Email Segmentation & Personalization: A Beginner’s Guide


The once-popular spray-and-pray method, where you send out one email to thousands of unsegmented subscribers, will not actually get them to engage with you more. As a matter of fact, they might even unsubscribe from your emails altogether if you don’t send them the right content.

Are you aware of the fact that you can increase your email open and click rates, and, on top of that, see a significant drop in the unsubscribe rates by breaking your subscriber list down into segments?

This strategy is heavily used by the majority of informed email marketers in order to generate more effective results out of their email marketing campaigns.

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However, over the past several years, there has been a debate about emails dying out. In fact, the truth of the matter is that savvy marketing optimizers are still very much using it today and are not planning on writing it off anytime soon.

The opinion gap is so wide because not everyone is familiar with email segmentation and personalization. Therefore, the ones who make use of it see real results and increased returns on investments, but the ones who don’t – well, they tend to stick to “batching and blasting” email campaigns, hoping for the best. Sign up for our FREE workshop on Building $1MM Funnels and find out how to build up your mailing list and take advantage of email segmentation and personalization.



If you’re wondering whether there’s an alternative to the outdated “batch and blast” method out there, there is. And it’s called email segmentation and personalization.

Segmentation gives you the liberty to give different treatments to various groups.

Clearly, segmentation is the process of breaking down a market into small groups of people with common interests, behaviors, and pain points to name a few.

Personalization means that by taking advantage of a specific subscriber’s data and sending them targeted email campaigns, we are able to tailor each message to every individual subscriber.

The gravest error marketing optimizers can make is neglect the behavioral data of their subscribers and turn to fruitless spraying-and-praying methods instead.

According to VentureBeat Insights, about half of marketers send content to less than a dozen segments and still naively think that they personalize emails by putting a person’s name in the subject line or in the greeting.

VentureBeat Insights

Email Marketers insight


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There is obviously a huge difference between the definition of email segmentation and personalization and what people think the terms mean.

In a nutshell, marketers used to send emails to thousands of different people at the same time, but the process has evolved thanks to segmentation and personalization.

By collecting data and using it properly, marketers now can send the right email to the right person at the right time and, most importantly, for all the right reasons.

In case there’s been a mix-up, let’s get one thing straight: email segmentation and personalization are not the same thing, but give the best result when used together in combination.



Now, if you currently have just one long list of emails, chances are you don’t segment your emails. However, you can take that huge list and create separate groups, or segments, that have something in common. Segmentation gives you the liberty to give different treatments to various groups and send the right message to the right user.

Subscribers are not a constant value and you always have to keep track of their ever-changing characteristics.

Start off by separating your active and inactive subscribers. Does it make sense to put highly engaged users and people who might not even know your brand name in the same list and give them equal treatment? I didn’t think so.

You can actually boost conversions by sending out content that is personalized. Moreover, subscribers aren’t stable and you always have to keep track of their ever-changing motivations, behaviors, wants, pains, and segmentation is what enables you to keep your list fresh and relevant. You can even set up a funnel to bucket subscribers automatically.

Say you already have a long list of emails and you’re wondering if it is too late to begin segmenting them now?

It is never too late.

Feedback via email

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You can even boost engagement by sending out a survey with just a single question, like in the example above. The feedback will be invaluable to your business and will help you figure out what kind of content and interaction your subscribers expect from you.



In addition to active and inactive users, you can also segment your subscribers based on their location or how they signed up. For a more in-depth understanding of your audience, you’ll need to consider other factors, like purchase history, income, preferred content, and so on. With such data, your relevancy will skyrocket and you’ll get the best out of one-on-one communication with your subscribers.

We have put together a list of 40 effective ways of segmenting your subscribers and here is what we recommend:


1. Brand New Subscribers

Instead of neglecting your new subscribers, why not say hello by sending them a welcome email or even a welcome sequence? You need to start engaging with new subscribers on day one if you plan on converting them into customers.

Kate Spade takes this opportunity to remind you that you’ll be the first to know when new gear makes it to the shelves, lets you know how often they will email you and directs you to their blog.

Brand New Subscribers

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However you decide to go about welcoming new subscribers, make sure that you are running your best stuff by them, so that you can work your way up from there.


