Email list segmentation strategies and best practices to help you get started
Last updated: October 12, 2023
Learn how to optimize your email marketing strategy with segmentation in this guide:
What is email list segmentation and why is it so important?
Email list segmentation is the process of dividing members of a larger email list into smaller groups based on a common characteristic, web behavior or attribute for the purpose of sending them more targeted, personalized communications.
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For instance, you might create a segment of American customers, then send them a promotion related to Black Friday deals. You might send a targeted newsletter only to people who downloaded a related eBook from your company. Or you might combine two or three filters to narrow in on a hyper-specific audience, like people who have visited a certain page 3+ times but haven’t subscribed to your newsletter yet.
With your email marketing platform, you can create an infinite number of segments relating to specific content, products, promotions and locations. From there, you can give everyone in your audience the most salient message that will inspire them to act – giving you more meaningful results and a more engaged, loyal audience.
The most powerful benefits of email list segmentation
- Increase click and click-through rates: If you’re going to make the effort of sending a campaign only to the people most likely to be interested in it, you’re way more likely to give your recipients offers that inspire them to click through and learn more. An email marketing segmentation software simplifies this process by offering advanced analytical tools that identify patterns and preferences within your audience. (Note: Click rates are the most predictive measure of email engagement, so look to prioritize clicks above opens.)
- Increase conversions: Once recipients have clicked through to your website, they’re more likely to take the intended action stated in your email, like downloading the eBook you told them about or renewing their subscription.
- Decrease unsubscribes and complaints: Segmentation lowers the odds that people receive irrelevant emails from your brand, making it less likely that they’ll leave your list.
- Avoid spam filters and maintain deliverability: The more people open and click your emails, the better your deliverability will be, meaning your emails will stay out of spam folders.
5 strategies to easily segment your audience
Chances are, you’re already using segmentation in your email strategy, but not to the fullest extent. Below are some of the best ways to segment your email audience – and some techniques to make the most of each one.
1. Demographic information
You probably already have some basic contact information about your audience that you can use for segmentation purposes. That includes gender, age, location, job title, etc.
Let’s say that you want to attract a wide range of entry- to senior-level professionals to your publishing conference. With such a broad audience, what amenities should you highlight in the email to get maximum registrations?
By segmenting your email by job title, you can provide different, more appealing options for each audience. For instance, you could highlight exclusive roundtables and networking opportunities in one email to senior professionals, then mention skills-based workshops in another email to their more junior counterparts.
Need more basic information about your subscribers? Consider asking them for more information via an “update your information” campaign (note: you can easily incorporate this into a re-engagement campaign). You could also add more fields to your sign-up form or use progressive profiling to add to their profile over time.
Similarly, customers often change their email address, physical address, company, etc., which can lead to your emails getting lost or becoming less relevant over time. If you use a customer data platform like Omeda, you can easily identify duplicated profiles and merge them into one “winning” profile that’s used going forward.
2. Interaction with website, content and email
Demographic data can provide good insight into an audience’s basic preferences. But in marketing, it’s best to base your segmentation strategy on what people are already doing.
Good news: You can also target your audience based on actions they’ve taken with your company. For example, in Omeda, you can identify people who have engaged in specific behaviors during a certain time period and create segments for each. This includes website visits, webinar and event registrations, eBooks downloads, ad clicks, etc. You can use this information in a few different ways.
So how can you use behavior-based segments? First, you can consult your CDP to see what topics your audience is most interested in, then create segments around those topics. (Streamline this by adding a preference page to your sign-up form. This way, new subscribers can choose what kind of emails they want to receive from you.)
3. Position in the sales funnel
Depending on what kinds of content and emails your audience is engaging with, you can also figure out where they’re at in the sales funnel, then adjust your messaging strategy accordingly. Or you could create a segment for your most promising leads – and send them exclusive content, invitations to networking events or exclusive dinners, etc.
To do this well, you need to create content and emails that correspond to distinct states in the sales funnel. (If you host events, you can also plan breakout sessions that correspond to spots in the funnel. Since attendees need to pick one session over another, this is a good way to spot where each person’s at.)
Say you’re selling a subscription service for content creators. You’d use the following pieces of content, then look at the number of website visits and downloads, to see how prepared your audience is to make a purchase:
- Top of funnel: First, you tell your audience they need your product – and subtly introduce yourself as the solution. A good piece of top-funnel content would be something like “5 Reasons You Need To Monetize Your Content in 2023.”
- Middle of funnel: Now, you need to present specific use cases for your product. So create content related to specific ways that people use the platform, for example, “How to increase repeat viewership and engagement with a paid content membership program.”
