Mailing list

How to Segment a Mailing List?

Having in mind the astonishing effect of email marketing when it comes to efficiency and performance, with estimated ROI 38:1 (source), it’s safe to say that this is a strategy you want to keep developing and using to reach your audience. 

One of the things that have a massive impact on email marketing performance is certainly your mailing list. It’s the list of all the contacts you collect through different lead building strategies. Those contacts represent your audience, i.e., online users interested in your work, regardless if you have a blog, an online store, an ebook download, etc. 

Of course, the main goal of email marketing is to grow your mailing list and thus increase the number of people you reach through this form of online marketing

However, what makes a big difference is the segmentation of the mailing list. 

Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/business-charts-commerce-computer-265087/

Mailing list

You see, contacts on your mailing list can include a lot of different people. For example, some contacts may be your previous customers, while others are people who are potential customers. With only this in mind, you can understand how your approach towards these two groups can’t and shouldn’t be the same. 

Then there are many other differences that may include different age, location, interests, etc. 

Even though your mailing list includes people willing to give you consent for you to reach out, you need to have in mind that the content you share will not appeal to everyone on that list. A lot of different factors affect the efficiency of the email you send, so segmentation is a practice that enables you to filter the subscribers so that emails are better targeted and thus more effective.

Get your in-depth guide on email marketing, with tips on starting with email marketing and using it to grow your business: Email marketing for beginners

How to segment a mailing list

The following practices are designed to inspire you in different ways so you can segment your mailing list.

Use tags/lists/segments

Depending on the email marketing software you use, you will get tools to segment the mailing list. Some email marketing applications, such as GetResponse, provide list feature to segment subscribers, with additional options to use tags and custom fields to optimize your audience further. On the other hand, ConvertKit doesn’t have lists, but you’ll solely need to rely on the use of tags and segments to sort subscribers of your list. 

Either way has its pros, and the choice also depends on other functionalities the software provides. 

Tags

Use tags to label the subscribers with relevant information. For example, you can label your current/previous customers, people who participate in a competition, challenge, etc. You can even use tags to track how subscribers became your customers. Here is an example. 

Subscribers signed up for one download, they got another download, they claimed a coupon, and eventually, they bought the product from you. For each of these actions, you give a tag, and that’s how you track their journey of becoming your customers. 

Lists

Users get on the list by filling out a form that is linked to that specific list in the email marketing software. If the software enables multiple lists, you can segment the users based on the form they fill in and then you optimize your emails based on this. 

Segments

Segments enable you to create a custom audience. Again, the power of this functionality depends on the software you use. Frequently, you can use segments to filter the users who have a certain tag, certain custom field, date-based criteria, etc. You can even use multiple segments as conditions for creating a custom audience. One example of a custom segment is people who have a customer tag, who are from X location and who have opened your newsletter in the past 60 days. This is just one example, but you get the idea on how you can use and mix different conditions to segment your list. 

Define your influence/style

Now, when you have different groups of people within your mailing list, you need to define an approach for each group. Start by thinking about how and why you have created these groups in the first place. What kind of goals do you want to achieve?

By defining the groups of subscribers and your goals, you will be one step closer to defining your voice. 

Keep in mind that this needs to be reflected in the content you share with your email subscribers. General email notifications and dull language will get you nowhere. If you have been using email marketing for a while, you know that the message you share needs to be powerful, engaging, insightful. It needs to trigger emotions, to encourage a reaction, and to really speak to the people. 

This can only be achieved if you are able to understand your subscribers, what they might be thinking and needing in that particular moment. 

Therefore, use a different style and messages for different groups of people on your mailing list. Gradually, this will make your messages more custom-tailored, your approach more personalized, and the overall email marketing more effective.

Do regular cleanup

Don’t wait for spring to do a yearly cleanup. With email marketing, it’s helpful to do a regular cleanup of a mailing list. What this means is that you go through the list and explore how engaged and active your subscribers really are. Email marketing tools usually enable you to filter those subscribers. You can even choose a specific date and filter the actions prior to that date. 

For example, you can segment the users who haven’t opened any of your messages in the past 90 days. 

People who don’t open your emails are usually not really your customers. They don’t check that email address, or your emails might be going to spam and never really reaching the subscribers. Either way, you don’t have an effect when you send emails to those subscribers. Not only is there no effect, but it has a negative impact on your deliverability. If you keep sending to the inactive subscribers, your open/click rates will be low. This reflects poorly on email deliverability. 

Therefore, think about the mailing list cleanup regularly and make sure you remove inactive subscribers.

Email scoring 

Even though you might spend years piling up emails in your mailing list and you find it difficult to give those away, this might just be the right decision for your business. Have in mind that email addresses have an “expiration date”. What does this mean?