2. Interests

Perhaps you already know a thing or two about your subscriber’s interests. Why not use that knowledge to send them content that you definitely know they are into?

Rdio processes subscriber data to analyze their taste in music and then provide them with tunes from fav artists or music that they might enjoy.

Rdio email

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3. Subscriber Preferences

Most brands fail to take advantage of subscriber preferences when determining what marketing channels to use in their approach. Ask your subscribers how often they want to get emails from you, providing them with different options regarding the email type, be it video, blog, updates, eBooks or hot offers.

When Bonobos subscribers click “unsubscribe” in an email, they are asked to set the frequency preferences, and this helped them keep a quarter of those subscribers who would have otherwise been long gone.

Bonobos Subscriber Preferences

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4. Email Open Rate

Break subscribers down into segments based on their open rates: those who engage with your emails often vs. the ones who aren’t as active.

Just like in the example with Jet, you can reward the more engaged subscribers by presenting them with special offers or opportunities, like beta access to new features before it rolls out for everyone else. Talk about privilege!

Jet email open rate

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5. Subscriber Inactivity

Give subscribers who have not shown signs of life for quite a while (about two months) a reminder of what they need to do in order to get back on track.

Webflow takes advantage of social proof to re-engage inactive subscribers by showing them just how many new users came their way since your last contact. And I’m sure you know that the fear of missing out can play dirty tricks on you.

Webflow inactivity email

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6. Lead Magnet

Put subscribers into different lists according to the lead magnet they interacted with. Make an extra effort and segment subscribers based on the type of lead magnet they opted for and continue sending them that exact type of content.

Kobo gives its users the opportunity to download a preview of an eBook free of charge, but shoots you a follow-up email offering you to buy the full version of the book.

You can learn how to bring in up to 97% more leads from “The Complete Guide to Lead Generation: 120 Tips to Skyrocket Your Leads” by downloading your FREE copy here.

kobo lead magnet email

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7. Abandoned Carts

Abandoned shopping carts are extremely common for online stores, but there’s a way of retargeting such shoppers using email marketing.

Another example provided by Bonobos where the key CTA is urging you to finish what you started. However, there’s a second CTA asking you to contact customer service with any questions you may have.

bonobos Abandoned Carts

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8. Abandoned Forms

Target people who started completing your opt-in form, but never got around to finishing it.

Say there’s an app that has a free trial but demands a signup. Naturally, a certain percentage of people just isn’t going to complete it for one reason or another. That’s why you need to send them an email encouraging them to finish signing up. That is, if you asked them for their email address in the first field of the form.


9. Purchase History

Offer cross-sells or up-sells to your customers based on what they bought in the past.

You can even analyze their average check and present your most generous customers with “thank you” gifts and special bonuses to ensure them that they made the right choice.

The Dollar Shave Club sends out emails before packaging and shipping your order. You might as well throw in a few extra products while the offer stands, right?

Purchase History Email

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10. Type of Purchase

If your company offers a vast range of products, it makes perfect sense to segment your customers by purchase type and present your customers with offers they’ll surely be excited about.

Just check out this example from an accessory shop called Fab. It’s hard to hold your money back when you know you like something.

Type of Purchase email

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11. Purchase Frequency

Invite frequent spenders to join your loyalty program or give them a special milestone purchase coupon for shopping with you.

However, in no way does this mean that you can’t give out such offers to people who have made a single purchase.


12. Buyer Satisfaction

In an email, ask new customers how likely are they to recommend you to their friends. Use a scale and process the answers to segment your list based on the Net Promoter Score.

Put subscribers into different groups and label the ones with the highest score as promoters. These people will help you spread the word and you should do everything to keep them engaged and happy.


13. Purchase Cycle

We buy certain things in cycles and knowing that information can be extremely vital for a good marketing campaign.

For instance, say you wear contact lenses that usually last you for 6 months. When they are about to run out, the company that sold them to you might send you a reminder email asking you if you’re good or if you are ready to restock.


14. Sales Funnel Stage

The subscriber’s position in the sales funnel determines what email they should get next in order to move forward in the funnel toward becoming a full-fledged customer.

