What is Email Segmentation & How Does It Work?

Posted On December 10, 2021

Every marketing dollar has to stretch as far as it can when you run a small business or work as a freelancer—and that means email is your best bet, as long as you do it right. 

Why email in a world of text messages, push notifications and social posts? There are lots of reasons, but the biggest, according to Constant Contact, is that businesses earn an average of $36 for every $1 they spend on email marketing. 

That kind of ROI is why experienced marketers swear by email—if it’s segmented the right way.


What exactly is email segmentation? 

You may have run into the term when you set up your email marketing tools or even on this blog while trying to figure out how to use your email list. It’s pretty simple: Email segmentation means sorting your subscriber list into different groups, aka segments. Then you can tailor your marketing messages to each segment, so your customers are more likely to act on the offers they get from you. 

For example, if you run an online sporting goods store, you want your customers who play soccer to get emails about your soccer gear deals, while customers who hike get emails about trekking poles, boots and packs.

Why not just send all your offers to your entire email list?

One problem with blasting your whole list with every email you create is that people get turned off by irrelevant messages, to the point where they may just unsubscribe and take a pass on all your offers.

Another problem is that email marketing is about more than alerting people whenever you want them to buy something. It’s also about nurturing long-term relationships with those customers, based on offering them what they need and want. And you can’t do that with one-size-fits-none email campaigns. 

How can you segment your emails?

There are so many options for segmenting your email list! Depending on the kinds of customers you have, you might segment by location, demographic characteristics, attitudes and habits, or actions they’ve taken. 

Dutch email marketing wizard Jordie Van Rijn put together this handy chart that outlines some of the most common ways to sort a list.

how to segment an email list chart
Source: emailmonday.com

Not every kind of segmentation works for every business, and you may have to spend some time thinking about how to apply segmentation to your customer list. Let’s brainstorm a bit about the ways small businesses and freelancers can segment their subscribers.

Email segmentation for different types of businesses

A local landscaping contractor won’t need to segment by country or maybe even by city (geographics). But behavioral segmentation could help them craft marketing messages for distinct groups like: 

  • Commercial versus residential clients (purchase usage)
  • Mow-and-edge service clients versus landscape design-and-install clients (benefits sought)
  • New clients versus longtime customers (life cycle stage)

On the other hand, a small online retailer can have customers anywhere. They might choose to create geographic segments to:

  • Tailor holiday-shopping-season messaging to different countries, like Canadian Thanksgiving versus American Thanksgiving.
  • Customize product offers for customers in rural areas (work clothes, outdoor clothing) differently from customers in large metro areas (office wear, cocktail dresses).
  • Localize emails in different languages for customers in different countries or regions—for example, for English-speaking customers in Ottawa versus French-speaking customers in Quebec. 

What about segmenting by demographics? Let’s say you’re a freelance portrait photographer. You might segment your email list this way to identify:

  • Customers with children who might want yearly family portraits.
  • Couples who need engagement and anniversary photos.
  • Customers with higher household incomes who might be interested in your high-end makeup-artist/personal stylist/photo shoot packages.
  • Families with more moderate incomes who might be looking for budget photo packages. 

That leaves values and attitudes, aka psychographics. This is a particularly useful approach for lifestyle businesses like spas, fitness centers, personal trainers and travel planners. They can use psychographics to identify segments like:

  • Customers who are looking for self-care activities.
  • People seeking ways to improve their health.
  • Customers who need to de-stress. 
  • People who put a high priority on leisure travel.

Keep in mind that you can have more than one kind of segment, too. 

For example, a freelance content writer might segment their list according to country so they can market local-holiday promotional content to clients in different countries. They might also segment by intent, so that customers who want a blog writer will get one type of email campaign ,and companies that want a writer to create their webinars get different emails. 

OK, now how do I actually segment my email list?

Once you’ve decided on the segments that you think will work best for your list, it’s time to head over to your email marketing platform and put those segments in place. 

Typically, you’ll do this by creating a custom segment in your platform’s dashboard. Then you can manually add existing list members to that segment, or you can specify that list members with certain tags should be added to the segment. 

For example, you can create segments in Constant Contact based on how often recipients open your emails: 

how to create email segment in constant contact

Or you can build your own email segment. Either way, you’ll get to choose the criteria that define your segment, whether that’s how often they read your messages, where they live, how much they’ve spent with your business. Then you can save and preview your new segment!

The next time you schedule an email, you’ll have a choice of which segments should receive it. Because the segment automatically updates before your email goes out, it will only reach the customers who meet the list criteria at that time. Pretty neat!

Track your open and conversion rates by segment

Email segments make it easier to reach the right customers with the most compelling messages. They also make it easier to see how well your email marketing is working. As you start sending segmented email campaigns, you can see if they’re performing better than your old, general campaigns and if so, by how much. 

You can also compare different segments to get a sense of which ones are most likely to open your messages, which are most likely to convert, and how much they spend based on your emails. Over time, you’ll be able to identify your best customers in terms of loyalty and revenue, and you’ll be able to refine your segments and your messaging for even better results. 

Ready to level up your email marketing? Get started with Virtue Media’s free 3-month trial of Constant Contact. 

Written by Ken

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