The Definitive Guide to Segmenting Your Email List (and Why You Should Do It)

How’s your email list segmentation coming along? Have you even thought about it yet?

Email list segmentation and general email personalisation, are seriously underutilised tools in the growing entrepreneur’s toolbox.

In fact, according to MarketingSherpa’s research, upwards of 50% of all online marketers asked have indicated they have a great need to improve their email segmenting overall.

Considering the power of segmentation, such as clicks being almost 60% higher in segmented campaigns according to Mailchimp’s report, it’s no surprise successful marketers want to improve.

For some of you, that may raise the question, “Where do I start?” or “How can I improve?”

Don’t worry.

Whether you’re a segmenting pro or a total beginner, you’re going to be walked through the entire thought process. Plus, as an added bonus, you’ll get to see a real-world example of what the segmenting is like on the back-end of this very site.

Let’s begin.

What is Email list Segmentation?

Imagine for a moment that you had a group of people in front of you.

They’re all looking for investing advice, but they differ massively in their household income.

business

Obviously, you need to know roughly how much they’re making before you can give them appropriate advice. So, you ask the crowd to split into 3 groups of people – those making over $50k, $100k and $250k per annum.

Once the crowd has been split, you would then be able to give much more targeted advice to each of these groups.

The person earning over a million per year is not going to invest the same way as someone making 50k a year, for example.

Making the advice you provide each of them more valuable to the audience you're communicating with.

That is essentially a real life example of what the goal of email list segmentation is.

To really simply summarise the example, email list segmentation is the splitting of your email list into different sections based on a user’s known preferences, attributes and/or interests.

The segmentation criterion is dependent on what the segmenting is occurring for, as you may have already guessed…

But you’ll get more ideas of that later.

How the process of segmenting happens varies, but every decent email marketing/autoresponder platform will have tools in place for you to do so.

In some mailing lists, you may segment through tags on each individual email list.

While other mailing lists may segment by adding said users to specific email lists.

Don’t worry about that too much just yet, though.

It’ll all be explained later on in the post. For now, you just need to understand what email list segmentation is. It’s segmenting your audience based on the criteria so they get a better, more targeted and valuable, experience with your content.

How Does Personalization Tie Into This?

The personalisation aspect of segmenting your email list may not be readily apparent to some of you, especially if you’ve yet to actually segment your list.

But personalisation is a huge part of the benefits segmenting brings to you.

The way this happens is two-fold.

Automatically

Firstly, the personalisation can be more ‘automatic.’

In these cases, the audience has been segmented and they’re receiving generally personalised content.

What I mean by this is that they’re receiving content with their audience type in mind, as opposed to one-on-one personalization.

This is a lot more common and more of what this article is going to be focused on.

Manually

The second personalisation method is manual.

This is a lot rarer to come across, but let’s say for example that someone opted in on your list.

After doing so, they triggered an action on your segmenting process to be tagged as interested in a purchase, but then never actually followed through on said purchase.

If you were interested enough in their business, your segmenting process could flag this up for you and allow you to write a personal, one-to-one, email asking them why it is they stopped with the purchase.

This is, obviously, just one example of manual personalisation – it could work in many other capacities as well.

You might be wondering why that’s worth doing.

That’s understandable.

The really simple answer: Your audience’s feedback is more valuable than any studying you could do when it comes to improving your sales funnel.

They’ll tell you what they want if you present them with the right questions.

Additionally, this works great with high ticket product follow up. If you're selling a high ticket product worth $5,000, then manual follow up is worth the time even if it is manually personalized.

What Are The Benefits To Email List Segmentation?

The benefits to email list segmentation are unbelievably vast.

To break it down to its most crucial point, it allows you to completely personalise your user’s experience depending on what they want and don’t want.

On the surface, this personalisation may not seem too meaningful, but let’s dive a little deeper.

A Personalised Experience Example

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Let’s say, for example, a reader has just bought tropical fish.

This reader wants advice on how to take care of the fish the very best they can, so they go ahead and start searching around online. They come to a website with a wealth of information on tropical fish and learn a bunch of great stuff.

Now say this website popped up and asks them if they want to join the site’s email list. If the content was good, and they were serious about looking after their fish, they would probably sign up.

All would be well and great.

However, now that they’ve signed up, this fish site has started sending completely irrelevant content.

Instead of stuff about tropical fish, the reader is getting information about a variety of other fish, such as marine fish, that they don’t have and don’t intend on getting.

