Chapter 2: 12 Useful Ways To Segment Your Email List
Based on the last chapter, you know how powerful email segmentation is, you know that it can increase engagement and generate more revenue for your business. You know that it can delight your subscribers and improve retention.
What’s not to like?
Segmentation and cohorts are immensely powerful, after all. But still, deciding which segments and cohorts to create is easier said than done. There are so many options! Your imagination and the capabilities of the technology you have access to are the only limiting factors.
You can create segments for almost any interest, behavior, or demographic. And that’s a good thing — it means your email marketing strategy can serve your audience however you like.
To help you decide where to start, though, here are 12 useful ways to segment your email list — read through these and consider the ones that are most pertinent to your business and email engagement goals.
1. By Using One-Click Segmentation
Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit.
A lot of people, when they’re first learning about segmentation, get overwhelmed by the endless possibilities. You can segment your list based on demographics, interests, position in the sales funnel, and about a million other ways.
But how do you segment your list quickly and easily… without creating a complex system or automation?
Enter one-click segmentation.
One-click segmentation is so easy that anyone can do it, no matter how new you are to email marketing. All you have to do is add an email into your welcome sequence (or maybe even within your welcome email itself) that allows people to tell you which segment they belong in with a single click.
Here’s an example of what that might look like…
The magic happens when the subscriber clicks on one of those links. Beforehand, you have to create a different “Thanks For Letting Us Know!” page for each of those links. Then, in your ESP, you set it up so that subscribers are segmented based on which page they visited. In some ESPs, you’ll be able to segment based on which link they clicked instead.
And voila! That’s the lowest-hanging fruit of segmentation on autopilot.
If you already have a large email list, then send a one-time email asking them to click the link which fits their preferences or interests. Then add this to your welcome sequence so your subscribers can segment themselves without more work on your part.
We recommend using one-click segmentation for the segment which you deem most vital to your email marketing effectiveness — don’t waste this strategy on something silly and trivial. Use it to segment your list in a way that will have a real, tangible impact on future engagement and conversions.
We’ll discuss segmentation strategies in more detail in Chapter 3 (The Nitty-Gritty How-To Of Email Segmentation).
2. Based On Demographics
Segmenting your email list by demographic is useful when you want to serve subscribers differently based on their age, location, ethnicity, industry, gender, or income.
You might, for example, notice that some clothing sells better to people age 40 and over while other clothing sells well to people under 40 years old. You could easily create cohorts based on that information.
A more simple application would be sending women’s clothing offers to women and men’s clothing offers to men.
Adidas, for example, sends two totally different campaigns depending on if the subscriber is a man or woman.
Or if your business is location-based, then you might consider creating cohorts for different cities.
Clearly, you have a lot of options.
But what is the best way to collect this data?
Well, you could send a demographic-related survey to your email list. An easier method, though, would be to use software like TowerD@ta to automatically populate pertinent information for each email address on your list.
Then it’s just a matter of splitting your audience and serving each segment according to its demographic data.
3. Based On Interest
You serve a specific niche, an ideal market.
But the people on your email list will not all fit into a perfect box of exact-same interests. Imagine that you own a company which helps marketers optimize their email campaigns. In one way or another, all of those subscribers are interested in email marketing.
However, some of them will want to grow their email list, some of them will want to increase engagement, some of them will want to use email to drive revenue, and some of them will want to do all three of those things.
If you own an ecommerce clothing store, then some subscribers will be interested in athletic ware, some will want business clothing, and others will want casual outfits.
You can segment your email list based on those specific interests so that each subscriber receives content and offers specific to their current needs.
A lot of ecommerce stores use past purchase data to make new product recommendations (“Love those shoes? Get these matching socks!” for example).
Just keep in mind that these interests often change and your segmentation strategy should be flexible to adapt as your subscriber’s interests adapt as well.
4. Based On Email Engagement
There are multiple benefits to segmenting your email list based on subscriber engagement.
First, it allows you to easily send re-engagement campaigns to subscribers that aren’t as engaged as you’d like them to be. By so doing, you can decrease your unsubscribe rate and increase your retention.
EmailMonks reports on one study that showed 45% of recipients who received a re-engagement email campaign read subsequent emails.
