The Beginner’s Guide to Email Segmentation

Illustration by Mary Delaney A pie cut into segments

Do you still have just one big email list for all your subscribers? If so, you’re probably not getting the best performance. The good news is that email segmentation is a relatively straightforward way to enhance what you’re already doing.

Email blasting, where you send one big “blast” to all of your subscribers, is no longer your best option. You’ll get a better return on your marketing efforts by segmenting your email list into multiple groups based on certain subscriber attributes, and sending targeted, personalized messages to your contacts.

Statistics show that email segmentation is well worth the effort. According to Hubspot, marketers using email segmentation saw as much as a 760% increase in revenue. And, segmentation is catching on. As of 2020, one survey found that 78% of email marketers are using personalization and segmentation in their emails. Subscribers are much more likely to convert when companies take the time to communicate with them in a more targeted way.

So how do you segment a big email list (“big” means lists with at least 2000 subscribers)? It’s not as complex as you might think. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started with email segmentation. Plus, you’ll learn 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 more effectively engaging different groups of subscribers by sending them emails that speak to their interests and habits, rather than trying to appeal to everyone with a single message. 

Typically, segmentation is used as a personalization tactic for delivering more relevant email marketing to subscribers based on data specific to them, including:

  • Actions within an email and on your website
  • Purchase history
  • Geographic location
  • Age
  • Gender

For example, say you run an online store selling home improvement products and services and have a sale offering a 20% discount to anyone who spends over $100. You could create a segment of your list that includes everyone who has spent $75 or more, and send emails to that list promoting the sale. 

By sending that email only to people who have proven that they are willing to spend more, you target the subscribers that are most likely to take advantage of your offer. By then tailoring the subject line and messaging to fit that particular group, you’ll further increase your conversion rates.

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 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 eventually going to tune out. With targeted subject lines and content that appeals to segmented lists, you can deliver emails that each slice of your audience is genuinely interested in. That’s a recipe for improved click-through rates, conversions, and higher email deliverability.

1. Increase click-through rates

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

Using list segmentation, you can craft subject lines tailored to specific groups to better entice them to open your emails. For subscribers who get a ton of emails in their inbox every day, a unique and relevant subject line is key when trying to get their attention.

Now, because of the Apple iOS 15 update in the fall of 2021, open rate data is much less trustworthy than it used to be. So, you have to measure campaign success using other metrics, such as click-through rates, number of sales, or total profits. This makes email segmentation more important than ever because people only click on emails that are relevant to them.

But you still need subscribers to open your emails if they’re going to engage with your message, and a well-crafted subject line that speaks to that email segment is more likely to get opened.

Segmentation allows you to create email content that caters to groups of subscribers — such as people who live in a certain part of the city, or retired couples, or women, or combinations of all of these. It enables you to send content that is relevant to the needs and interests of that group.

2. Decrease unsubscribes

Why do people unsubscribe from emails? Most of the time, it’s because a brand starts flooding their inbox with emails that either don’t apply to them or that they’re just not interested in. 

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 or repetitive.

With email segmentation, you can tackle all these problems and decrease unsubscribes, because each person on your list will probably be getting fewer overall emails from your company, and more of those emails will cater to their interests. 

3. Increase conversions

Focus on your best customers by sending targeted emails to engaged subscribers. An engaged subscriber is someone who has recently made a purchase from a previous email campaign, regularly browses your website, or frequently clicks through from your emails. 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, you could email customers who’ve previously shopped a certain category of products in your WooCommerce store and let them know you’re running a sale. Since the customer has already shown a strong interest in your store, they’ll be more likely to come back 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 become a huge focus in digital marketing, so much so that when something isn’t personalized, it’s jarring.

Have you ever received an email from a company offering a discount for a product after already buying it, or gotten marketing messages about services that you have absolutely no interest in? 

These are coming from companies that have poorly segmented email lists, or lists that haven’t been segmented at all. If that’s what you’re doing, your subscribers can feel it. And if you persist in using that approach, you’re almost begging people to unsubscribe from your list because you’re sending them content they don’t care about.

