8 Segmentation Strategies to Manage Your Email List Like a Boss


A healthy email list of engaged subscribers who cherish your messages and click on them regularly is the marketing equivalent of Nirvana, and not just because you can make lots of money with it. 

A strong email database is a microcosm of your customer base. It can tell you who they are, where and how they engage with your brand, what motivates them, their monetary value to your brand, and much more. 

You can also find out whether customers who regularly engage with your emails are more valuable, revenue-wise, than those who don’t. (They probably are.) 

While external threats like security breaches are a growing menace, the real hazard to your database comes—as they say in horror movies—from inside the house through internal misuse and neglect. 

When good email lists go bad

With a healthy email list, you can create valid segments of subscribers and customers who share common characteristics and then target email campaigns to those groups. That’s the essence of relevant messages, which generally outperform undifferentiated or broadcast messages.

So far, we probably haven’t told you anything you didn’t know already. But here’s something to think about:  

A database full of inactive email addresses and out-of-date data can lead you to create unreliable or invalid segments. This translates into irrelevant messaging that begets more unsubscribes and spam complaints and even higher disengagement and inactivity. 

Mailbox providers pick up on negatives like inactivity and spam complaints and use that information to block your messages from the inbox. Your KPIs become unreachable goals. Funding can dry up or move to more profitable channels. That’s when any marketer’s dream turns into a nightmare.

As little as 10 to 15 years ago, this would have been the end of the email story for many brands. But today we know much more about segmentation and other email best practices—as well as how to use them to bring a dying email database back to life (or, ideally, keep it from falling into disrepair in the first place). 

8 segmentation best practices for a healthy email database

A combination of strategy, email automation, continuous monitoring, and list management can keep your email database growing and healthy. As long as you follow along with these 8 suggestions, of course!

1. Choose the right email partner

The best fit for your email program isn’t always the platform with the most bells and whistles, or the cheapest. Consider your team’s size and technical abilities, what email is expected to deliver for your company, how easily your platform integrates with the rest of your marketing technology stack, and dozens of other important factors before making any decisions. 

If you’re not happy with your current platform, figure out why first and then start your partner search once you have your answers. That way, you keep your most important partner priorities and criteria top-of-mind—making it much more likely you’ll be able to work together and accomplish strategic, big-picture goals going forward.

2. Build accurate buyer personas

Now more than ever, buyer persona accuracy is important thanks to the upheavals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Buyer behaviors, habits, and expectations are changing—and fast. Meaning that much of what you currently know about your customers is already out of date.

Suppose one of your pre-pandemic personas is a younger suburban mother with school-age children and a full-time job outside the home. Then along came the pandemic and its many shutdowns. How well has that persona held up? Accurate email data and first-party insights can reveal shifts in buying and engagement patterns your personas should reflect—so prioritize its collection whenever possible.

3.  Segment subscribers by their actions

Where personas help you understand your customers better, segmentation lets you group like-minded customers into relevant groups based on behavior, preferences, interests, and more. 

Newer subscribers, for example, are probably more active than your long-term subscribers at any given moment. So for your onboarding email experience, why not segment recipients by those who did (and didn’t) click a link or convert on a CTA?

This allows you to build a list of brand-new, highly engaged shoppers—and then target this segment with dynamic content and highly personalized, highly persuasive interactions that more closely match each specific buyer’s wants and needs.

4. Ace the test and experience success

With everything you have to do just to get an email campaign out the door, it’s easy to get overwhelmed at the thought of building up a full-blown segmentation strategy and accurate customer personas. So, start small and test everything. Because the best results are usually delivered by minimal changes—not brands that reinvent the wheel.

Picture this: Your current audience segmentation strategy hasn’t been updated in years. You’re still hitting your numbers, but you know with a little work it could be doing way more for your business. Instead of blowing everything up and starting from square one, test one or two tweaks first. That way, you can uncover segmentation wins with as little extra work as possible.

5. Collect first-party data from your customers

The only insights you should be focusing on are the first-party data points you collect from subscribers and customers—a.k.a. anything they observe or tell you.

First-Party data is the driving force behind email personalization, but it also helps you create accurate buyer personas and subscriber segments. And here are several easy ways to collect more of it:

  • Watch for it. Make sure your email platform can import data from your CRM and web analytics platforms so you can tie behavior, purchase, loyalty, and other conversion data to each subscriber with links back to the original email activity.
  • Ask for it. Preference data can be tricky because customers often say one thing but do another. It also doesn’t always age well. Have multiple sources for collecting and updating self-reported data, like these:
    • Add a short quiz email (one or two questions) to your onboarding series and follow it up with other fun surveys or forms that build on the answers submitted
    • Ask for a purchase review, product recommendation, or brand testimonial to use in other marketing collateral

6. Keep your email lists clean and updated

Your email platform should automatically remove spam complainers, unsubscribers, invalid email addresses, and other problems from your plate. But over time, even the best email list can accumulate abandoned, fake, or disposable addresses that drive no value. A list hygiene service can identify and recommend actions for dealing with these.

Once you’ve cleaned up your email list, consider dealing with inactive addresses next. While it may be surprising to hear, removing them isn’t always the answer. Create a strategy that identifies the early warning signs of inactivity. Quarantine your nonresponders and test new ways to connect or invite them to unsubscribe.

Speaking of which… 

7. Make unsubscribing easy

This can boost your email performance in the long run because you’ll have less inactivity and fewer spam complaints. A hybrid process can include a one-click unsubscribe with a landing page that offers alternatives like changing frequency, switching email streams entirely, or engagement via other channels like web and mobile instead.

8. Always get permission before clicking send

We left this one for last because it should be so obvious we shouldn’t have to say it, but here goes nothing: Always get explicit permission (no pre-checked boxes or clauses buried in account terms of service) before sending marketing messages.

It’s the law. The United States, India, and a few smaller countries aside, permission is required to email customers in Canada, the EU, the UK, and dozens of other countries that regulate email.

Plus, people expect it. They hate unsolicited email more than almost anything else, and that hatred can hurt your brand. A list full of forced subscribers can throw off your segmentation strategy and degrade list performance. Instead of roping people in against their will, show them what benefits they get by subscribing—and then live up to your promises with your email content.


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