Here’s an example of what that might look like.
Note that re-engagement campaigns tend to work best when you encourage subscribers to take a small first step (in the example above, “Take a 5 minute lesson now!” serves that purpose) which can easily get them moving on the path to engaging with your content.
The other benefit to segmenting your email list by engagement is that you can try to monetize subscribers who are very engaged — those who open and click something like 75% or more of your emails. These people probably trust you and are more willing to buy from you than other subscribers.
Don’t overdo your sales pitching, of course, but consider offering your engaged subscribers a special discount which might push them over the edge.
5. Based On Time Since Last Purchase
When was the last time your subscribers purchased?
If a customer purchased just a week ago, then you might want to recommend another product that will supplement what they already purchased. If a customer hasn’t purchased for 6 months or a year, you might consider offering a discount to get them buying from you again. And if a subscriber hasn’t bought at all, then you might want to send them some of your low-level offers to get them in the door.
According to Small Business Trends, 80% of your business revenue will come from just 20% of your customers. That’s because it’s about three times easier to sell to an existing customer — someone who’s bought before — than it is to sell to a new customer.
Which means you should work to keep your current customers buying from you on a regular basis.
Again, don’t be too sales-y and don’t overdo how much you pitch your products and services (provide value first!), but do consider segmenting your email list by time-since-last-purchase so you can serve committed and non-committed customers accordingly.
6. Based On Sales Funnel Position
You’ve probably heard of the sales/customer/purchase funnel before. It’s an upside-down cone where new people become aware of your business and the goal is to drive them toward the bottom of the funnel where conversion happens.
There are many different versions of this funnel, removing some sections or adding others, but they’re all basically the same. Ultimately, the person moves from being aware of your business to being a dedicated customer — at least, that’s the goal.
And if your email list is like most email lists, then you have subscribers who fit into every stage of the buying cycle. Some of them are simply aware of your business. Some of them are interested in your business and the content you produce. Some of them want to work with you but they just haven’t yet (for various reasons). And some of them are your customers.
The tricky part is… how do you serve all of those different subscribers?
Email segmentation, of course.
Here’s a simple visual of what this looks like.
Not everyone on your email list is going to be at the same place on their buying journey. Some will want to buy from you right away, some are still trying to decide whether they trust your business or not, and some are just there for the free content and advice.
And that’s perfectly normal. There’s nothing unnatural or unexpected about having some subscribers in the awareness phase and others in the action phase.
You might even consider creating cohorts based on those spots in the sales funnel. If you did, you could then send emails which move people along the funnel more swiftly — by answering timely questions, responding to likely objections, and encouraging action with special offers or discounts.
For example, you might send trust-building emails to people in the awareness stage and special discounts to people in the desire stage, while free and valuable content might best serve those in the interest phase.
Here’s an email example that would fit someone in the interest stage…
And here’s an email that might fit someone in the desire stage…
However, determining where each subscriber is in their buying journey is easier said than done.
A few metrics you might consider analyzing are…
- Time Since Last Purchase
- Email Open Rate and Click-Through Rate
- Time On Email List
Also, here’s an awesome guide that goes into more detail about the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) sales funnel model.
7. By Setting Up Email Preferences
Email preferences are one of the easiest and most effective ways to segment your list.
All you need is a subscription management center (most popular ESPs allow you to use a subscription management center) and some hyperlinked text in your email footer which says, “Change your email preferences here.”
This is a great way to easily increase engagement and decrease unsubscribes.
Plus, when users customize their emailing preferences via a subscription management center, you don’t have to play the guessing game anymore — you know exactly how often each subscribes wants to receive email and what they want to receive.
Big email marketing players use this because it’s crazy effective. Fortunately, anyone can set up a subscription management center through their ESP and start reaping the benefits of semi-automated segmentation.
Just decide on how you want people to be able to change their preferences, put it on a form, and give your subscribers access to it. They’ll thank you and so will your engagement rate.
8. Based On Sign-Up Criteria
Under what circumstances did the subscriber opt-in to your list?
Did they see an ad? If so, which ad? Did they come in through a specific article? If so, which article?
