What Is Email List Segmentation?

My friend, Mike, runs a music shop in the centre of town. Every day he serves hundreds of musicians from all over the world: Guitarists, Drummers, Violinists, Pianists and even the occasional Triangle player.

All of these people love music. But, none of them come to the shop for the exact same reasons. A drummer doesn’t care about the latest offers on acoustic guitars, and the pianist doesn’t really give a crap about what’s new in the world of Triangle playing.

Now, for Mike, this is hard to deal with in a shop. He has posters and magazines and sections for everyone who cares about different instruments or products. But he never knows who is going to walk through the door, so he has to try and canvas as many people as possible.

But, in the world of Internet Marketing, you can cater to all of these different people, without any crossover. That’s what email list segmentation is.

You have the backgrounds, interests and desires of your customers at your fingertips. And you can send them unique content, that fits them perfectly, that they’re more likely to open and read.

Take a look at language expert, Benny Lewis.

When you head to his site, Fluent In 3 Months, you’re asked which language you’re interested in learning and offered a free course:

Fluent in 3 Months

The genius here is that it creates the feeling of a unique user experience from the start. And, it instantly puts you into a segment on Benny’s list that only caters to your language. Like how I only get updates about Spanish, or language learning hacks:

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And, funnily enough, I open all of Benny’s emails to me. Because they’re personalised and I know that I’m going to care about the content in them.

This doesn’t just work for languages and music, either. It can work in any niche, for any topic. By personalising your emails to people, into their specific segments, your users will always know they’re getting an email packed with content they care about.

Now, this might all sound a bit wishy-washy and speculation based. So, let me give you some cold hard facts about email segmentation too.

As of the 1st December 2015, MailChimp found these results with their research into Segmented Email Campaigns vs Non Segmented Campaigns:

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59.99% more people click segmented campaigns. That is an incredible stat. If someone told you they could get you that many more clicks you’d pay them hundreds of dollars to do it. But here it is, for free.

This information all makes sense, too.

Psychologically consumers prefer personalisation. Because, as researchers at the University of Texas discovered, it gives people a sense of control and reduces information overload. Making them, in some cases, more than 42% more likely to take action.

So, in essence, email list segmentation is:

  • Understanding your audience
  • Providing them with better content
  • Personalising their experience
  • Giving yourself more chance to convert

Okay if that’s the why you should segment your list, let’s take a look at how. Firstly, you’re going to need some tools…

Taking Your First Steps

If you’re going to do something, it’s worth doing it right. And there are some tools and information you’re going to need to make sure you’re getting it right straight off the bat:

01: Email Marketing Software

You probably have one of these. But, just incase you don’t, let it never be said I didn’t tell you in advance.

An email client is just a program or service where you collect, store and send all your emails from. Like MailChimp, Aweber, Campaign Monitor or, of course, our very own Platform.ly:

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If you're already on Platform.ly (and if you're not, what're you waiting for?) you don't need to worry about this, just jump right on to the next step.

02: User Data From Email Addresses

Once you have an email client, you’re going to need, y’know, people. If you don’t have anybody on your list yet, it might be worth reading this article and understand the information you need to collect while building your list.

If you do have people on your list, you’re going to need data on them. Some of the clients mentioned above will do that for you. Or, you can collect on-the-job. There no right or wrong way here, but the more information you have, the better.

03: A Way Of Segmenting Them…

This is quite specific to your business, and it’s going to be decided by the quantity (and quality) of the information you have.

For a clothes shop, you might want to gather the information about their shopping habits:

  • Do they buy t-shirts or shoes?
  • Do they prefer delivery, or in-store pickup?
  • Are they more active in the sales or do they try and get your latest lines?

Where for a parenting blog, you might be more interested in:

  • The age range of their children
  • The content they read your site for (Discipline, Breastfeeding, Hygiene, Product Reviews etc.)
  • Their location or schooling district

At first, this might be a little unrefined. But the more you test and send emails, the better segments you’ll find for yourself too.

For now, try and find the different interests and habits of your customers and what might be the best way to segment them. There’s more on this soon, don’t worry.

Once you have all these three in place, you can begin to look at the different ways you can segment your list…

The 3 Scientific Ways To Segment Your List

Your exact business may be a little beyond the scope of this article. But what I can give you is the best, research backed ways to segment your list for your goals.

MailChimp didn’t just look at the global results of email segmentation, they broke it down too. And here are the results, by possible goal:

If You Want More Unique Opens…

You should segment your list by subscriber activity. That is, how they interact with the emails you send them.

While this may not have the best open rate overall, it does come with the least risk of bouncing or unsubscribing, while still getting more opens than your current campaign:

If You Want More Clicks…

You should segment your list by their merge field. What’s that? It’s the information used to separate people in your database, such as “Job_title”, “ZIP Code” or “Shoe Size”. These will be quite specific to your business, too, so do some research.

