How to Segment Your Email List for Optimal Performance

How to Segment Your Email List for Optimal Performance

Email segmentation is a crucial first step to meet the needs of your audience. Segmenting your email list lets you adjust your email campaign strategy based on the preferences of specified groups, optimizing the ROI of your efforts. There are many ways you can segment your email list to provide relevant content your audience will enjoy.

**This is an excerpt from Vertical Measures’ new book The Customer Journey: How an Owned Audience Can Transform Your BusinessDownload it for FREE, here.


The more information you collect from your audience at sign-up and over time, the more opportunities you have to message them with emails that resonate. As we all know, personal relevance is central to today’s digital consumers, and customers demand personalization in order to progress in their journey. For this reason, relevancy is perhaps the most important factor for a successful email marketing campaign.

Geographic segmentation

The first step toward segmenting your audience begins with geography. Segmenting this way is best when your audience’s location plays a substantial part in their purchasing decision. For example, in our book, Sophia’s geographic location might be critical to her decision to go back to school, because she doesn’t have the option to relocate her family or travel long distances to continue her education. But, let’s assume that you’re not in the education vertical. Who else might geographic segmentation work well for?

  • Companies that host, sponsor or contribute to local events
  • Businesses who operate within certain geographic limitations
  • Companies whose products or services only apply to certain geographical areas or climates
  • Organizations with a strong connection to or history with a specific location

Behavior-based segmentation

You can also use your audience’s behavior as a way to target email messaging and tap into their specific interests or needs. This type of segmentation relies on having the right analytics in place to understand and predict behavior. For example, you will be better able to target an individual who has spent a lot of time on your website and viewed a lot of related content rather than one who bounced quickly off a single service page. If you’re using analytics properly, you can differentiate the browsing behavior of different visitors and leverage that information to optimize your emails.

As referenced in the book, Coronado University will be able to see the pages our protagonist visits, content she downloads and quizzes she completes – actions that help Coronado University create a customer profile it can use to nurture her further down the customer journey.

Content- or interest-based segmentation

Behavior-based segmentation often leads to a clearer understanding of what content your audience is likely to engage with more than others. To segment based on interest, evaluate which content was viewed or downloaded most by your audience. Start by generating a list of people who have downloaded a certain eBook or another piece of gated content, and then segment them into more targeted email or lead nurture campaigns around that topic. These lists can also help identify which content format each audience segment prefers, based on analyzing who consumes more videos, blog posts, webinars, eBooks and other content types.

A visitor might give you their information to access a piece of gated content, but that doesn’t mean they actually liked it. Take segmenting and relevancy a step further by building additional lists based on how engaged the members of your owned audience are in specific pieces of content.

For example, Coronado University might host an in-depth webinar that covers social media best practices for big brands. In order to access the webinar, users have to sign up on a lead-capture form. After providing their name and email address, these registrants can then be tracked and segmented based on how they engaged with the webinar. If some attendees stayed engaged for the majority of the presentation, Coronado University might re-target them with mid-funnel, consideration-stage content to help move them along in the sales cycle.

Alternatively, if a few attendees dropped off the webinar within the first 10 minutes, they might receive a follow-up email featuring a top-of-funnel offer, or even a feedback survey to gauge what specifically lost their interest.

By using analytics tools, you can track who in your owned audience is spending more or less time with specific types of content. Depending on your findings, you can gauge the interest each individual has in your product, service or industry. Use this information to reinvigorate dwindling interest or push promising leads further down the sales funnel while they’re at their most engaged.


Knowledge-level segmentation

Knowledge-level segmentation is based on how much each contact knows about the topics on your blog or website. From there, you can tailor your messaging to deliver content that speaks at the right knowledge level and continue to nurture leads with personalized emails.

Depending on the information you receive from your lead-capture forms and other analytics efforts, you may be able to find out how many degrees your contacts hold or their level of expertise in your specific industry. If you find readers engaging with advanced, technical content, odds are their knowledge on the subject is greater than readers who engage with more basic, entry-level content.

From her answers to the quiz she took, Coronado University knows our protagonist’s current job title, her desired job title (CMO) and how quickly she wants to achieve it. They know her current education level and that she’s leaning toward going back to school online.

The way Coronado University will target her moving forward depends heavily on this information. Its messaging will differ significantly from the way it messages prospects with more or less years of experience, an interest in nursing or a desire to attend college on campus full-time. At the same time, they’ll nurture our protagonist, Sophia, with additional content that can help them learn more about her, such as her salary and budget for continuing education, her living situation or her biggest fears about going back to school.

Industry- or role-based segmentation

Whether you’re in the B2B or B2C space, you might encounter contacts in your email list from many different industries and job roles. Speaking to these differences can add another level of personalization to your email marketing campaigns.

Segmenting your audience by position or industry can have a big impact on how readers interpret and engage with your content. For example, Coronado University will engage differently with Sophia than another contact based solely her job title and industry. She’s a mid-level marketer. She’s currently working for a marketing agency and holds a related college degree. They know she’s not interested in nursing degrees or healthcare-related content and that her experience and level of interest demands content that’s high-level and relatively advanced.

Brand-advocacy segmentation

If you take away anything from our overview on email segmentation, it’s this: Brand and customer loyalty must be cultivated. Always. Sofia isn’t close to being a brand advocate for Coronado University – yet – but one of their segmented lists includes many brand advocates, including:

  • Alumni
  • Social media fans
  • Current students who have recommended the school to others
  • Non-students who have advocated for the school’s programs online

After building a list of advocates related to your business, such as frequent buyers, vocal fans or business partners, start tailoring emails to acknowledge and thank them. Reach out to them for feedback and notify them first about new services or products, special rewards, or perks to show how much you appreciate their support.

Example email targeted for advocates (Source: Soapbox)

By segmenting your brand advocates, you can not only try to increase their overall LTV, but also reward their loyalty to increase their advocacy of your brand. Remember, with list segmentation, the goal isn’t to generate leads – you’ve already got those. The goal is to nurture your leads into long-term customers.

TCJ_Stacked Book Mock up

Read more in our new book!

Read The Customer Journey: How an Owned Audience Can Transform Your Business and get ahead of the competition. Start crafting your digital marketing strategy centered around the customer journey to build an owned audience that you can leverage for real growth.

Download now for FREE!

Brad Kuenn

Brad Kuenn is the co-author of The Customer Journey: How an Owned Audience Can Transform Your Business and Content Marketing Works. As Marketing Director at Investis Digital, Brad manages internal inbound marketing and acts as senior editor for the website. Brad’s responsible for ensuring that content efficiently reaches established goals, delivers optimum results, and aligns with Vertical Measures values. Follow him @BKuenn +Brad Kuenn