How (And Why) To Segment Your Email List

By Madison Taylor
May 3, 2019
large stack of mail in a mail slot

Every few months, it seems like we hear a news story about how email marketing is dying, how no one opens emails any more, and how social marketing is the only way forward. Don’t get us wrong: social media marketing is hugely important to any comprehensive strategy — but email marketing is still very much in play.

Email marketing is one of the best ways to check in with existing customers, announce new products, and promote the content you’ve spent so much time and energy creating. But as important as what you send is who you’re sending it to.

That’s where segmenting comes in — the practice of dividing your email list into email list into groups based on shared characteristics. Those segments could be based on demographics, location, position at their company, which of your products the recipient already uses, which features they use, and a million other things. We’re here to tell you why segmentation is so important and, more importantly, how to use it.

Why Email Segmenting Is So Important

First things first — you don’t have a lot of time to get people’s attention. The amount of time that customers spend on each email is increasing, but it’s still only about 11 seconds. That means that your emails have to be grabby, sure. But it also means they have to be relevant.

People are increasingly reading emails on their phones in short bursts — in waiting rooms, on public transport, in meetings, even in the bathroom. They’re scrolling through quickly, sometimes only reading subject lines.

If you send them an email that doesn’t mean anything to them — say you’re promoting a premium content offer that they’ve already downloaded — then they won’t give you a second glance. Segmentation allows you to individualize the emails you send to each person so that you’re only asking them to spend their fleeting spare time on things that matter.

Keeping your emails focused has substantial benefits. In a Mailchimp survey of 11,000 campaigns by 2,000 users, they found that segmentation resulted in 14% higher open rate, 10% higher unique opens, and 100% higher clicks — as well as fewer bounces, fewer abuse reports, and fewer unsubscribes.

The key takeaway is that email isn’t dead — it’s just more competitive. Today’s digital users are inundated with more information from more channels than ever, and they don’t have time to read things they don’t care about. Segmenting your list helps you cut through the clutter.

Ways To Segment Your Email Lists

As we mentioned before, there are thousands of different criteria you can use to segment your email lists, and which ones you use will be a matter of what works best for your business’s goals. Every business is different, and some criteria might be more important than others to your particular needs. That said, we have some suggestions that will help get you started.

Sort By Location

This is going to depend on the exact kind of product you provide — if your business is conducted entirely online, it might not matter where people live. But if you conduct business in person, ship to various areas of the country, or have physical storefronts, location matters. You don’t want to offer a “free shipping” promotion only for people in Alaska to drain your budget on shipping costs, and you don’t want to send “in-store only” promotions to people who live nowhere near your stores.

Pay Attention To Purchases

There are a few ways to segment by purchase history. Let’s say you sell bike parts and you get a new shipment of premium products in from a specific brand. You know that this product is only for serious road cyclists, so you might want to segment by people who have purchased from that brand several times before, or people who have spent more than $2000 on road cycling gear.

Another thing to keep in mind is tiers of service. If you have a premium tier to the services you offer, you don’t want to advertise that tier to people who have already subscribed. You also don’t want to advertise your “business” pricing to people who aren’t involved in a business. Purchasing behavior is a great way to judge what people are going to be interested in going forward.

Just Ask

If you offer a variety of emails, the easiest way to find out which ones are most relevant to people is to ask them. Send an email to everyone in your inbox every few months or a year with options for what kind of emails they might be interested in — new products, whitepapers, promotions, newsletters, or some combination of the above — and let them check a few boxes on a form.

When combined with the previous sorting mechanisms we’ve mentioned, this will help you drill down into people’s preferences. You’ll only serve them emails that they care about, and they’ll open the emails they receive because they know the content matters.