visitor rate is 0%. That means there are no visitors returning to the site month on month — only new visitors are landing on the site each month.

So, spending $100 each month to acquire 100 users means Publisher A’s total monthly audience is always 100 people — meaning their audience isn’t growing.

But, what if Publisher A used visitor data (like email addresses) to re-acquire past visitors for less than the cost of acquiring new visitors (say, $0.50 vs $1 per user)?

Their monthly budget of $100 could now be used to acquire more than 100 users per month — meaning their audience is now growing. Let’s say a modest 10% of these visitors are returning each month.

As shown in the numbers below, audience retention means that Publisher A would see 5% month-on-month audience growth, without having to increase their budgets.

No visitor retention 10% visitor retention
Total budget $100.00 $100.00
New visitor cost $1.00 $1.00
Returning visitor cost $0.50 $0.50
New visitors 100 95
Returning visitors 0 10
Total visitors 100 105
Total spend $100.00 $100.00

The solution: using commerce content to drive audience retention

Affiliate links aren’t your only option. In fact, by using on-site shoppable content (like we offer with Carted Elements), you can gain personalized first-party data to efficiently re-acquire and retain existing site visitors.

By keeping your visitors on-site, you can still earn valuable affiliate commissions, improve site engagement metrics (to win over advertisers) and gather the data you need to keep past visitors coming back to your site time and time again.

Retention is all about learning more about your existing users to figure out how to re-acquire them more easily and more cost-effectively in the future. You could say that retention is acquisition backed by (ideally) more information.

Ready to harness commerce content (and on-site checkout) to boost retention? Here are four practical places to start as a publisher.

1. Harness 1:1 marketing automation

By leveraging personalized first-party data, email marketing can be used to re-acquire high-intent visitors through tactics such as abandoned cart emails. This is a cost-effective strategy compared to acquiring new visitors.

Plus, programmatic retargeting ads can also be a useful tool to reach users with personalized messaging on other digital platforms, such as social media. This can significantly boost the chances of re-engaging visitors who have previously landed on your site.

2. Personalize subscription campaigns

Tapping into first-party behavioral data means you can connect on-site purchases to a user’s profile in your own Customer Data Platform and use these insights to deliver personalized on-site messaging that drives subscriptions.

For example, a message like "Get more recommendations like your [insert recent purchase] each month by joining our mailing list!" can be used to encourage users to sign up.

Providing tailored recommendations that align with the user's interests and past preferences can help you increase subscription rates, improve your customer experience and even lead to an uptick in your bottom line.

3. Use insights to inform your acquisition strategy

To continue improving your acquisition process and reduce costs, it's important to gather and analyze insights from your audience.

Tracking metrics like click-through rates, adds to cart, conversion rates, and customer lifetime value will help you determine which strategies will most effectively bring in new visitors that engage with your content.

For example, if you find that a certain type of content or ad performs well with a particular audience segment, you can tailor future content and ads to that segment to drive even better results.

4. Make site content that's worth coming back to

The challenge for publishers is this: to create an on-site experience that customers want to come back to.

How? First up, creating great content and offering on-point product recommendations helps to build trust with readers and earn that prized spot as a daily bookmark for audiences.

Plus, by tapping into first-party data, you can understand a reader’s interests and preferences, allowing you to further personalize the on-site experience to serve the right content to the right users.

With the right data, it becomes possible to bring the algorithmic feeds of social media apps within reach of traditional content publishers. That means publishers can offer personalized recommendations to their audience, increasing their chances of engagement and retention.

Boost your retention rates with an on-site checkout experience

Want to capture first-party data to improve your acquisition strategies?

With our all-new low-code tool, Carted Elements, you can harness the power of on-site checkout to learn more about your audience, boost your engagement metrics and keep your readers coming back for more.