Are they going to read those emails? Not for long.

If they start getting them too frequently, will they stay on the email list? Again, probably not for long.

Why Does This Matter?

Do you see what’s happening here?

This personalisation that looked pretty insignificant on the surface would’ve ended up doing the following:

Increasing Open Rates

If something seems relevant to you in your inbox, you’re going to open it.

It’s as simple as that.

Taking our above example, the reader would be more inclined to open an email telling them it’s about tropical fish, as opposed to marine fish.

Increasing Conversion Rates

Provided you’re offering something worthwhile to your readers, upping your open rates is always going to increase your conversion rates alongside it.

However, there is another reason it increases your conversion rates. Your readership will only ever be exposed to offers relevant to them, making them more likely to act on said offers overall.

Whenever you make an offer, you want to address that individual as ‘one-on-one' as possible.

So segmentation and personalization allows you to go deeper into each individual's fears and objections to tailor your copy.

Increasing Profits

If you’re getting your emails opened more regularly, and they’re clicking through/converting more, then inevitably your profits are going to increase with it.

When people are getting a good experience, and they’re presented with something that’ll help them, they’re far more likely to buy than from some generic offers.

This all comes down to the offer being targeted to them on a far more personal level. You understand their problems and situation far more intimately than the rest of the advertising they’re being exposed to.

Increasing Audience Satisfaction

They’re only receiving things that are relevant to their interests.

It’s annoying having to sift through stuff we’re not interested in to get to the stuff we care about.

Make it easier on the readers, point them only to the content they’ll enjoy and they’ll be thankful for it. They’ll appreciate you and your emails more for it.

Better User Experience

It could be argued that improving a user’s experience leads to their increased satisfaction, but this is such a key point that it needs to be stated as its own point. Segmentation allows the individual user to get EXACTLY what they need out of being on your list.

It’s a sure-fire way to build a loyal following.

Decrease In Complaints And Unsubscribing

It’s only natural that when you start giving your audience more of what they want, and less of what they don’t want, that you’ll find fewer people complain or report your emails. After all, it is spamming your audience with stuff they don’t care about that leads to these kinds of actions in most cases anyway.

Other Aspects Of Segmentation

Stats aside for a minute, let’s get into the real meat of what segmentation is about. The benefits of it, not just in a statistical sense but the real tangible benefits it’ll bring to your business.

Copywriting Is Easier

To begin with, it makes your copywriting life easier.

You don’t have to write copy for a variety of different users and hope that it hits home with all of them. Because, as we all know, that never works.

Instead, you can just send out your information/offers in a way that highlights why it’s relevant and specific to that audience.

Now let me make something clear.

Easier doesn't equal less work.

Easier means higher conversions (more profit).

You'll have to write more sequences for each segment of your audience (more work on the front end of your funnel) but on the back end of your funnel you'll crush it.

Conversions Are Easier

It doesn't just make the copy easier to write, but the conversion easier overall too.

One example of this would be user-specific bonuses. You can give the user a bonus that’ll not only entice them the most, but help them the most, just for purchasing one of your offers.

You Can Skip or Speed Up Building Your Funnel

Sometimes you're just looking for validation from your audience before you can move them on in the funnel.

What segmentation allows you to do is let your audience move themselves on in the funnel. By opting in on leading questions, in emails, you've sent out.

Although this is a rarity, it does happen.

For example, if you're building a part of your list that are interested in an upcoming product of yours — you can send out a ‘tester' email to gauge responses to it.

Those that opt in can be presented with the sale email long before those who didn't opt in.

Alternatively, those that didn't opt in could never even be entered into the sales funnel.

What Are The Cons of Email List Segmentation?

It’s all well and good singing something’s praises, but we all know that there have to be downsides too.

Email list segmentation and the overall personalisation process is no exception to that rule.

You're Forced To Learn Your Audience

The only way to split up your audience is by knowing who the difference audiences are.

This requires a deep understanding of who is reading your content and buying your products. For example, a work-at-home father interested in online marketing is not going to be interested in the same as what a veteran marketer is.

But it’s not just the criteria you’re splitting them on that you need to know. You need to know what it is those difference audiences will actually be interested in/know compared to the other audiences you have.

That’s where the deep understanding of your audience comes in.

You need to know what it is those difference audiences will actually be interested in/know compared to the other audiences you have. That’s where the deep understanding of your audience comes in.

