Remember that not everyone on your email list wants to receive the same information.   

The beauty of email lists compared to social media is that you can send some people one message and another set of people another message, known as segmentation.  

Why do you need to segment your list?

Even if you only have one product or service, some people on your list will be at the beginning of their journey with you whilst others will be loyal customers.

When you send a marketing message to your loyal customers, they will need to hear a different message to those who haven’t bought yet.  

Have you ever bought a course and then continued to get emails from the business about their amazing new course!  It’s a bit annoying, you’ll turn off and even stop reading their emails altogether.  

This is where segmentation in email marketing comes in to play.  Email service providers (ESPs) allow you to segment your subscribers in many ways, enabling you to send targeted messages.

The way that ESPs allow you to do this is using custom fields, tags and segments.  (Yes, it’s a bit confusing that segments are one of the tools that you can use for segmentation but bear with  me).

Custom fields, tags or segments – which do you use?

Whilst every ESP works slightly differently, generally you can use custom fields and tags to organise your data.  You will also be able to use ‘segments’ which can divide your audience further. Segments tend to be more variable still and frequently change. I’ll explain more below.

What are Custom Fields?

This is unique data about your subscriber that doesn’t change at all or at least stays fairly constant.  Custom fields include data such as first name, last name, email address.  When you create an opt-in form, the info you collect will be saved as custom fields.  You could think about custom fields as being questions – what is your name, where do you live, what is your email address, what is your date of birth?  

Personalising your emails so that they read “Hi, [FirstName] is often where you will use a custom field.

A craft gin company, for example, could require a birth date  whilst an ecommerce store could use a custom field to identify purchase dates.

Note that custom fields may have different names depending on the ESP you are using. Mailchimp, for example, use ‘merge tags’.

How to use Tags

These are labels you place on your subscriber.  I like to imagine subscribers literally wearing a colourful pin badge on their coat lapel!  

Tags (or Groups as Mailerlite calls them) allows you to identify subscribers by action or behaviour.  Tagged information is changeable.

A swimming teacher, for example, could tag their subscribers by the swimmer’s grade of beginner, intermediate or advanced. The teacher could also tag a subscriber depending on which course they are  on.  That way, the teacher could send out emails just to beginners or just to those attending the Saturday morning lessons.  As a swimmer moves from beginner to intermediate, so their tag would be changed (either manually or automatically).

We can also use tags to identify our subscribers actions and use that data to target them with specific emails.  Say you have a link in your email that takes people to a sales page for your new course, you could tag people when they click on that link.  Because they’ve clicked on the link, they’ve put up their hand to show their interest.  If they buy, you could add a tag to identify them as a purchaser.  But if they click and don’t buy, you can send them further emails to encourage a sale.

There’s no limit on the amount of tags you can use but I do recommend having a naming protocol so that they make sense to you as well as anyone else who has access to your account.

Just having the tag of ‘Facebook’ for example doesn’t mean a great deal.  But if you use Source: Facebook then you know that that subscriber came from one of your posts.  Similarly, Purchase: Content Course would tell me that someone has purchased my social media content course.

Segments in email marketing

I know people get confused here because custom fields and tags are segments of your list.  But most ESPs will also have a specific feature called ‘segments’ and this tool allows you to divide your list up further across tags and custom fields.     

A segment might include some people who have Tag A but not everyone.  It might include everyone with Tag A who also have Tag B.  Not everyone with Tag A might have Tag B depending on their demographics or actions.

Let me explain.  I might want to send an email to people who have bought my course, but not all purchasers, just those who purchased before a certain date.  Creating a segment of these people means I can email them details of my updated course that newer members already have.

I might also want to send an email to anyone who hasn’t opened an email in the last 60 days no matter what tag they have.  This would be created in segments.  

Segment membership tends to change more often than tags.

Another example of using segments is when i send out my weekly Three Things newsletter. I don’t want to send it to people who are still going through my nurture sequence.  I’ve created a segment of people who signed up 5 days ago and exclude them from those receiving the newsletter.  Depending on when people sign up, and how many, this segment could have quite a few in it or none at all.

Using custom fields, tags and segments, I hope you can see how you can make far more of your email marketing than just sending your regular newsletter out to everyone.

Still confused with the levels of segmentation? Take a read of my school analogy

List = School
Custom field = students’ gender, name and birth date
Tags = current year group, lessons they attend, after-school clubs, sports team, student committee
Segment = all those girls and boys who are in the football squad, all Y8s born before December 31st, all parents who didn’t open that important email from the Head.

Next steps

If you’d like some help getting to grips with segmentation for your business then let’s have a chat.

I can have a look at what you have already and make some suggestions.  I can also help you set up your segmentation from scratch.  So get in touch and let’s get your segments sorted!


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