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Segment your email list with these best practices

Build an email list of contacts that actually want to hear from you. Great marketing strategy, right? Sometimes it’s easier said than done. In this post we’re breaking down the best practices to build lists that work for you.



Let’s say you have an extensive list of email subscribers who have opted-in to receive your stuff. They may have found their way onto your mailing list from a social media platform, through a sign-up form on your homepage, or via a pop-up on your website. All these new subscribers are potential customers, so naturally, you want to send them everything you’ve got: daily content pieces, email newsletter, content upgrade offers, special offers, and discounts. Right?

Actually, we highly recommend that you don’t do this. Email blasts are an outdated marketing tactic and a great way to get caught by spam traps. In fact, instead of seeming enthusiastic, you might come across as overbearing and thus scare off a possible customer.

We’re here to pull you away from the ledge. In this article, we’ll go through what email list segmentation is and how your team can segment your email list to improve engagement metrics and reach your audience in a more targeted way. Finally, we’ll leave off with how our Mailgun tools can make maintaining mailing list hygiene and managing lists a breeze.

What is email list segmentation?

Email list segmentation is the practice of separating (“segmenting”) your email list of subscribers into smaller groups based on similarities to tailor content to your individual subscriber’s needs. Each group represents a different “persona” or user type you want to reach within your audience. These personas are based on the various data points you have for each subscriber on your list, like age, gender, or location.

Through segmenting your email list, you can create personalized content relevant to each segment rather than trying a scattershot, one-size-fits-all solution.

Why should I use email list segmentation?

The whole point of launching a multi-touch email campaign is to share useful content addressing one or several pain points. But how can you do that if you don’t know who’s in your marketing email segment? Email list segmentation helps you develop personalized content that will help you reach your target audience, segment by segment.

Finding trends means figuring out what characteristics your subscribers share. This will let you create groups using data points like gender, hometown, age, or marital status. Your contacts could also be in the same stage of the buyer’s journey, or have similar likes and dislikes. Once you know this, you can use targeted calls-to-action (CTAs) and other targeted content to reach your users.

How do I segment my email list?

Let’s dive in! Here are our best practices for segmenting your email list:

  1. Decide what you want to achieve. Determine what you want to achieve through segmentation. How do you want to improve upon your existing content marketing strategies? How does segmentation help you reach those goals? Set specific, measurable goals.

  2. Define your data points. We’ll go over data points in detail below, but in brief, data points are personal data you’ve collected about your user, including behavioral and non-behavioral data. Ensure you’re staying compliant with data protection laws when collecting and using your subscriber’s personal data.

  3. Group your users by persona. Once you decide the factors or data points you want to focus on, group your subscribers by their similarities. Each of these is a “persona.” For instance, you can give your personas names and titles like “Joan the businesswoman who prefers smart, tailored clothes and a quick shopping experience” or “Bas, the filmmaker who likes arty, hipster trends and likes to take his time to find just that perfect gem.”

  4. Choose your segments and create content for each segment. Once you’ve created different segments, use personalization or dynamic content to create content for each segment.

  5. Keep updating your segments. Email segmentation isn’t a one-off thing. Just like email list hygiene, you need to constantly maintain your segments. Your subscribers’ needs, interests, and preferences change over time. Keep your segments up-to-date.

  6. Measure the success of your email list segmentation. In the first step, we recommended that you set specific, measurable goals. Once you set up your email list segmentation, measure your e-commerce marketing program’s success to understand how you need to adjust it going forward.

What are five data points for segmenting my email list?

Ok, so we’ve started to peel back the layers on email list segmentation. How else can we slice and dice our data to get insights? Well, it helps to differentiate between behavioral and non-behavioral data:

  • Behavioral data is everything that tracks the activity of your subscribers across all marketing assets you have available to date.

  • Non-behavioral data refers to more subjective characteristics, like geography, demographics, and psychographics.

Generally, the more data points you have to work with, the more targeted and effective your email lists will be. Let’s look at a few behavioral and non-behavioral data points you can use to segment your email list.

What are two behavioral data points I can use to segment my emails?

Here’s a list of behavioral data points your online business is probably already tracking:

  • Email marketing metrics: Use KPIs like open rate, click-through rate (CTR), click-to-open rate (CTOR), conversion rate, and opt-out rate to segment your users into similar personas.

  • Online behavior: Track your users’ purchases, usage, registrations, buying frequency, and logins to your website or mobile app to see how they interact with your landing page and brand.

What are three non-behavioral data points I can use to segment my emails?

Check out our list of non-behavioral data points you can use to segment your email list:

  • Geographic data: Make a note of where your user is based. If your business sells clothes, you might want to sell winter jackets to users based in Michigan in March but start rolling out sandals to users in California.

  • Demographic data: Demographic factors like age, gender, income, level of income, profession, family, or marital status may impact how your subscribers interact with your brand. Use the data points on the factors you know to segment your list.