It Takes Time… A Lot Of It

Sadly for some, there’s no easy way around this.

Getting to know your audience takes time, research and some well-placed leading questions. The more you diversify and reach out to other audiences, the more time it’s going to take too.

So it’s not like once it is set up it gets easier, because it doesn’t.

Once you’ve set up your segmentation and personalisation approaches, you’re going to be faced with the task of creating audience-personal content, copy, offers and products.

The time investment will keep on growing.

It pays off, of course, but only if you’re willing to put in the upfront time and effort.

It Can Be Technically Difficult

Everyone with an online presence knows they need some technical knowledge. That or they need someone willing/hired to do the work for them.

Segmentation and personalization increase that technical difficulty. Mailing responders do try to make it easier for you, but it's finicky work in most cases.

If you’re really not confident with getting to know your mailing list platform, then truth be told – segmenting your email list probably isn’t for you. Outsourcing the task is always a possibility, but it’ll still require you to understand the process to some extent.

It’s going to be your audience it’s splitting up!

Should You Be Thinking About Email List Segmentation?

Email list segmentation isn’t for everyone.

That much should be obvious after exploring some of the cons of segmenting your email list.

There are a few reasons why that is, and maybe you fall under them.

So, before continuing, let’s explore who email list segmentation and personalization is and isn’t for.

Signs Email List Segmentation and Personalisation Are NOT For You

If any of the following is true about your situation, then email list segmentation may not be for you.

You Only Have One Audience

This’ll be explained a little more in the next section, but to summarise it – if your audience’s attributes don’t matter to your offers/emails, then you don’t really have a reason to segment your list.

An example of this would be a musician who’s sending out emails about their song releases.

It doesn’t matter who the person is receiving the email, it’ll be the same no matter what. There’s nothing specific for any certain demographic, the emails go out to the entire list every single time.

You Don’t Have The Time To Segment Your List

This should be pretty self-explanatory, but if segmenting your list is detracting you from more important things then segmentation probably isn’t for you.

That or you need to hire/delegate out the task of segmentation or your other commitments.

Never put segmenting your list ahead of building value for your users.

You Don’t Have The Time To Create Audience-Specific Content

One of the most valuable benefits of segmentation is the fact that you can create the audience-specific content pieces/offers/copy.

If you don’t have the time to put into doing that, there’s really no point in having your email list segmented. You can’t capitalise on it. However,  just because you don’t have time now doesn’t mean you’ll never have time.

If you get into the practice of doing it now, provided you have the time and your content won’t suffer for it, then you’ll have a lot better standing if you were to decide to do it in the future.

You Don’t Care About Your Audience’s Experience

It might sound ludicrous to most of you, but some people really don’t care about their audience’s experience.

If you fall into this category, none of this article will really have any appeal to you. Segmentation and personalization of the email list really do require getting to know your audience and caring about them.

Signs Email List Segmentation and Personalisation IS For You

If even one of the following is true for you, there’s a strong possibility you stand to benefit from segmenting and personalising your list.

You Have An Idea Of The Diversity Of Your Audience

If you already know you’ve got a variety of different levels to your audience, then segmenting is definitely for you.

Provided you actually intend to cater to the different audiences.

Again, as noted above, if you don’t want to or don’t have time to cater to them – segmenting is probably going to be a waste of your time now.

You Want Your Audience To Get a Great, and Valuable, Experience

You care about your audience. You want them to know it, so you make their experience better.

That's a major sign that you can benefit from segmenting and personalising. Because it ultimately means you have the investment in your readerships experience that'll make the hard-work pay off.

You've Got Time To Spare

Segmenting is a time-sink. We've already covered this.

If you don't have the time, you won't want to segment. However, if you do have the time — then you definitely do want to segment.

Even if you don't have user-specific content ready for them just yet.

Doing so now, simply because you have the time to do so, will save you effort in future. The sooner you get your segmenting rules in place, the easier the transition to an audience-specific marketing schedule will be in the future.

How To Use Email List Segmentation

There are a few steps to email list segmentation.

Some of them are technical.

Others are more about understanding your audience.

The aim of this section is to break down the overall thought process to email segmentation and guide you towards the resources to explain the technical details in more depth.

Identify Your Audiences (Or Buyer Personas)

Alright, this post has talked about your audiences a lot.

So, you might be wondering just what the heck your own audiences are.

Obviously, you have your main audience – the people that are interested in you and what you’re doing.

Then there are many sub-sections to this audience, all with different needs.