Creating cohorts based on sign-up criteria can help to organize subscribers based on interests, pain points, or expertise. If someone subscribed to your list after downloading a beginner’s guide, for instance, then you know that they’re probably a beginner (conversely, someone who downloaded an explicitly “advanced” guide is probably advanced).
One of the best ways to collect that data is through the different lead magnets you offer.
Most online businesses use multiple lead magnets to grow their email lists. Carrot, for example, a business that serves real estate investors and agents, has lots of different resources (or lead magnets) on their website.
And while all of those resources have something in common (they all have something to do with real estate), each is a little bit different. By determining which subscribers signed up using which lead magnet, you can quickly create segments based on interest.
In the case of Carrot, they might have a segment of people interested in SEO for real estate and they might have a segment of subscribers interested in Facebook ads for real estate — that’s information they could easily gather by pulling data from who signed up for which lead magnet.
You can use a similar strategy if your email list is an amalgamation of different subscribers who arrived via different lead magnets.
You can also reverse engineer this concept and create lead magnets specifically for each interest that you want to serve, then again segment your list based on those interests.
9. Based On Website Behaviors
How a subscriber interacts with your website can tell you a lot about their interests and intentions. Which products they view (even if they don’t purchase), which articles they read, and which pages they spend the most time on are all important clues about a subscriber’s desires.
You might want to segment your audience based on those sorts of behaviors.
Also consider product reviews — if someone has purchased but hasn’t left a review, then you might want to send them a campaign that encourages them to do so.
(70% of consumers claim that they’ll happily leave a review if the business specifically asks for it)
Also, you’ll definitely want to utilize an abandoned cart segmentation for your email list.
(45% of cart abandonment emails get opened and 21% get clicked)
And you might even consider creating a browse abandonment email to recapture the attention of people who showed interest in your content or a certain product but left shortly after.
10. Based On Subscriber Expertise
Does your company serve different levels of expertise?
This is particularly common among SaaS businesses. A service like Mailchimp, for example, serves beginning email marketers as well as expert email marketers. The same is true of businesses like Ahrefs, Zapier, and most ESPs.
It’s kind of like there are expertise tiers within the company’s ideal client — ranging from beginner to novice to expert. And any business with those natural groupings should seriously consider segmenting their list based on those levels of expertise.
This allows you to provide relevant content to everyone in your audience and meet each subscriber where they’re at in their journey. For instance, beginners might just need some basic help and low-levels wins to move them along while experts will want more in-depth tips and tricks.
You can base these cohorts on a survey or you can simply segment your list based on which plan members have signed up for (less expensive plans typically mean less experience while more expensive plans mean more experience).
11. By Monitoring Change In Engagement, Behavior, or Buying Patterns
Remember, your subscribers interests are going to change over time. They will move down the sales funnel, they will prefer some products over others, and they will go from being skeptical about your business to being a dedicated customer.
Your segmentation strategy should be flexible and adaptable to those natural shifts in subscriber desire or interest.
Put simply, your subscribers will change and your email marketing should change with them.
That’s why it can be useful to monitor changes in email engagements, website behavior, or buying patterns. Many ESPs will let you do some basic data collection in that regard, but you might consider using a CRM like Hubspot if you want to get more advanced.
12. Based On Pain Point
Almost always, people sign up for your email list because they believe that you can solve a problem their experiencing. Maybe they believe that you can help them grow their business or maybe they believe your products can help them look more stylish.
Whatever the case, you’re the solution.
And if your company offer solutions for various pain points (most companies do), then it’s smart to segment your email list based on those pain points.
First, write down all of the pain points your business and products solve. Make a list.
Then, think of a way to easily collect that data — could you create lead magnets for each separate pain point? Could you send a survey to the people on your list?
Once you have access to the data, create segments for each pain point that you serve and start sending relevant offers and content to each cohort — that will allow you to deliver more relevant offers and content to the people in your audience, which will increase engagement and probably even revenue.
There are lots of different ways to segment your email list. The data you have access to and the goal you have for your email marketing efforts are the only two factors which will determine how you split your list.
If you want to delight your subscribers by sending them more relevant and timely content, then segmenting your list is a step in the right direction. And you can use the above 10 suggestions to get started.