If you are familiar with the SSF method, then you know that new subscribers (sidewalkers) must be nurtured. Slowlaners need to be primed for the sale, and fastlaners must be converted to paying customers. Either way, every single stage must have its one-of-a-kind email marketing campaign that is designed to move them through the sales funnel.


15. Change in Subscriber Engagement

At times, people stop engaging with your emails as much as they used to for no apparent reason. But if no immediate actions are taken to re-engage such subscribers, they will simply slip away from you for good.

For instance, Duolingo is well aware that its users are often very occupied. Since they respect your time, they will send you an occasional email encouraging you to spend a couple of minutes on a lesson and get right back on that horse. That’s doable, right?

Change in Subscriber Engagement email

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16. Change in Purchase Behavior

If your brand offers monthly subscriptions or products that your customers need to buy regularly, ask them for their feedback when and if there’s a change in their purchase behaviors.

If they decided to completely opt out, it’d be useful if you knew the reason. So just ask them what made them change their minds, and, perhaps, your future customers will get an improved experience.


17. Desktop vs. Mobile

The experience of reading emails on laptops and mobile devices is different as day and night. But are you aware of the fact that almost half of brands don’t segment lists based on subscriber device preferences?

Litmus data shows that 55% of all email opens were made from mobile devices and that’s a pretty big shift from desktop opens.

Environment Growth email

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The trend is moving toward responsive email design, which is why, as an email marketer, you have to segment your subscribers based on the device they use most. The same goes for your site’s squeeze pages and hover ads.

As you can see below, Domino’s sent out an offer that reads well on both the mobile and desktop version. As a result, people can easily order pizza on-the-go.

Desktop vs mobile email

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18. Email Domain Type

You are welcome to redesign and revamp your email campaigns even more by breaking down your subscribers according to their email client.

Thus, MailChimp offers campaign reports that show how a recipient’s email account type influences bounce, click, open and unsub rates.

Email domain type

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19. Affiliates

Don’t neglect your affiliates if you have any. Be smart about it. Send them targeted email campaigns so that your relationship brings you dividends in the future.

A common way of motivating your affiliates is to hold a competition and reward the winner with a hefty prize. As the competition progresses, send your affiliates “leaderboards” to remind them that they are in a race and keep it going.

Affiliates email

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20. Customer Feedback

Social proof is one of the best and sure ways of promoting your brand. So why not gently ask your customers to share their experience and write a review?

Customer Feedback email

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For instance, TradeGecko start and finish their email by complementing their customer and ask them to leave a request in between. Not too pushy.

21. Customers Who Shop in Person

Segment your customers by how they prefer to shop: online or going to a brick-and-mortar store. That way you’ll be able to send out in-store offers and promotions to subscribers who can actually use that information and not just spam their inboxes with offers that aren’t really meant for them.

22. Lifetime Value

Every customer spends a different amount on a product or service in the course of their relationship with a brand. However, customers who bring you more profit over time must be the center of your attention and you have to keep such relationships alive and strong.

23. Website Activity

First of all, always keep an eye on what your subscribers are doing on your website. That way, you’ll get the gist of what they’re looking for and how you can improve their user experience.

For example, Canopy collects activity data from their website and processes it to provide its customers with very personal and specific offers. Below, you can see that they made a suggestion that was actually right on the money and helped a lot!

Website Activity email

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 24. Website Inactivity

Use your website’s inactivity data to put subscribers who haven’t interacted with you in a while into a separate list and start working on getting them back on track.

Below you can see that Dropbox shoots you an email after you sign up to use their service, but get distracted or don’t install the software for some reason.

Dropbox Website Inactivity email

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25. Sales Page Visits

Make use of your website’s visit data to send email campaigns to subscribers who came as far as your sales page, but did not follow through with making a purchase.

For instance, Huckberry lets its customers know when a special deal is about to expire by sending out an email. You can also butter up offers with free shipping or bonuses to make them even more appealing.

Sales Page Visits

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26. Buyer Personas

Segment your list by your buyer personas to see what triggers they react to, what they click on in the email campaigns, and what activities they perform on your website.

OptinMonster’s targeting options make buyer persona segmentation a breeze. Display rules give you the ability to target your buyer personas with a specific squeeze page. Such subscribers are then automagically put in a specific segment on your email list.

