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Easy Email List Segmentation – A Beginners Guide

As bloggers and online marketers, it’s important to learn how to create content that makes each person in your audience feel like you created it just for them.

This shows that you have a deep understanding of your audience and that you’ve found the trigger point that puts you in touch with them on an emotional level.

When you can make this kind of connection to your readers, it makes it more likely that they will follow through on your calls to action.

However, generating that type of response using email marketing can present a bit of a challenge for most marketers.

Email is extremely personal, which makes it hard to share one message that is universal to all your readers.

And so for you to be able to connect to each of your subscribers in that way requires the use of a few smart tactics which we will be discussing in this post.

Why List Segmentation is Important

Your emails need to be personal, otherwise, they may seem out of place to some of your subscribers. When people just aren’t feeling the connection on a personal level, the odds are they will simply unsubscribe or become inactive.

This is particularly dangerous in any autoresponder email series that you create as you’re more likely to forget it. An autoresponder is a series of pre-written emails that you send to your subscribers over a period of time.

It feels good to be able to set up something once and then let automation take over, but your audience is sharp, and it only takes that one email that isn’t aligned with their needs to convince them that being on your list isn’t for them anymore.

And that’s when they hit the ‘unsubscribe’ button.

So, what’s the best way of solving the dilemma of sending targeted emails to each subscriber on your list? You do that by segmenting your list into groups.

That way you can actually write emails that matter to each of those groups.

List Segmentation Basics

Segmenting your email list simply refers to the process of putting your subscribers into various groups that you can send more personalized emails to.

Here is an example of basic email segmentation. You have an email list and a product to sell.

You segment the subscribers from your list into two groups:
  1. Buyers
  2. Non-buyers

You send specific emails to the first group, and you send different emails to the second group: Valuable content that is educational and builds authority and trust.

To the non-buyers, you send content like success stories that show proof of concept. These emails are meant to be a driver of sales.

If someone from this group buys your product, you then move them to the ‘buyers’ segment where they start to receive a different set of emails from your ‘buyer’ autoresponder series.

For example:
  • You could send them a thank you email for buying the product, together with some vital information pertaining to how they can access the product.
  • You can then send a follow-up email a couple of days later to check on their progress and ensure that everything is running smoothly.
  • Two weeks in, you can send a survey email to find out what they like or dislike about their experience with your product so far.
  • 4 weeks later you can send them an unexpected free gift as a thank you.
  • Next, you could send a promotion for another product you have for that same audience.

So, as you can see, each group gets to have their own special series of emails that is targeted at converting them.

Can you imagine how annoyed your buyers would be with you to see an email (in their already overflowing inbox) pitching a product that they purchased two weeks ago?

That’s the kind of thing that makes people want to unsubscribe, but following this segmentation process ensures that it doesn’t happen. The best part is that all this can be done automatically using your ESP (email service provider).

First Rule of Email List Segmentation: Keep It Simple

The most useful piece of advice any successful email marketer will tell you when it comes to segmenting your list is to keep it simple (in the beginning, at least).

Eventually, you are going to have an incredibly complex automation sequence with dozens of segments in your list of subscribers, but when you’re just beginning, it’s best to keep things simple and the buyers vs. the non-buyers segmentation is the easiest to understand and implement.

Of course, there are lots of other segmentation options that you can implement within an email list.

It’s not always a simple case of ‘this or that’ as in the example above. You could have some people who are placed in two or more groups depending on what your goals are.

For instance, you could have a non-buyer who is also interested in one of your niche’s subtopics.

Here are some other options that you can explore for your email list segmentation:

Segment Your Existing Email List

You can create and save brand new segments from your existing list of email subscribers without having to collect any new data from them.

For instance, you could have a segment that is based on the date that your subscribers signed up.

Or maybe you want to create a segment of everyone who subscribed to your list in the previous month. You can also segment your list according to geographical location.

There are countless possibilities that you can use depending on your business’s needs.

Segmentation becomes a truly powerful tool when you start to segment your list based on what their interests are. But how do you determine your audience’s interests?

And more importantly, what do you do once you have that data?