Here are a few basic attributes that are often used to segment email lists:

  • User role (i.e. the subscriber’s role on your WordPress site)
  • Purchase history (type of product, specific product, number of orders, or total amount spent)
  • Interests
  • Geographic location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Date of subscription
  • Email actions (like click-throughs or not clicking)

There are many more ways you can segment your email list. These are just some examples to help you get started. 

Obviously, 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 audiences.

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

An example of bad email segmentation

Sometimes it’s important to know how not to do something. A prime example of this is an email from TripAdvisor:

tripadvisor email that is a poor example of email segmentation

This subscriber hadn’t used TripAdvisor in years. They immediately unsubscribed because the email was irrelevant to them.

Examples of good email segmentation

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

Casper email with good segmentation

This email was triggered based on subscriber behavior — in this case, 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.

This email from Harry & David quickly identifies itself as being sent only to loyal customers, so it was likely segmented by purchase history. The subject line was, “Exclusively for you – an offer from the president of Harry & David,” which compels the subscriber to open because it puts them in a special category.

Harry and David email with great personalization

Following the compelling subject line, the email begins by reinforcing that this offer really is only for loyal customers. And then it sells the pears, the holidays, and a one-day-only special offer that includes shipping. 

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 segments mean more work creating content, right?

While it does mean you’ll have to put in more effort when sending out emails, the return on investment (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 platform allows

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

With MailPoet, you can segment your subscribers based on:

  • WordPress user roles
  • Email actions (clicked links)
  • Active subscriptions (using WooCommerce Subscriptions)
  • Subscriber date
  • Custom fields
  • WooCommerce: Purchased this Product
  • WooCommerce: First Purchase
  • WooCommerce: Purchased in this Category
  • WooCommerce: Abandoned Cart Emails
  • WooCommerce: total spent
  • WooCommerce: customer country

With these segments, you can really get creative with your emails. Send emails to subscribers who clicked on any link in your last newsletter. Target shoppers who recently bought a dress (and cross-sell them that perfect pair of boots to match). Send a personalized email to contacts who didn’t click on 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 it.

Think about what kind of information 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. There’s no point telling customers in Australia about a winter sale in January when it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere!

Consider what information you’re already collecting about your subscribers. Obviously, you’ve got 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 out a survey and adding that information to your email list.

For segments based on behavior like clicks and purchases, you simply need to activate triggers in your marketing journeys that automatically place subscribers into segments based on their actions. 

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. 

Give your segment a name (e.g. inactive users) and a description (e.g. subscribers who didn’t click on last week’s newsletter), then choose your segment (e.g. Choose “Email” from the first drop-down and then “Not clicked” from the second dropdown). 

Then you need to select the last newsletter.

Now, you can target subscribers who didn’t click on the last newsletter and maybe send it to them again with a new subject line, or even send them a new email in case they missed the message and you want them to see it before it’s no longer relevant.

What’s great about conditional email list segmentation is that it’s usually automated. So when a subscriber meets your conditions for a segment, they will be automatically added to it. This means there’s no extra work on your part to maintain the segment after it’s created.

4. Create your email content

Once you’ve built your segments, you can start creating personalized content for them.

If you have a WooCommerce store, you could create cross-sell emails that target people who already made a purchase. If you blog about multiple topics — both travel and food — send an email with your top recipes just to people who indicated they’re foodies.

Don’t worry about creating a complex drip campaign or an entire set of emails. Start with just one message to a single segment and go from there.

Don’t forget to extend your personalization to the subject line. The whole point of segmentation is to drive higher engagement. The emails need to get opened. And research has shown that personalized subject lines get opened more often.

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 home improvement materials, you could have two lists — one for DIY tips and one for news regarding your latest products:

newsletter form with the option to select a list

Another example is news websites. Some people may want to receive your post notifications daily; others weekly, So provide frequency options on your subscription form.

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 clicking on and what kinds of content they’re engaging with. This knowledge will help you improve 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 segments that will ultimately boost your click-through rates and score you more conversions.