Buyer Personas

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27. Job Title & Seniority

Find out how your subscribers make a living and use that info to put pressure on their pain points. It is also important to know your subscriber’s seniority level at their place of work.

Decision making is usually done at the top and you wouldn’t want to spend time on an employee who has to convince several senior managers before making a purchase. Wouldn’t you prefer going after someone from the top management and nurturing them without intermediaries?

28. Proficiency Level

How well are your subscribers educated in the field that you are trying to help them in? Perhaps, they’re just starting out or, maybe, they already know their way around their field of expertise?

It can be extremely useful to know your subscriber’s level of skill. That way you’ll be able to deliver the most appropriate content to them.

29. Birthday

Don’t you just love it when brands offer you something special on the occasion of your birthday?

Special offers or even a simple birthday greeting can go a long way and help you connect with a subscriber on a deeper personal level.

As you can see in this example from Rent the Runway, birthday girls are presented with a $50 product discount and birthdays are perfect for treating yourself to something nice, amirite?

Birthday email

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30. Weather

Find out what you can about the weather pattern in your subscriber’s area and use that info to influence them to perform a certain action.

The following email was sent out by Airbnb to a specific customer segment that resides in an area that was expecting a significant temperature drop. Naturally, subscribers were tempted to pack their bags and take a journey to a warmer destination.

Airbnb Weather email

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31. Event Attendance

Say you organized an in-person workshop and sent out invites to your subscribers. Remember to keep track of who RSVP’d and who actually showed up.

You have three categories right there:

  • didn’t not RSVP,
  • RSVP’d, but failed to make it to your event, and, lastly,
  • RSVP’d attended the event.

Hence you can share event photos with the subscribers who showed up and give them a heads-up regarding your next event. As for those who ignored your invite, send them targeted email campaigns to re-engage them and build a rapport.

32. Business Industry & Type

Create industry-specific highly relevant email content to cater to the needs and wants of a specific trade.

In fact, if your blog includes a post that has tips and advice that are useful to many fields, then direct subscribers to that post by sending them an email explaining how that post will help their business expand and see better figures.

Furthermore, break your emails down into segments by the type of business a subscriber owns or works for. After all, every type of business has its own one-of-a-kind needs that can be addressed through segmentation.

33. Survey Respondents

Let everyone who participated in a survey know how much you appreciate their input.

They will be happy to know that they didn’t just throw away valuable minutes of their time to help you. For this reason, show them you respect them and that you are grateful they shared their opinion!

Survey Respondents

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34. Membership Renewal

Is your subscriber’s membership about to end and they need be reminded that it’s time to renew it? Or, maybe, their free trial is almost up and they need to upgrade in order to continue?

Apple makes it extra simple for subscribers to renew their membership by giving them the option to enable automatic membership renewal.

Membership Renewal Email

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35. VIP subscribers

In Muzli’s case, they make their most engaged and active subscribers feel unique and special by offering sneak previews and early bird registration a whole week prior to the launch!

VIP subscribers

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36. Gender

Additionally, don’t hesitate to segment your subscriber list by gender, if your brand has something to offer to men and women alike,

Take an example from Adidas. They deliver two totally different campaigns through email: one for the ladies and another one for the gents.

Email for women

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Email for men

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37. Age

You can relate better to subscribers if you know their age. So segment your subscribers by age to avoid generation gaps.

The Entrepreneur Assessment Tool is a very handy way of getting very personal data from subscribers. Once they finish the short questionnaire (and share their email address) they get an email that talks about a specific case of an entrepreneur who has a similar mindset to yours and is roughly your peer.

Email segment by age

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38. Income

Subscribers need different data depending on how much they are currently making. Most of them are interested in information that can help them see increased profits, like how to go from making 100K to a million, for instance.

However, another group of subscribers could just be getting started and they are looking for valuable insights that will help them get the ball rolling and put their first dollar in the piggy bank.

39. Education Level

Segmenting your subscribers based on their level of education is another way of splitting your subscriber lists.

The most apparent example is when educational institutes need to send various materials to subscribers who just got out of high school, as opposed to subscribers who are well on their to getting a Master’s degree. They clearly need to be targeted with different email campaigns.