To identify the differences in your audience, here’s a quick overview of how to go about it.

What Do You Offer?

To begin with, you need to break down just what it is you’re offering.

Knowing who you are will inevitably help you figure out what it is other people are getting from you.

So, for example, you’re reading this blog because I create effective online marketing materials.

Who’s Interested?

This tells me that you’re interested in online marketing.

More specifically, it tells me you’re interested in successfully marketing yourself, your business or your client’s business online.

That’s the beginning step to identifying your audience.

What Will Vary?

But, again taking the online marketing example of this very site, there are of course levels to what each different reader knows about the online marketing world.

Some of you here will be experts, others will be moderately comfortable on the subject and some will be complete beginners.

This demonstrates, at least to me, that there are three different audiences I’m catering to here.

Just for an example, the beginner will not be looking for tips to optimize their sales funnel for a 15% increase in conversions.

They’ll instead be looking at what makes an effective sales funnel.

Make sense?

What Does Knowing Your Audience Help to Achieve?

Throughout this post, it’s been applied a lot.

For example, investing advice segmenting based on their audiences earnings. A fish site segmenting based on the type of fish the person reading owns.

These are all traits you’re going to have to figure out for yourself.

Just keep in mind that the criteria you’ll be segmenting your audience on will always be related to their experience with your subject matter. If you’re unsure of how you can apply this in your niche, then just drop a comment below.

This is only brief, though.

Identifying your audience is a huge step for many businesses and requires far more than a brief mention in a post for most. So, if you’re struggling, go ahead and check out Hubspot’s guide to creating detailed buyer personas.

You won’t always segment these, but it is good knowledge to have.

Determine Your Segmentation Criteria

Once you’ve identified your audiences, you should have no problem doing this.

Simply put, it’s what you use to identify the differences in your audience above. But you need to condense the key difference down to one term, that your audience themselves can identify with.

Going back to our investing example above, the criteria they would be segmented on would be them giving their annual income.

Another example would be a person’s level of experience with a specific topic, marketing for example. They would identify as a beginner, intermediate or advanced user.

Some Questions That Should Help You Determine It

Ask yourself the following to know you've specified an effective criterion to segment on:

  1. Can this criteria overlap? If your segmenting criteria can be shared by a few people in your audience, you should avoid using it in many cases. The whole purpose of defining the criteria is to ensure you're targeting different audiences.
  2.  Will my audience know if it applies to them? Sometimes experts opt to use terms and defining characteristics that their newer audience will be unfamiliar with. Ensure that everyone knows how to define themselves in the criteria you'll be using.
  3. Are these differences enough to create content based around? For example, knowing someone's age won't really help you appeal to them that much. Compared to knowing whether they're a beginner or advanced online marketer. Make sure the differences are leading for yourself.

Segment Your List

Now, the way you segment depends on where you're at with your list-building endeavour and sales funnel.

You can either segment an existing list or you can begin the segmentation process right at the start of your list. The way you do both obviously differs, with existing lists implementing the new list segmentation process after their existing list has been segmented.

For the sake of clarity, both processes are going to be covered.

The platform used in these examples is ActiveCampaign. It's my platform of choice. I understand there are many other platforms out there. This advice can be applied to all of them in theory.

The actual application just may differ a little.

Segmenting An Existing List

So, if you already have a list — this is the section for you.

Again, these instructions will be for ActiveCampaign. Links to some of the other main platforms documentation will be provided below.

1 Begin by going to your ‘Lists' page.

2. Click on the link pertaining to the segments on the list. Here the link is noted as “No segments yet.”

3. A drop-down menu will appear. Push the “New Segment” button.

4. Give the segment a name. Make sure it's descriptive, you'll need to know how you're identifying your different segmentation processes.

5. Set the conditions for your segmentation, defined by the criteria you've defined above.

5a. The left box is the condition that you'll be testing. These conditions can be any of the basic information you take as they join your list, or they can be user-created fields. The middle is the modifier, e.g. Is, Is Not, Contains, Does not contain, etc. The right box is the criterion that the condition needs to match.

5b. An example of the conditions and criteria being specified. Including the and/or options. And means that the user must meet all the requirements set by the group to be put into it. Or means they can meet any of the criteria specified by the group, and they'll be put into said group.

6. Hit the save button and this will then segment your list based on the conditions you've just created. You can then view the contacts that have fallen under each segment on the same page. (Note, if you delete a segment you will not lose any emails from your list.)

