How Email List Segmentation Works – and Why It Costs You Money

Welcome to Edition #4 of the World’s Most Dangerous Unnamed Email Marketing newsletter. You’re going to see:

  • How email list segmentation works
  • Email segmentation examples
  • Why email segmentation can cost you money.

Let’s go!

What Is Email List Segmentation? 

Email list segmentation is just what it sounds like – turning your email list into smaller segments based on data. You can create segments based on product purchase history, demographics, geography, and more. Segmenting lists is a key skill for email marketers because it’s a great way to generate ideas for sales and content emails.

What Are the Benefits of Email List Segmentation?

Segmenting your list lets you tailor content and sales messages for specific groups of people. And it’s one of the biggest reasons email works so well for marketing.

This way, your individual emails will be more effective because you target individual interests and behaviors. You can expect much higher open and click rates for highly segmented emails, which can benefit your overall email deliverability.

And I’m going to give you tons of ideas for segmenting your list today.

Why Email Segmentation Is Costing You Money

Down the page, I’m going to explain why 99% of email marketers get email list segmentation wrong. 

But do not skip ahead to the end to learn why – read this entire article because you must understand the basics.

How to Segment Your List With an Email Service Provider

Most email companies use what are called “tags” to segment an email list.

A “tag” is a marker on a person’s account that denotes a specific behavior.

These tags are applied when the contact does certain things like:

  • Click a link
  • Buy a product
  • Fill out a form or survey
  • Visits a certain web page or shopping cart

This allows you to search through your list to create segments of people.

Here are two tags inside my ActiveCampaign account:

activecampaign tags

So if I wanted to get a list of people who took my “7 Deadly Email Marketing Strategies” ebook, I could search for people with that tag.

Email service provider allows you to set up automations and rules to automatically apply these tags at the right moment.

Now let’s look at different ways to segment your email list:

Product Purchase History

Buying history is one of the most valuable pieces of information you can have as an email marketer.

Your buyers are your most engaged fans, as evidenced by them paying you money (duh).

They believe in you.

So you should market to them aggressively. Remember, the best way to make more money is to sell more stuff to current customers.

Say you sell subscriptions. You could go to your monthly subscribers and offer them a discount on an annual subscription.

You should target past buyers first when you launch anything with quantity-based scarcity.

Say you have a high-ticket coaching program limited to 10 people.

You might fill the first 5 or 6 spots by targeting existing customers first.

Then you can go out to your broader audience and say “5 of the 10 spots are already taken!*”

*please do not lie about this

Stage in Your Funnel

You should always know where people are in your funnel so you can avoid interrupting them with the wrong messages.

So this is more about excluding.

If you just hosted a webinar and attendees are getting 7 sales emails going out over the next 3 days, don’t send those people any other messages.

You do not want to interrupt someone while they are in a specific funnel.

So use email list segmenting to avoid sending to those folks.

The most common form of email segmentation based on a person’s stage in a funnel is a welcome sequence, which are emails that go to people who just joined your list.

Product Interest & Website Behavior

It’s critical to know which people are interested in which products.

You can assess this through:

  • What people click on in your emails
  • What web pages and shopping carts they hit
  • Optin forms
  • Past purchase behavior
  • Ads they’ve clicked on

Because if someone’s visited your sales page for your copywriting course, odds are they’re interested in that course.

So you want to pay special attention to those folks.

But you’re probably asking “how do I know which people are visiting which pages?”

Email service providers have WordPress plugins or code you can add to your sites to track visitors.

Here’s ActiveCampaign’s as an example:

Just note that site tracking constitutes personal data so you may need a cookie warning.

And you should absolutely pay extra attention to:

Shopping Cart Visitors

People who hit your shopping carts or sales pages have the highest potential to buy.

So it makes sense to set up automations to get extra emails to those people.

Amazon makes extensive use of these emails.

I was shopping for new computer monitors, and they sent me this email:

Engagement Level

I monitor my emails subscribers’ engagement through open and click rates because they do a decent job of measuring how active people are.

In my ActiveCampaign account, I have an automation showing the last time people have engaged with my emails.

*names and photos blurred for privacy reasons

Just be aware that open rates are very inaccurate

You can’t rely on them 100%.

But remember, imperfect data is not the same thing as worthless.

I use engagement level as more of a list-cleaning tool than anything else.

Every 90 days, I look at people who haven’t opened or clicked an email, and I message them saying “click this or you’re off my list.”

Yes, I know you want a big, big list, but it’s more important to have a healthy list. 

So use engagement levels to segment out unengaged email contacts.

Lead Scoring

Many email service providers have a function called “Lead Scoring.”

Lead Scoring is using data to rate your leads.

You can assign points for things like:

  • Opening or clicking emails
  • Buying products
  • Demographic information
  • Website visits

The idea is that you create a custom formula that shows you who your best leads are.

Of course, this requires you to know a great deal about your audience.

Traffic Source

Where your traffic comes from can matter a lot.