Well, when someone subscribes to your newsletter or downloads a lead magnet, they are probably interested in that content and learning more about you. However, as the months (and even years) pass, chances are the person will lose interest. They will simply no longer be your clients. Either they found another product from the same category, or they might not even need your product/or service anymore. 

Email scoring is the process that helps you add values to the email contacts and use it to manage contacts with more success. Besides the date of purchase, other values can be calculated in the score, such as customer spending, behavior, etc. 

Basically, when you segment the contacts using such values, you can:

  • Nurture those contacts with more success – You’ll know exactly what contacts are most valuable, and you’ll create campaigns to keep those contacts engaged.
  • Find better contacts in the future – Scoring helps you determine different criteria that define your ideal buyer persona. Use the data to create better targeted ads and lead magnet strategies to attract similar contacts in the future. 

Analyze the efficiency of opt-ins, workflows, campaigns…

On the one hand, you have your mailing list with all those segmentation options mentioned above. The primary goal is to learn more about your audience and use different groups/segments to create more personalized and effective email campaigns

Furthermore, learning about your subscribers and their behavior also helps you redefine your entire email marketing strategy. This is done by comparing the user data with the strategies you have in place currently:

Opt-ins

These are basically downloadables and free materials you offer in exchange for an email address. The idea with creating opt-ins is to design and offer something your subscribers will want to get. Obviously, the goal is to attract the right audience, i.e., those who could also be interested in your business. 

However, it may happen that opt-ins attract different target groups, which is something you might not think of when first creating the content. When you analyze your audience and segment the list, you’ll be able to determine if the opt-in is successful at attracting valuable contacts. If you notice that you get downloads but unsubscribers immediately after, chances are you’re targeting the wrong audience and you need to replace that opt-in. After all, you want opt-ins that help you attract your right audience and potential customers. That’s much more important than growing the number of subscribers at any cost. 

Workflows

When subscribers get on your mailing list, you can use the power of workflows or automation to filter and engage those subscribers. Here is what that means in a nutshell:

Someone subscribes to your newsletter. They don’t necessarily know about your business, what you do, what you have to offer. Therefore, creating a workflow that slowly introduces them to you. Firstly, they’ll get the downloadable material they signed up for. Then, you can introduce yourself as an influencer and the person behind the newsletter. Then, you might want to offer more free content if you have it. After that, you can introduce your business and even directly pitch an offer (such as a discount, exclusive invite, etc.). 

You’ll create this as a sequence of emails that are automated and delivered to the subscribers at a regular pace. 

The purpose of this is to:

  • Promote your business gradually and get the people interested
  • Filter out contacts that aren’t really interested (they’ll likely unsubscribe along the way)
  • Both goals lead you towards creating a better and more engaged mailing list.

Campaigns

Finally, use the statistics about the campaigns to analyze how effective your email marketing campaigns are. There is always a place for improvement. You can always find some things that work well (for example, using emojis in the subject line might increase open rates), or things that don’t work well (for example, using images might reduce deliverability as the image might not be optimized). 

Analyze your previous campaigns and compare the data, such as:

  • Open rate
  • Click rate
  • Unsubscribe rate

The information you gather through the analysis can help you determine:

  • Effective techniques to engage your subscribers 
  • What content performs poorly
  • How to optimize messages based on list segmentation options 
  • How you can improve the performance of future email campaigns

Not segmenting the list

Ignoring the importance of list segmentation may lead to poor email marketing performance:

Poor deliverability

There are many factors influencing email deliverability and list segmentation is one of them. Since list segmentation directly improves the efficiency of the email campaign, it has a positive impact on future email deliverability.

No time-based targeting

Without segmentation, you won’t be able to successfully target people in different purchase cycles. Unless you divide subscribers into groups, your emails will yield worse or even no results since you won’t get the timing and the right message across. 

Increased cost to get a larger package

Email marketing management requires having a tool, which is often a paid service. Some of the popular industry names include MailChimp, ConvertKit, GetResponse, etc. What most of them have in common is that they charge based on the number of subscribers. The more subscribers you have, the more expensive your email marketing management service will be. However, if you segment the list to keep only those active contacts, you’ll avoid having to pay for inactive contacts. That’s one of the perks of keeping your mailing list active and engaged. 

Conclusion 

Even though you might hear that email marketing has an amazing potential to scale your business, to boost sales and to grow your influence, have in mind that it is an approach that requires planning, analyzing, and optimizing. Two main parts of that approach are mailing list and content you share in the emails, and as you have seen above, they really overlap and affect each other in so many ways. As your business grows, your email list will follow as well as the need for more precise segmentation and more advanced email marketing automation.