40. Employment

If you or your company specialize in providing career advice or dealing with human resources, then you simply must break your email down into segments, like unemployed, career changers and corporate ladder climbers.

The above list may seem like a lot, but there is no need for your brand to start using all of them at once. Find a couple of segments that make sense to your field of work and start experimenting. Once you get the hang of it, expand your number of segments to deliver highly-targeted email marketing campaigns.

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Below are the 4 ways of getting segmented data on your subscribers:

  • Activity and behavior tracking. This must be done by hand, it is very inefficient and takes up a lot of time.
  • Squeeze page. Provide engaging, exclusive content in return for an email; i.e. users themselves give you permission to contact them. Play with different lead generation techniques to attract various types of users.
  • Single-click segmentation. Send out a one-question survey to get a better picture of what people are expecting to get from you and use the answers to break subscribers down into segments.
  • Turn to a tool for help. A slew of email marketing tools with built-in segmentation and personalization options is available online.


Interestingly, implementing a basic sequence and going up from nothing will make the world of a difference for any small company or business.

So, test out the different options by trial and error to see what works best for you. The relieving moment is that you are bound to see improved results as you get more subscriber data.

“By distributing to a large list you risk “bulking”, meaning that you might get punished for sending out a lot of low-engagement emails and your emails might end up in junk folders or might not get to their destination at all.”

However, make sure to ask yourself all the necessary questions before commencing with segmentation. Who are the customers? How can they be segmented? How can they be converted into paying customer?



As it was mentioned earlier, personalization doesn’t simply mean addressing a person by their first name in the email subject line.

Furthermore, in the context of email marketing, personalization is the process of targeting an email campaign to a specific subscriber by taking advantage of the available data. By the way, did you know that personalized emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates, but 70% of companies do not use them?

Email open rate

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Triggering activity-based emails and sending out an email campaign to a very specific segment are both forms of personalization. In fact, more advanced personalization tactics can include delivering content based on a subscriber’s location, gender, birthday or other known data.

It isn’t just about making a sale, but about building long-term relationships and finding out more about your audience.



Without segmentation and personalization, you’ll just be composing emails for a specific person and sending them out to the blurry masses, regardless of the type of person they are. It’s like knowing a juicy high school gossip and screaming it from the rooftops instead of texting your schoolmates.

If you’re still on the fence about segmentation and personalization, then check out a study from MailChimp. So, what they did is take 2,000 MailChimp users who targeted around 9 million people with 11,000 segmented email campaigns, and then compared the results to the non-segmented campaigns of the same users. And the results… well, you’re welcome to be the judge:

effect of list segmentation

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What we get as a result of segmentation is higher email opens and click, as well as lower unsub and complaint figures. In other words, the overall quality of the email significantly improved.

In fact, another study conducted by Lyris, demonstrates that 39% of companies with segmented email lists saw higher open rates. Moreover, they saw 28% lower unsubscribes, and 24% higher sales. Therefore, no matter how you put it, facts are facts.

segmented email lists

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Regardless of the fact that multiple studies have been conducted in the field, most businesses still fail to segment their subscribers properly. As a result, almost 50% of subscribers regularly receiving emails that are not relevant to them.

The simple truth is that these subscribers actually gave out their emails, and, consequently, their permission to be contacted.

Therefore, the question here is to provide them with the content that they want and expect to receive. Download our free Essential Guide To Funnel Building to find out how to automate this with a funnel.

All in all, email segmentation and personalization are vital because every single person demands and deserves a different approach.



To tell the truth, email segmentation and personalization can yield great results. However, results will vary with each individual company and campaign, so be ready in case something doesn’t go exactly right for you.

There’s no need to apply your segmentation strategy to your whole email list straight away. Start small, analyze the results, and then move on from there, rolling out proven methods to larger segments.

Test to see how various email marketing tools like MailChimp, Drip and AWeber can help you out. In fact, you can conduct split tests to find what content is best for a specific segment, play around with personalization and so on and so forth.

The trick to getting positive results from segmentation and personalization is to always continue trying out new ideas and methods until you find something that works just the way you want it to.

So good luck and buckle up, because you are in for a ride that will change how you email your subscribers!



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