That’s why I track where my subscribers come from.

You’ll find that your best customers come from specific sources.

For example, you may find that leads from YouTube convert better than leads from Twitter.

Or, you may get better email engagement from website leads than TikTok leads.


You can also use this data to cross-promote social media feeds.

If someone joins your list from Instagram, tell them to follow you on Twitter.

And vice versa.


If you run affiliate programs, you want to pay extra-special close attention to your affiliates.

Segment these people out so you can send special messages to keep your relationships strong. 

It’s common for a handful of affiliates to generate the bulk of affiliate sales, so do everything you can to keep them happy.


Most email providers can tell you where your subscribers came form.

My ActiveCampaign account has location info on about 90% of my subscribers.

Here’s a partial screenshot showing locations on some of my subscribers:

You could use this information to send different offers to different regions. For example, you can focus on lower-ticket offers for people in emerging markets.

Or, if you’re hosting a live in-person event, you may want to send extra messages to people in the location of the event.

And if you’re a retail chain, you could send emails promoting events in specific regions or stores.

Of course, remember that people in different time zones can receive messages at different times of day. Many email service providers allow you to time emails based on the receiver’s time zone.


Having demographic data on your audience can be very valuable.

Because if you know people’s age, gender, income, etc., you can base individual messages on those factors.

However, there’s no real reason to segment based upon demographics, unless there is a real reason one group can’t buy a certain type of product.

Roka isn’t sending men emails about women’s sunglasses.

Wal-Mart’s not going to send college kids messages about hearing aids.

And unless you’re a really big company like Citibank or the New York Times, your email list will not be very diverse.

If you have a crypto currency newsletter, most of your audience will be young men in their 20’s and 30’s.

If you’re a makeup brand, most of your audience will be women.

This data can also be very hard to collect.

So don’t sweat demographic data. You’re much better off focusing on people’s goals, as I explain in this video:

By now you have at least 10 ideas for segmenting your email list.

And now I’m going to explain why email segmentation can cost you money.

How Email List Segmentation Costs You Money – The Big Problem

The big problem with email list segmentation is that it violates the 500,000 email rule: “when you send more emails, you make more money.”

Assume you sell online video courses teaching social media marketing, and you’re launching your new “Email Marketing for TikTok Influencers” course.

You have 10,000 people on your list.

And through online surveys and optin forms entries,1,000 people expressed interest in TikTok.

The question becomes which option “will make you more money?”

  • The entire 10,000 person list
  • The 1,000 people who expressed interested in TikTok

The answer is obvious – the full 10,000 person list.

You’re gonna get 5 or 10 times as many clicks to your sales page or shopping cart.

You may not make 5 or 10 times as much money — but you’ll make a lot more.

You Don’t Have Perfect Data

You don’t have perfect data on your entire email list.

You have some of it.

You may think your audience in India can’t afford your expensive products.

But what if your audience there is full of wealthy people?

Or you may think someone’s not interested in your product because they haven’t clicked on your content emails for the past month.

But what if they follow you on Twitter and get their entertainment there?

You may also think a person’s not qualified to buy your coaching program because they haven’t bought your video course.

But what if they bought your video course under a different email address? (yes this happens A LOT)

There’s a million ways to slice this up.

You give me a way to segment an email list, and I’ll show you 10 reasons why it may not be valid.

Plus most people are interested in one more thing.

Influencers are on Instagram and TikTok.

Golfers want to know how to drive and putt. 

Apple iPhone buyers want AirPods.

Copywriters want to learn email marketing.

Email marketers want to learn conversion rate optimization.

Plus, when you maximize your send volume, you build awareness for your products and you even get people to say “I didn’t even know I wanted that thing!”


Why Targeting Your Message Is More Important Than Email List Segmentation

Smart email marketers use data to create more interesting targeted messages, rather than finding excuses to send emails to fewer people.

Segmenting your email sends will give you higher open rates and click rates (and is good for email deliverability), but fewer dollars.

You should analyze your list data and demographics to find interesting ideas for sales messages.

And then blast those messages to as many emails as possible – not as few as possible!

This is most important at the top of your funnel and with your entry-level products. You want as many eyeballs on them as possible.

Let’s go back to our TikTok example above. What’s going to make you more money?

  • Sending to 1,000 people who expressed interest in TikTok
  • Sending to your entire 10,000-person list

The 10,000 person list.

Because remember, inside that 10,000 person list are the 1,000 TikTok people… plus a lot of other people that are into TikTok that you don’t know about.

The Bottom Line on Email List Segmentation

Look for reasons to INCLUDE people in your email sends.

Don’t try to EXCLUDE people.

Every time I used segmentation to exclude people from email sends, I made way less money.

When I blasted to everyone, I made more money.

If you run a clean, healthy email list full of engaged contacts, you are not going to run into problems with deliverability.

So send often, send hard, and most important – SEND TO LOTS OF PEOPLE!

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