  • Psychographic data: Factors like lifestyle, hobbies, beliefs, values, and life goals might influence how you segment your users. Let’s say you’re a brand like North Face. You’re likely to have your hardcore adventurers, your weekend warriors, and also city people who gravitate towards long, black North Face puffer jackets to deal with Manhattan winters. Your content for each segment should reflect their differing interests and lifestyles.

How can I use dynamic content to create personalization for each email segment?

You’ve built your segmented email lists. Now, how do you decide what content to include in your emails? It helps to make sure that all of your content is personalized to your email segments and tells a story. One way to automate and save yourself some time is to use dynamic feeds within the body of your email message to control the content you send. Doing this can decrease the number of campaigns you have to build out, as different recipients will receive content based on their unique data point values.

If you want to send an email to all job seekers in your network, you can create one campaign with a dynamic feed that pulls in jobs based on the location data of each recipient. A programmer in San Francisco will receive a different set of jobs in their email than a lawyer in Los Angeles. This way, in just one campaign, you can actually target thousands of different micro-segments. These are the most potent kind of campaigns, and once set up, they reduce the overhead of preparing email content for every micro-segment!

What are some examples of using non-behavioral and behavioral email segments?

Each and every contact in your database is a snowflake with unique interests, backgrounds, and profiles. Since they’re all different, you should speak to them differently. Find similarities between your subscribers and build out targeted segmented email lists for different email marketing campaigns.

In this section, let’s look at some examples of using email list segmentation. First, we’ll look at a case study of how Nintendo might use non-behavioral email segmentation to build hype for a product. Then, we’ll look at how you might use behavioral email segmentation.

Example 1: Using a non-behavioral email segment

Non-behavioral segmentation relies on your subscribers’ demographic, geographic, and psychographic data.

Let’s say an email marketer at Nintendo wanted to build hype for the Nintendo Labo launch in the Texas market. He knows that not all users are children and that customers above the age of 18 prefer to shop at Best Buy instead of Walmart or Target (and will wait for days outside of Best Buy in a camping tent to hold their place in line).

Instead of sending an email to all Nintendo subscribers, they can increase their email open and click rates by building a segment targeting only those with purchasing power. They could contact women and men ages 18 – 45 years old and living in San Antonio, Texas, within a 10-mile radius of the largest Best Buy using targeted emails that let them know about launch activities.

By doing this, Nintendo would increase the engagement of their emails since the targeted list reaches subscribers in a specific geographic area that are likely to purchase the Nintendo Labo.

Example 2: Using a behavioral email segment

Behavioral email list building is based on how customers behave with your emails, website, apps, and more. Every user behaves differently with your product and content, so it makes sense that they should be targeted based on where they are in the customer journey.

You can use behavioral email list segmentation by dividing your subscribers into several activity groups, like those who have opened an email in the last week, two weeks, or one month. Use this to determine the type of content you want to send to each segment. For those who just need a little push, maybe you want to send a digital marketing campaign with social proof. You may need to design a re-engagement campaign for those who need a bit more.

Typically, you’ll want to place those sent daily or weekly emails but that haven’t opened them on a different segment with a lower mailing routine. Space out those messages and send them every other week instead of once a week. If 45 days go by and they still don’t engage, you should remove them from any regular mailing routine. You can then add them to a reactivation program, using different subject lines and creatives to re-engage them. If they still don’t show a pulse, retire them altogether and pro-actively unsubscribe them. Just by practicing regular list hygiene, you can improve your open and click-through rates, which leads to better deliverability and IP reputation.

On the other hand, you can target new customers with a short welcome series or onboarding emails to products and services. If your business relies on new sign-ups from website visitors, you might want to target them with relevant content to get them to activate.

Lastly, you can also use automation to send a transactional email based on unique user behavior. Let’s say a user added an external hard drive to his Amazon shopping cart but didn’t go through with the purchase. You can recognize this behavior and send an automatic email to remind them. And if the user did purchase the external hard drive, you could target them in subsequent emails and offer things that complement the purchase, like an extended warranty.

How can I use Mailgun to manage my email list segmentation?

Email list segmentation can be a time-intensive task to do from scratch. Don’t worry – we’re here to do the heavy lifting for you. Check out our free email list management tool that helps you with email list building and management strategies. We also help you validate your list with our Email validations API. Or, you can take advantage of our open-source mailing list applet with PHP and the Mailgun SDK to power your email list needs. 

Wrapping up

Using advanced user segmentation in your emails will increase open rates, conversion rates, and overall ROI. It’s important to send personalized content that is relevant to your subscribers.

The best way to do this is by building different segments that target your subscribers based on behavioral and non-behavioral data. Using an advanced email marketing platform can help you send targeted campaigns to different segments and encourage your subscribers to take action and engage with your content. Ready to get started? Get in touch with the Mailgun team today.

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