Digital Marketing

5 Ways Marketers Need to Segment Email Lists for Growth

Email marketing is not dead. Neither is your email list. As marketers, we often rely heavily on email marketing to maintain communication with our potential and existing customers. Ideally, we should be amassing a large email list with the goal to either promote brand awareness, generate new leads, re-engage idle leads, or retain customers.

So, optimizing your list for engagement and clicks is a continuous task to ensure you are maximizing its efficiency. What good is your extensive email list if you only convince 1% of your contacts to take action on your messages?

Here are a few techniques that I’ve personally used to increase open and click rates on our marketing emails.

Painless Email List Segmentation


Many email tools have the ability to create segments from your contact's data. For example, MailChimp allows you to choose up to five conditions to divide your list. Another, more robust marketing automation tool, HubSpot, provides the option to create ‘Smart Lists’. HubSpot offers a way to automatically filter contacts into an email list based on custom fields you pre-select as contacts that meet your pre-selected criteria.

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Use readily available marketing automation tools or an email service provider to easily slice and dice your lists for optimal engagement. With implementing these tools you can quickly build lists based on standard categories such as behavioral, demographic, and geographic.

Let's quickly talk about intent and behavior.

Give 'em What They Want

Your email list categories will differ based on how you drive sign ups. Many B2B companies publish blog posts, white papers, and provide demos or webinars to drive top-of-funnel lead volume. For this reason, it’s crucial to capture these email categories in your CRM tool along with the subject line of the email. You want to understand what content resonated with your subscriber at the time they opted into your messages - but without the headache of sifting through an overbearing spreadsheet of data.

Understanding how to segment your subscribers’ by content preference provides a clear picture of what types of content resonate most with your target audience. From there, you can continue to iterate and parse content into very specific topics, keeping those email list subscribers to open AND read your emails. If you send irrelevant emails, you risk high unsubscribe rates or worse, spam reports.

For us, our readers are often interested in particular advertising network, such as AdWords or Facebook. We try to deliver value in every email communication because our subscribers’ inbox is a privilege - not a right. Based on a combination of subscriber interests and behavior we segment lists by advertising network AND social ads vs. search ads.
Focus on Engagement Points

Once your segments are categorized by intent, another useful process is to group by open rates.

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We've seen the "Somewhat engaged" subscribers with an overall open rate greater than 40%. The goal is to continue increasing the open rate and click rate for each of your identified segments. Over time, you'll pare down your non-engaged list to only those subscribers that never engage with your content.
Sure, that seems like a great strategy but does it work?

I'll share another very simple test we did with our non-engaging contacts. After paring down our list from the original email list, we found this audience gets around 2% open rate. Not great.

We tested changing the sender name from ‘AdStage’ ( to my personal email ‘Josh Rodriguez’ ( Just with this minor tweak our open rate jumped to over 10%. Keep in mind this segment hasn’t engaged with our content for over a month!

My guess is email fatigue took a toll on this set of subscribers. With a simple visual change in their inbox (i.e. sender name) prompted more recipients to open the email.

As you can imagine, over time you'll start to accumulate many well-defined lists. It is very tempting to group everyone together and send one mass email. But, the extra work you put into catering content for each segment’s sweet-spot, pays off in increased engagement and loyalty.

How Do You Find That Idle Time?

One of the mistakes that I see occur most often is optimizing a newsletter based on the sender's time zone. There's a high chance that some of the subscribers are not in the same time zone as you. Some Email Service Providers (ESPs) can determine the location of the recipient which makes it easy to test. Other times you'll have to run multiple a/b tests to determine what time of day works the best for your audience.

MailChimp analyzed their entire system and published a chart showing 10:00 a.m. as the optimal time to send an email. However, even at the optimal time, a small fraction of the overall list engaged with the emails. The best practice here is to continue testing the time of day until you maximize your engagement metrics.

This is anecdotal evidence, but I often read marketing & promotional emails on my daily commute. If there's a catchy subject line, I'll take a few minutes to read the email while I am stuck on the train.

Speak Their Language

In B2B marketing, we often collect a lead's job title in our lead capture forms across various types of content. Using job title as an email segment is one of the best ways to ensure you deliver valuable content. You can map out content that is similar to their initial interaction with your business.

Some of your subscribers are looking for tactical advice. How-to's, guides, and case studies are great pieces of content to engage this audience because it correlates to where these leads are in your conversion funnel. For example: you may want to send more strategic messages on organizational theory or best management practices to people in higher level positions.

The goal is to be as relatable as possible to individuals, at scale.

Getting Past The Preview: Make Every Character Count

Emails are judged in a fraction of a second based on two things: subject line and preview text.  Make it count.

Litmus has an excellent post on preview text and the limits you will encounter on various platforms and devices. The Ultimate Guide to Preview Text Support

Gmail on Android displays ~42 characters in the subject line and around 46 characters of preview text. This is in portrait mode. That's less than 90 characters to convince someone to open your email, or in other words less character space than a tweet.

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The subject line and preview text are the easiest part of the email to a/b test. If you have an ongoing newsletter, make sure on every email you’re a/b testing the subject line or preview text. Testing these two email elements is crucial to understanding how these iterations impact your email metrics.

To Summarize

Segment Your Email List

Get as granular as you can while still being able to produce directed content for each segment.

Smart Filtering for Each Segment

Look for more ways to optimize email list longevity and content relevance within your segments. This is an ongoing process and can be achieved by continually filtering contacts by level of email engagement. Put those contacts in new lists and test, test, test.

Find Your Best Time

Test the time of day and day of the week and optimize your emails for delivery based on location (if available). You may find that particular groups open emails at odd hours of the day, and don't rule out weekends too!

Build segments based on demographics, interests, behavior, or geographic location, then tailor content. Use these categories to align content strategy with your segment’s characteristics - such as job title or industry.

Make Every Character Count & Test, Test, TEST!

Finally, write engaging subject lines & preview text to increase your open rates. According to Forrester Research, 90% of email is delivered successfully.

AdStage Team