- Bottom of funnel: Your audience also has the information they need about your platform. What they need now is reassurance that they can use it to achieve the promised results with your platform. Target these users with a new case study, whether that’s in a standalone email, video, case study or downloadable ebook.
4. Level of engagement
Sometimes, you might want to target your most active subscribers with a special promotion or test some new messaging on them. Or maybe you just want to reward them for their loyalty. In Omeda, you can target these VIPs by querying users who have opened and/or clicked your emails within a pre-set time interval.
From there, you can adjust your messaging or call-to-action based on engagement levels. Say that you’re promoting a conference for your B2B media publication: In your email to highly engaged subscribers, you might provide more information about the speaker or even invite them to submit questions. But for less engaged audiences, you might offer a discount code or free subscription bundle in the email instead.
You can also isolate users who haven’t engaged with your emails within a certain time period. Use this to spot lapsed subscribers and target them with a re-engagement campaign.
5. Purchase history
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, making purchase history a super actionable way to segment your audience.
With that information, you can provide customers with offers and promotions that match purchases they’ve made in the past. This introduces your audiences to the deals they’re most likely to want, rather than relying on them to keep looking for themselves. Besides increasing revenue, this also improves customer experience and retention.
And if your organization has multiple brands, product lines or publications on offer? You can use someone’s purchase history to promote related products or upgrades to them through email.
For instance, using your subscription management solution, you could split your magazine audience into free and paid subscribers, then send the “free” segment a discounted offer to upgrade to your premium tier. You could also create segments for subscribers of each magazine, then promote similar magazines across your various audiences. Both are great tactics for increasing revenue and lifetime customer value – without getting spammy or intrusive.
Best practices on how to segment your email list
Choose the right email tool for segmentation: The right email segmentation tool will make it easy to pull in data, create segments and add people to segments once they meet the group criteria.
Get the right contacts into your email list: To segment your audience, you need to feed an updated list of contacts into your email tool. Ensure that there’s a two-way sync between your customer database (whether it’s a CRM, CDP, etc.l). Or better, use a tool that combines these two functions: Since Omeda combines a customer data platform with an email tool, every customer profile is updated in real time and customers are added to new segments when the criteria changes.
Keep your data clean: Your marketing segments will live and die by your data quality: If your data doesn’t reflect the most complete, current view of each customer, your segments will be inaccurate and your personalization efforts will target the wrong people. Using a customer data platform ensures that you’re building your segments on the best data possible. A CDP takes in data from every touchpoint and unifies it in one place, then validates it and clears it of duplicates, so you’ve got one current and complete profile of each customer.
Leverage automation: People in different segments will require different messages at different times. People who already signed up for an event need to get logistical information about the event, whereas non-registrants will need to receive more promotional emails. New customers need to get a series of payment confirmation and welcome emails — and lapsed customers will need a re-engagement series encouraging them to continue reading. As your email program matures, you’ll need a powerful marketing automation platform to help you manage and execute all of the automated emails, transactional emails, newsletters, drip emails, etc. that you’ll send to your various marketing segments.
FAQs about email list segmentation
What is the difference between an email list and a segment?
Your email list consists of your entire database. A marketing segment is a smaller sub-section of that larger list that shares one or more common demographic, behavioral or marketing characteristics in common.
When segmenting your email lists, what should be the first distinction you make?
The more you know about your audience, the more precise and actionable your segments will be. So when new subscribers join your list, look to learn as much as possible about them. How did they find you? Which of your newsletters did they sign up for? What pieces of content did they click in your emails? Segmenting along these lines will help uncover basic differences between your subscribers.
Bonus: if you use a customer data platform, you can see how they’ve engaged with you across other channels — like your website, events or print — and use their activity to inform additional segmentation (by behavior or interest).
From there, build more detailed profiles of each new subscriber by providing a mix of content in your newsletters and seeing what they click, open and download.
What are examples of categories you can use to segment your email subscribers?
The sky’s the limit! Email service providers like Omeda will let you mix and match dozens and demographic, behavioral, marketing and other filters so you can make your messaging as specific and relevant as possible. Examples include (but certainly aren’t limited to):
- Job Title
- Date of purchase
- Engagement with a specific piece of content (this can be used to gauge interests)
- Stage in the marketing funnel
- Event attendance
- Purchase date (new v. loyal customers)
- # of engagements within a certain time period
- Level of website activity / number of engagements
- Level of email activity / number of engagements
- Device and email client
- Website activity
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