The Beginner’s Guide to Email Segmentation

Illustration by Mary Delaney A pie cut into segments

Do you have one big email list for all your subscribers? If so, it’s time to think about email segmentation.

Email blasting, where you send one big “blast” to all of your subscribers on your list, is no longer email best practice. In 2019, it’s all about segmentation — that is, segmenting your email list into multiple lists so you can send targeted, personalized messages to your subscribers.

Stats show that email segmentation is well worth the effort. According to an Email Monday report for the Direct Marketing Association, 76% of all revenue came from segmented, targeted, and triggered campaigns. Other research shows email recipients are 75% more likely to click on emails from segmented campaigns than non-segmented campaigns, and click-throughs are 100.95% higher.

So how do you segment a big email list (and I’m talking about lists with 2,000+ subscribers)? Fortunately, it’s not as complex as the name might suggest. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started with email segmentation. Plus, I’ll show you how to create your first segmented email list with MailPoet.

What is email segmentation?

Email segmentation is about breaking your one big email list into meaningful and useful segments based on different criteria. It’s also about better catering to different groups of subscribers by sending them emails that speak to their interests and habits, rather than sending one big email that a big chunk of your subscribers will simply ignore.

Typically, segmentation is used as a personalization tactic for delivering more relevant email marketing to subscribers based on their actions, purchase history, geographic location, age, gender, and more.

For example, say you run an online store selling shoes. You could segment your list by gender so when a sale goes on for women’s high heels, you could send an email to the women on your list. Men on your list might not be interested in buying women’s shoes, so by emailing only women, you’re more likely to get a higher open rate.

Email segmentation can help your business or organization stay relevant, even with a subscriber base that has constantly changing interests and needs. That’s the best part about email segmentation — depending on the email platform you use, it’s usually automated so the segmenting is taken care of for you.

Why email segmentation works

No matter how good your emails are, if your content is generic, your subscribers are going to tune out. With targeted subject lines and content that appeal to segmented lists, you can deliver emails that your audience is genuinely interested in. And when you add triggers to the mix, you’ve got a recipe for improved opens and click-through rates, conversions, and higher email deliverability.

1. Increase open rate and click-through rates

You’ve probably spent hours crafting your email newsletters, perfecting your topics, copy, images, and CTA. But what good is an amazing email if no one opens it?

Using list segmentation, you can craft subject lines tailored for specific groups to better entice them to open your emails. For subscribers who get a ton of emails in their inbox every day, a subject line that mentions something they’re interested in is much more likely to grab their attention.

Similarly, segmentation allows you to create email content that caters to groups of subscribers — such as my shoe store example above — so you’re sending content to people that is relevant to their needs and interests.

2. Decrease unsubscribes

Why do you unsubscribe from emails? For me, it’s usually when a brand starts flooding my inbox with emails that hinder my chances of reaching inbox zero every day, or when I get emails that I’m simply not interested in.

It seems I’m not alone. A MarketingSherpa survey found that 26% of people unsubscribe because they get too many emails in general, 21% unsubscribe because the email isn’t relevant, and 17% unsubscribe because the email content is boring, repetitive and not interesting.

With email segmentation, you can tackle all these problems and decrease unsubscribes. Segmentation can help you control how often subscribers get your emails and ensure you’re only sending relevant content.

3. Increase conversions

When you send personalized content to an engaged subscriber, together with compelling copy and a strong call-to-action, you’re more likely to catch them in a moment when they’re ready to buy.

For example, with email segmentation, you could target customers who’ve previously shopped a certain category of product items in your WooCommerce store and let them know you’ve got a sale on. Since the customer has already shown a strong interest in your store (i.e. they bought a product from you!) they’ll be more likely to come back to your store to make another purchase.

4. Avoid spam filters

Many legitimate senders end up hitting spam filters because they send generic, irrelevant content that subscribers ignore and delete. When you send emails to inactive subscribers too often, email service providers like Gmail pick up on that and start automatically sending your emails directly to spam boxes.

With email segmentation, you can send personalized content that your subscribers are more likely to open — and want to open every time they see your emails in their inbox.

Why email personalization matters

Personalization has been slowly taking over the web, so much so that when something isn’t personalized, it’s jarring.

For instance, just the other day, I bought a page building plugin for my WordPress site and immediately set it up. The following day, I got an email from the plugin’s author about how to get started with the plugin. Too little, too late! I’d already set up the plugin and worked out how to use it.

Similarly, you might’ve received an email from a company offering a discount for a product after already buying it, or even marketing messages about services that you have absolutely no interest in.

These are examples of poorly segmented email lists, or lists that haven’t been segmented. If you’re sending out emails like these, you may as well be asking people to unsubscribe from your list because you’re sending them content that they don’t care about.

Segmenting your email list by gender is just one of the ways you can get started with catering to your different subscribers’ needs. Other ways you can segment your list include:

  • Geographic location
  • Age
  • User role (i.e. the subscriber’s role on your WordPress site)
  • Purchase history (if you have a WooCommerce site)
  • Interests
  • Email actions (opens and click-throughs)

There are many more ways you could segment your email list, and these are just some examples to help you get started. It goes without saying that the more information you collect about your subscribers, the more opportunities you have to segment your list and personalize your emails so they resonate with the right target audiences.

