How to Segment Your Email List for Better ROI


One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your email list is to send the same message to all of your subscribers.

If you think about it, not every subscriber on your mailing list is equal. You’ve probably got a mix of: potential customers (haven’t made a purchase yet), new customers (just made their first purchase), loyal customers (have made many purchases), and inactive customers (haven’t made any purchases in a while).

On top of that, if you sell items in different categories (e.g. women’s clothing, men’s clothing and kids' clothing), do you think every subscriber is interested in all product categories? Do you want to send the same message to everyone, then? Of course not.

To address this problem, you can create personalized email messages s based on specific criteria that you define using segmentation. If you have never heard the term segmentation, it is the practice of grouping your existing customers (and email subscribers) together based on criteria that you define.

In this post, we’ll look at different ways to segment your email list in order to increase email engagement and revenue.

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, had purchased once but not again, or had purchased many things? If people had labels like that, the salesperson that greets them would probably say something different to each group.

Many customer databases have these labels. If yours does, then you should consider segmenting your list based on these differentiations. This way, you can send more personalized messages in a way that will convert more of your subscribers into first time purchasers, turn first time purchasers into repeat purchasers and drive repeat purchasers into brand advocates.

This can be as simple as It can be as simple as offering first time customers a discount or your most loyal repeat customers a free gift with purchase.

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Segmenting your list based on 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 is going to be completely hit or miss. Sending them a targeted ad based on their specific pet owner needs is the solution.

This is when an interest-based segmented list comes in handy, and there are several ways you can get subscribers into the appropriate segments. You can do it 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 emails about new dog products.
  • Lead magnets they subscribe 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 emails about new products for small dogs.
  • Items they purchase. If your customer tends to buy ferret toys and hamster wheels, then you can segment them as a small animal lover and send emails about new products pertaining to little critters.

Find out which option works best with your customer database and mailing list platform, and start sending targeted emails based on specific interests. For example, here's an email Nordstrom sends to subscribers interested in men's clothing:

Segmenting Your List Based on Interests

By segmenting your emails based on interests, you’ll increase your open and clickthrough rates and lower your unsubscribe rates and also increase the likelihood of driving more conversions. Why? You won't be blasting products to people who are not interested in them.

Segmenting your list based on location

Location can be an important segmentation factor 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.

Segmenting Your List Based on Location

Most mailing list service providers will have an option to segment based on location. The location is usually determined when a subscriber signs 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 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 seen emails that say, “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.

One reason that businesses create a separate segment for inactive subscribers (those who have not opened emails in a long time) is that each subscriber costs you money given that most email marketing platforms charge on a per-contact basis. Why pay for subscribers who are not engaging with you? There's also research that suggests an inactive email list impacts deliverability. 

The strategy usually goes like this. You will create a segment of subscribers that have not opened their emails in a certain timeframe, say six months. 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, for example. If the subscriber does not confirm within the next week or two, they are removed from the list.

This is a great way to make sure your mailing list consists of people who 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 really want them.

Your mailing list service provider’s segmentation options

Note that some of these segmentation options may or may not be available to you based on the email marketing solution that you have chosen, but they're fairly common. To find out what segmentation options you have available to you, you will need to refer to the features your provider offers. You can do a Google search for your mailing list provider’s name plus "segmentation", "segment your list", etc.

Email segmentation FAQ

What does it mean to segment an email list?

Segmenting an email list means dividing the list into groups based on certain criteria. This allows marketers to send targeted emails to different groups of people with different interests or needs. Segmenting can be based on factors such as demographics, location, interests, past purchases, or any other criteria. This allows marketers to send more personalized emails that are more likely to be opened and read.

What are some email list segmentation ideas?

  • Subscriber location: segment your list by geographic region to target customers in specific areas.
  • Subscriber engagement: segment based on how engaged customers are with your content.
  • Subscriber interests: segment based on what topics subscribers are interested in.
  • Purchase history: segment based on what customers have bought before. 5. Subscriber demographics: segment based on age, gender, and other demographic information.
  • Subscriber loyalty: segment based on how long customers have been subscribers.
  • Subscriber activity: segment based on how often customers interact with your emails.
  • Subscriber preferences: segment based on how subscribers prefer to receive emails.

Why should I segment my email list?

Segmenting your email list will help you to send targeted, relevant content to your subscribers. It will also enable you to measure the success of your campaigns and to better understand how your subscribers interact with your emails. By segmenting your email list, you can also create more targeted, personalized messages that are more likely to engage your subscribers and lead to higher conversion rates. Ultimately, segmenting your email list will help you to better understand your customers and build better relationships with them.

How do you segment a customer list?

  • Demographics: Group customers by age, gender, location, income level, occupation, and other demographic characteristics.
  • Psychographics: Group customers by their interests, values, lifestyle, and other psychological characteristics.
  • Behavior: Group customers by their purchase history, frequency of purchase, and other buying behaviors.
  • Needs: Group customers by their individual needs, such as products or services they are likely to purchase.
  • Loyalty: Group customers by their loyalty level, such as frequent customers or one-time buyers.