Email List Segmentation Based on Interests

Your site (hopefully) targets a specific market, which most likely has specific interests or sub-niches within it that you can cater to. You’ve probably already figured out what those are and they are most likely reflected in the categories of your blog.

If you haven’t figured those out yet, then just go to your analytics dashboard and look for the most popular stuff that you’ve published. BuzzSumo is another great tool that can help you figure out the topics that your ideal audience finds most interesting.

Here is an example from the Health and Fitness Industry:
  • You have people who are primarily interested in losing weight
  • Then you have others who want to know more about strength training
  • Within that ‘strength training’ sub-niche, there are those who want to look beefed up…
  • And yet others who want to look lean

This is just a simple example to show you that there are many ways of dividing up your audience.

But, as previously mentioned, if you’re just starting out then just two or three segments will be enough so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

Interest-Based Segmentation Formulas: How to Segment your list with a Survey

You can start your segmentation with the audience that you already have.

That is, the main list that you’re currently dropping all your subscribers into. You can do this by offering them a specialized link for them to click on. The click triggers the ESP to put that subscriber into a previously specified group.

For instance, if you have a digital marketing blog, you could segment your current list according to those who are already in business and those who are yet to start their business.

You can set up an automation rule in your email service provider which specifies that when people click on the link in your survey question, they are moved from your main list to the new lists according to their answers.

You can name and categorize your groups how you see fit, and then you can start to create emails that are specific to that group.

After all, it makes sense that the people who aren’t yet in business shouldn’t receive the same emails as the ones who have already set up their websites and blogs, right?

Now you’ll be able to communicate with each of your groups in a more targeted way.

Segment Your List Based on Lead Magnet and/or Opt-in Form

Segmenting your audience through links in the emails you send them is a great method, but, although you’re going to experience higher email open rates once you start segmenting, not everyone on your email list is going to open every email that you send them.

You’ll do even better by segmenting your audience based on the actions that your visitors take on your site.

If you can do this effectively, then you can skip the step outlined above and go straight to creating content that matters to them.

Here is an example to explain this concept.

Let’s say you have a photography site, and you’ve broken your audience on that site into a few segments:
  • Family Photography
  • Wedding Photography
  • Corporate Photography

Yes, there are way more, but remember the point at this stage is to keep things simple.

So, you write a post for your blog titled: ’17 Mistakes All Beginner Family Photographers Make’, and at the end of that post, you include a sign-up form that segments all new subscribers automatically into the family photography segment.

Although this is a basic example, you get the point, right?

Depending on your email service provider, you can set it up so that each form you create has a number of specific option linked to it.

For instance, the course that you want to send to them after they sign up, or what page you want them to land on after they subscribe, or even what lead magnet you want to deliver to them.

So when someone signs up for your ‘Family Photography’ lead magnet, you send them to that list so that they can start receiving products that are relevant to that particular interest.

That’s the simple process for ensuring that when someone signs up for your email list they will automatically start to receive content that is extremely relevant to them.

List Segmentation Based on Product Purchases

As previously discussed, the easiest way to segment your audience is to separate them into buyers and non-buyers.

You can do this by setting up an automation rule in your ESP which specifies that when people buy a product from you, they are placed into an autoresponder series corresponding to the particular product that they purchased.

Also, at the same time of the purchase, those people are taken off the non-buyer autoresponder series, and they are tagged to show that they purchased that product.

The former makes it seem like a duplicate, but the latter makes a lot of sense.

Tagging your buyers (in addition to placing them in specific email sequences) is a smart tactic because, over the course of their lives, your subscribers will receive many different email sequences that you have set up.

They will be put into one funnel or sequence and then dropped into a different one after they take certain actions.

This means that, hypothetically, you could have one person being in two or more email sequences. That can be a LOT of emails, and you don’t want to overwhelm your subscribers.

So, as your subscribers move through the various email sequences that you have set up, you should tag them to mark them as buyers so that later, if you come up with an upgrade of your product then you can send a broadcast to your customers telling them about it (regardless of where they currently are in your email series).

In Conclusion

This kind of simple email list segmentation and automation is super useful, but is it mandatory?

No, but I highly recommend it if you have a list of subscribers that you send emails to on a regular basis.