Once upon a time, personalization meant simply including a person’s first name using a shortcode provided by your email platform. Now, email personalization has evolved into a much more powerful marketing tool. Essentially, it’s about sending the right email to the right person at the right time.

A bad example of email segmentation

For instance, here’s an email I got today from TripAdvisor:

Trip Advisor email.

I haven’t used TripAdvisor since I went to Europe in 2015. I had to search through my trashed items to take this screenshot — I unsubscribed right after getting this email.

A good example of email segmentation

Here’s a fun example of segmentation in the form of a cart abandonment email:

Casper abandoned cart email.

This email has been triggered based on behavior (i.e. leaving a pillow in the shopping cart while browsing the Casper website) and encourages the recipient to come back and complete their purchase. The testimonial further reinforces the value of the product with some social proof.

An awesome example of email segmentation

I’m a big fan of Grammarly and not just for its spelling and grammar checking platform, but also its marketing. Check out this super-personalized example of segmentation:

Grammerly activity email.

This weekly email pulls in a user’s stats, specific to their Grammarly activity. What’s great about this type of personalization is that it gives the user some useful information, but also reinforces the value of the service.

Getting started with email segmentation

Segmentation can offer enormous benefits for your email marketing, as we’ve explored. But getting started can be daunting — multiple lists means more work creating content, right?

While it does mean you’ll have to put in a bit more effort when sending out emails, the ROI is definitely worth it. And with some planning and automation, you can even set some of your emails to run on autopilot.

These four steps will help get you started segmenting your email list.

1. Check what kind of segmentation your email platforms allows

All email platforms are different and will offer different options for how you can segment your email lists.

For example, with MailPoet, you can segment your subscribers based on:

With these segments, you can really get creative with your emails. Send emails to subscribers who opened your last newsletter, target shoppers who recently bought a dress (and cross-sell them that perfect pair of boots to match), or even send a personalized email to subscribers who didn’t open your last email and offer them an incentive to visit your site.

2. Collect subscriber data

Now that you know what kind of data your email platform can handle, you need to start gathering it because you can’t create segments without data.

Think about what kind of data is going to be most useful for your marketing strategy. Would it be helpful to sort subscribers by gender or age? Maybe you’d like to know what country they live in so you can let customers know about seasonal sales (e.g. there’s no point telling customers in Australia about a winter sale that’s on when it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere!).

Consider what information you’re already collecting about your subscribers. Obviously their email address, but are you asking for first and last names?

Then you’ll need to think about how to collect any additional data you need. This might involve editing your sign-up form to ask subscribers for more personal details, or even sending a survey to users and adding that information to your email list.

3. Create your segments

Once you’ve got your data, you can start segmenting your email list. How you do this will depend on your email service provider. With MailPoet, you can create a segment by going to Lists > Segments.

Segmentation in MailPoet

Give your segment a name (e.g. Inactive users), a description (e.g. Subscribers who didn’t open last week’s newsletter), and then choose your segment (e.g. Choose “Email” from the first dropdown and then “Not opened” from the second dropdown).

Segmentation options in MailPoet

Then you need to select the last newsletter.

Segmentation options in MailPoet

Now, you can target subscribers who didn’t open the last newsletter and maybe send it to them again with a new subject line, or even send them a new email to check if they still want to receive emails from you.

What’s great about this feature in MailPoet, and email segmentation in email platforms generally, is that it’s usually automated. So when a subscriber meets your conditions for the segment, they will be automatically added to the segmented list. This means no extra work on your part after you’ve created the segment.

4. Create your email content

Once you’ve built your segments, you can start creating personalized content for each of your segments. Why not try creating a segment for your most engaged subscribers to send them more of your content? Or if you have a WooCommerce store, you could create cross-sell emails that target customers who’ve already made a purchase and entice them back to your store.

All it takes is one email to get started with your segmented lists. There’s no need for a complex drip campaign — you can build up to that over time when you feel more comfortable with your email campaigns.

The important thing is, personalization should be seamless — it should be subtle enough that subscribers don’t notice it. If it’s too obvious, it will lose its magic and effectiveness.

5. Offer a choice of lists in your signup form

If your WordPress site covers many topics, or if you have a lot of content, you’re a prime candidate for allowing your subscribers to choose which of your email lists they would like to subscribe to.

For example, if you’re selling house improvement materials, you could have two lists — one for DIY tips and one for news regarding your latest products:

Subscription form with options.

Another example is news websites. Some people may want to receive your post notifications daily, others weekly. Give them the choice to decide with options on your subscription form.

Subscription form with options.

Wrapping up

Once your email segments are up and running, make sure to track and measure how your subscribers are interacting with your content. You’ll want to know what they’re opening and clicking, and what kinds of content they’re engaging with. This knowledge will help you improve your future email campaigns.

The important thing to remember about email segmentation is that your subscribers are unique — they come from different backgrounds, have different interests, and will engage with your business or organization in different ways. With segmentation, you can create personalized messages for your different segments that will ultimately boost your open and click-through rates and score you more conversions.