chapter 5

Segmenting Your Email List For Better Engagement 

One of the biggest mistakes many businesses make with their mailing list is sending the same email to everyone, every time. If you think about it, not every subscriber on your mailing list is equally engaged.

On top of that, if you sell items in different categories (for example, women’s clothing, men’s clothing, and kid’s clothing), not every subscriber will be equally interested in every product category.

Do you want to send the same message to every person? Of course not. You want your emails to be relevant to the recipient as often as possible.

While you can’t customize an email to cater specifically to every individual subscriber on your list, you can create emails based on specific criteria using segmentation in order to increase engagement and conversions.

Segmentation essentially sorts your contacts into different lists or “buckets” based on their engagement and the information you have on them.

You can differentiate your contacts in the four following ways: Customer Type, Interest, Location and Behavior.

Segmenting Your List Based on Customer Type

Wouldn’t it be nice if, when people walked into a store, they had a label on them that indicated whether they were new to the store, had visited but never purchased, have purchased once but not again, or have purchased many things on a regular basis?

If people had labels like that, the salesperson that greets them would probably say something different each time.

Luckily, many customer databases do have these labels. If yours does, then you should consider segmenting your list based on:

  • Potential customers: those who haven’t made a purchase yet.
  • New customers: those who have just made their first purchase. 
  • Loyal customers: those who have make purchases on a regular basis.
  • Inactive customers: those who haven’t made any purchases in a while.

This way, you can target your emails in a way that will specifically convert potential customers into actual customers, first time customers into loyal customers, and loyal customers into brand advocates.

It can be as simple as offering discounts for new customers or a free gift with purchase to your most loyal customers.  

Segmenting Your List Based on Interests

Another way to segment your list, especially when you sell a range of different products, is to target specific interests. The key thing to keep in mind is that a contacts’ interactions with your brand are often indicative of their interests. Let’s say your online store sells pet supplies.

You probably have dog owners, cat owners, hamster owners, new pet owners, elderly pet owners, and so on. Sending them all the same email campaign every time isn’t going to work.

This is when interest-based segmentation comes in handy, which lets you segment subscribers based on:

Products they click on in your email. If the subscriber clicks on a dog leash, then you can segment them as a dog owner and send them emails about new dog products.
Lead magnets they opted in through. If your online store offers free guides for different breeds of dog, and your subscriber chooses the guide to Chihuahuas, then you can segment them as a small dog owner and send mailings about new products for small dogs.
Items they purchased. If your customer tends to buy ferret toys and hamster wheels, then you can segment them as a small animal lover and send mailings about new products pertaining to little critters.

Find out which option works best with your customer database, email marketing platform and strategy, and start sending targeted emails based on specific interests.

For example, here's an email Nordstrom sends to subscribers they know are interested in menswear.


By segmenting your emails based on interests you’ll increase your open and clickthrough rates and lower your unsubscribe rate, simply because you’re not blasting products to people who are not interested in them

Segmenting Your List Based on Location

Location can be an important way to segment for several reasons.

For starters, if you have both an online store and a physical location, you may want to send emails about sales that are happening in-store, but only to people in your region. If you have customers from various countries, you may want to send country-specific promotions on shipping like Deals Direct in the example below.


Most mailing list service providers will have an option to segment based on location. The location is usually determined when a subscriber signed up for your mailing list.

You can also use your customer database to find the current location of your customers based on billing and shipping addresses.

Segmenting based on location can also mean segmenting your list between customers who have purchased your products in-store or online. This way, if you have a promotion that is only available in-store, you can avoid sending it to those who are unable to take advantage of it.

Segmenting Your List Based on Engagement

Last, but not least, you will need to tailor messages differently based on the subscriber’s activity. You’ve likely gotten emails from brands saying, “We’ve missed you!”

These were probably from businesses whose emails you have not opened in a while.

Most email marketing providers will allow you to create segments based on subscriber activity like Mailchimp does here:

One reason you should create a separate segment for inactive subscribers (those who have not opened emails in a long time) is because most email marketing services are priced according to the size of your subscriber list, and some even according to the number of emails you send every month.

So why pay for subscribers who are not engaging with you?

The strategy usually goes like this:

  1. You create a segment of subscribers that have not opened their emails in a certain timeframe, say three months, six months, etc. 
  2. You send just that segment of people an email that asks them to reconfirm their subscription, either to confirm they want to continue receiving your emails or to get a special discount code or a free resource. 
  3. If the subscriber does not confirm within the next week or two, they are removed from your list.

This is a great way to make sure your email list consists of people who actually want to get your emails (i.e. the people most likely to make purchases). This will always boost the ROI of your email marketing, as you’ll be paying less for your mailing list service and only sending emails to the people who want to receive them.

Make Sure Your Email Platform Has the Segmentation Options You Need

Note that some of these segmenting options may or may not be available to you based on the email platform provider you have chosen. To find out what segmentation options are available to you, you will need to refer to the features offered by your provider.

You can refer to the features listings and documentation guides for more information if you use the following email marketing platforms: Aweber, MailChimp, Emma, Campaign Monitor or Constant Contact. Or you can do a Google search for your software provider’s name plus “segmentation”, “segment your list” or similar keywords to learn more.

Next chapter

6. Converting Subscribers into Customers

6 min

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