Segmenting A New List

You were told this would be covered, so to save confusion — this heading was added. However, segmenting a new list will be found in the “Real World Example” below. This is because it is taken directly from the back-end of my own site.

Real World Example

A lot of ideas and concepts have been thrown at you throughout this post.

Some of you may have learned a great deal, which is exactly what this post was intended to do. With that said, some of you may be left wondering how exactly all of this ties together. How is it applied?

Wonder no more. As an added bonus for reading this post, here’s a walkthrough to the back-end email list segmentation that’s happening on this very site.

Starting The Segmentation Process

I started at the start of the process I've outlined here for you today.

Defining The Audiences

I defined my audiences.

The answers I came up with were the following:

  1. Beginner Marketers
  2. Intermediate Marketers
  3. Expert Marketers

Defining The Segmenting Criteria

After I had my audiences, I needed to know what separated each of them. After some thought, I decided that income made from online marketing was a unique and well-established qualifier for someone's experience with the topic.

Want to know why I didn't just ask everyone “Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced marketer?”

Because people have different interpretations to each of those levels (including me).

Whereas qualifying someone based on an objective dollar amount means it's interpreted the same by everyone.

Creating The Segmenting Sequence

As this is about segmenting a new list, I'll outline how my audience defines themselves in terms of their experience.

  1. Firstly, they opt in on my list.

generalemailpt1

What the above basically does is send them out an email as soon as they subscribe, containing a link for them to segment themselves with. The actual email that's sent out is the following:

exportpic-1

As you can see, my qualifying criteria (their income made by online marketing) is clearly stated.

The user then puts themselves into one of these categories from the bucket email by clicking on the link.

Also, if you want to see the entire email, just optin to my list.

1a. But, what if they don't click a link?

Well, they get pushed to the next step of the welcome email automation. Which is:

Stephen_Esketzis_-_Automation

 

This basically says, “have they clicked a link?” If they have, this automation is ended. The criteria has been met and another automation begins elsewhere (that we'll explore later).

However, if a link has yet to have been clicked, they receive a reminder email. It's pretty much like the email seen above, but expresses the importance of why I need to segment them.

1b. If they fail to click a link again, they continue on down the automation stream.

The next step:

generalemailpt4

This again, checks for a link click. If a link was clicked, they're sent to the next automation. If it hasn't been, yet another email is sent to remind them. This is the final reminder they get. After that, it's off to the inactive house for them.

Bit harsh, but hey. You've either signed up to hear from me or you haven't.

1c. Wrapping up what we've learned there, we've sent them a few reminders to segment themselves. If they don't manage to do so, an inactivate audience member is weeded out from the list.

Boosting interaction rates up and improving the experience of all involved.

If you want to take this a step further, I recommend exporting that inactive list every 2-3 months and setting them up on another email service.

So if you're on Active Campaign, move them to Aweber.

The reason you should do this is so you can either:

A: Put those contacts into a re-engagement series to attempt to bring them back into main series.

B: So they don't deplete your deliverability numbers on your main autoresponder

C: So you can still email any offers or content to your inactive list if you need to.

2. So, they've segmented themselves.

What next?

They begin down the selected automation series. If they were a beginner, this is the automation they would follow:

beg

This waits a day from their segmenting time, then sends them a series of emails written specifically for their level of knowledge on the topics.

It provides them valuable information specific to their stage in their online marketing career.

They also get emails about new posts, offers, etc. that everyone else gets if they're relevant.

2a. However, if they've selected themselves as an expert, they'll get the following automation:

ex

As you can see, this is sending expert content material to the experts. Instead of the beginner emails that the beginners are getting.

Providing them with insightful and applicable information to their level of expertise.

Helping them take the next step in their career, rather than telling them what they already know.

So What's Next?

So throughout this article we've talked a lot about segmenting and really going deep on finding out who your ideal customer is and how to speak with them.

Now it's time for you to reflect.

Firstly, do you need to segment your audience?

If so, segment your existing list and begin segmenting your new list using the techniques we discussed above.

Don't hold yourself back on technicalities.

You can use the method I do for StephenEsketzis.com or a different segmentation technique.

Either way, segmenting your email list is critical, so make sure you layout a plan (I like to use whiteboards personally).

Map it out. Implement it. Then get list building.

Are you looking to segment your email list? If so, what's holding you back from doing it right now? Let me know in the comments below and I'll be sure to answer your questions.

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