This is currently the most popular way for marketers to segment their lists, and that’s because it’s pretty effective:

Clicks are high enough to make a real difference to your campaigns. While the bounce rates are low enough to hardly make any impact, and your chances of getting unsubscribed from are on their way down.

This could be the best, low risk way to ease your way into email segmentation and run a few trial campaigns too.

If You Want To Supercharge Everything…

You should segment your audience into Interest Groups. Because, well…people care about content they’re interested in:

While the unique opens might not be as high as you’d like, there’s no arguing that all the metrics have moved in the right direction. You’re cutting down on up to 22% of people leaving at one end of the filter, while engaging 10% more people in your emails. And that 72% click rate is nothing to be sniffed at.

Interests will be different for different lists and different people. For example, for a coffee shop it could be grinding, brewing, drinking and beans. Where for a bookstore it could be as specific as genres or as broad as paper or Kindle.

That’s the research backed ways of segmenting your list. But, are there any other ways of doing it?

There are…

15 More Effective Ways To Segment Your Mailing List

There are tonnes of ways to segment your list. Some of which people probably haven’t ever even thought about.

And, even though the methods you’re about to read don’t have official data from a site like MailChimp that doesn’t make them any less effective. They’ve been used by marketers worldwide to great effect.

Here’s 15 more ways you can segment your list that might fit your business…

Note: Credit where credit’s due, a lot of these ideas and methods come from the terrific minds at sites like HubSpot.

01 – Different Headlines: Matthew Woodward recently segmented his list into Animated Emoji headlines and non-animated headlines and saw huge spike in open rates. You can play around with this and find who responds, who doesn’t and segment accordingly.

02 – Geography: Got a local business, different branches or local information? Send out some information that could help them. Starbucks uses this location personalisation to create that ‘local coffee shop’ feel in all of their email campaigns, and they even give out locational offers.

03 & 04 – Age and Gender: Basic, but still effective. I’ve never opened an article about womenswear. At least not since I finished my career as a local drag queen.

05 – The Weather: That’s right. According to Email On Acid, the running shoe company Brooks used this to great effect on their email marketing campaigns by sending quirky images in their emails based on the local weather of a customer:

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06 – Desired Goal: Like the Benny Lewis example before, what does your customer want to achieve? John Romaniello does this superbly in the fitness niche by splitting people into “Make People Hot” and “Get People Huge”:

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Even a segmentation as simple as this can let you get more, interest-driven, content in front of people.

07 – Persona: The persona is the profile they build as they join your mailing list. The more in-depth the persona, the better tailored the content will be.

08, 09 & 10 – Past, Present and Future Purchases: This is simple, you just have to answer the questions:

  • What have they bought?
  • What are they buying?
  • What are they likely to buy?

This can break down into multiple different types of content, too. From relevant new products that are being released in the future, or to updates about products they already own:

11 – Purchase Cycle: How often do people buy from, or visit, you? Are there any spikes or troughs in traffic at specific points in the year? Or, are there any specific products that only sell at certain times?

Track, monitor and email these people to give them a specific, laser-targeted update that it’s time to make a purchase again. Like, you know, hitting them up in October for festive jumpers or christmas trees.

12 – Seniority: Perfect for B2B Mailing. Where does this person fit into their company's hierarchy? Manager, CEO, Foot Soldier? Tailor yourself (and your tone) accordingly.

13 – Education Level: In the nicest way possible, there will be people on your mailing list with the IQ of a foam packaging peanut, and there will be those who want to be spoken to like they’re a Harvard professor.

Being able to tailor your content to each of these people, with the correct tone and wording, can be a real game changer for you. Because your consumers will always read content they can digest and understand.

14 – Shopping Cart Abandonment: According to HubSpot, if you’re an ecommerce site, you need to have a shopping cart abandonment email system in place. By having a system like this in place, Marketing Experiments managed to recover 263% more abandoned carts.

15 – Changes In Buying Behaviour: Let’s say, for example, you’re a nutrition company that makes monthly sales of Protein Powder to Darren in Vermont. But, one month, Darren stops buying that powder and chooses a different product. Or, he stops buying altogether.

This is the perfect opportunity to reach out and ask, “What’s changed?”

  • Does he have a new goal?
  • Was there something wrong with the quality of that product?
  • Did his girlfriend tell him he was podgy and needs to stop bulking?

You don’t have to write the email yourself, either. It can be a general survey or canvas-all email that is triggered at the time of change. But, what’s important is that Darren gets that email. So you can engage and improve your service, while making him feel like a valued customer.

About Author

Founder of Platform.ly (Marketing Automation Platform for your business) with a passion for helping businesses of all sizes maximize their potential and income. Other passions include the usual stuff: family, travel, sport (Rugby and Cricket coming from my side of the world). Write to me in the comments below, I'd love to hear from you...


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