It will help you deliver better value to all your subscribers.

So, use this introductory post to help you get started. And remember, just start out simple, and then grow and expand your segments from there.

Feel free to post your comment below.  An email address is required but it will not be shared with anyone, put on any list, or used for any kind of marketing, just to alert you if there are any replies. Thanks and happy hunting!


Updated: Originally published September 2nd 2018

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Alexander

    For a subject that seems somewhat confusing, your article really lays it out in an easy to understand way.

    This is very encouraging as list segmentation is important to get the right info to match individual reader interests.

    Thank you for such a clear explanation of email segmentation, I feel more professional just saying that term.

    1. Steven

      Email segmentation is very important but underutilized. It’s something you should be doing from the start, it is difficult to backup and do later.

      Thanks for the comment Alexander!

  2. Bibian

    Hey Steven,
    I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s very informative and has lots of information that can help anyone.
    I’m really glad I chose Email Marketing as another option with SEO keyword. But have been getting it wrong.
    I have learned so much from this platform and there’s so much more to learn. I definitely have to apply Email List Segmentation and I know if I do it more I will eventually get a lot of sunscribers
    I really loved reading this post, it was an encouragement to me and now I am even more eager to make that first first move.
    Thanks for this!

    1. Steven

      Glad you got good information from the post.

      Thanks for the kind words Bibian!

  3. Kenny

    Hi and thanks for this really helpful information. I have been looking for something to help me create and maintain email listings, and I’m really happy to have found your site. It’s great that someone with much more online marketing experience is willing to share that knowledge with us newbies! Keep up the great work and I will be seeing your site again soon. Kenny 

    1. Steven

      Keep studying and you’ll be an expert in no time. The subject seems overwhelming at first, but once it starts to gel in your head, you realize it really isn’t that difficult a topic to master. The secret is to never stop studying. The techniques change over time so you have to keep up.

      Once you start to put everything together, you’ll have a skill that will make you money the rest of your life. Marketing is a great skill to have for sure so stay curious!

      Thanks for the comment Kenny!

  4. Felix

    Thanks for introducing list segmentation to me. It makes totally sense to communicate as accurate and personal as possible to keep attention. As a customer, I feel complimented, when I receive e-mails that are in line with my previous activities. E-mail marketing is on my to do list, so this comes in handy for me. Still, without having tapped into that area, it feels a bit overwhelming. Can you recommend me a good course for e-mail marketing?

  5. Chris

    Excellent article on Email List Segmentation – I’m presently going through as many email marketing articles as I can find to try and improve my own methods and my techniques. 

    One problem I always seem to come across when composing emails for my (relatively small) list is the feeling that I’m being intrusive…even a little rude. I suppose this comes from the lack of success I’ve seen with email marketing. 

    Did you ever go through this feeling, and if so, how did you get over it?

    1. Steven

      If you are offering value to your subscribers they should be happy to hear from you. If they don’t feel this way, they will unsubscribe. So, there is really no reason for you to feel like you’re being rude or intrusive. Your subscribers have all of the control whether they continue to hear from you or not.

      Crafting good emails is an art, one you will get better at with practice.

      Here are a couple articles that might help:

      How Often Should You Be Emailing Your List?

      Email Marketing Tips To Dramatically Increase Your Open Rates

      Hope this helps and thanks for the comment Chris!

  6. Hong

    This is very informative article. You seem very knowledgeable about the topic. In fact, I’ve tried to understand email segmentation in the past. No other articles have provided such easy to understand information as you have laid out in your article. I will bookmark it for future use. I will be visiting your site frequently for awesome tips. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.

    1. Steven

      I’m glad the article helped you out. This is an important concept for subscriber retention.

      Thanks for the comment Hong!

  7. Victor

    Thank you so much for this post! I had no idea that you could put people into different list and only send them emails that pertain to their interests. That’s so helpful and will definitely help retain them as subscribers instead of sending everyone the same content. I have to look into how to do this with my email provider. 

    1. Steven

      I think they all offer this feature in one way or another and it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out. Just create separate lists and send subscribers to the appropriate ones.

      Thanks for the comment Victor!

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