How To Use Segmented Lists to Personalize Email Marketing

By Rhonda Bradley / 28 August 2018

Learn how to segment and tailor your email marketing in order to increase your email open and click rates.

If you use email marketing for your business, chances are you keep a close eye on email open and click rates. 

Engagement rates are a key factor of success for most email marketing campaigns, and one of the best ways to improve them is by segmenting your subscribers into lists in order to personalize their experience.

Segmenting your email lists isn’t expensive or extraordinarily time-consuming. But, lists do require a bit of understanding and effort in order to succeed.

In this article, we’ll take a look at ways that segmented emails lists are used, and show you how to ask subscribers for the information you need to personalize your email content.

Why Segment Your Email Lists?

Email lists allow you to segment subscribers into groups so you can personalize the content you send to them.

According to a 2017 survey by Campaign Monitor, 57% of marketers say that personalization is their most effective email tactic. 

Email lists are built on factual customer information that helps you determine what email content is relevant to different subscribers.

Here are examples of segmented lists that a brand might create:

  • Subscribers who have purchased in the past
  • Subscribers who are in a free-trial phase
  • Subscribers who work in upper-level management

Creating email lists lets you to personalize email content for different groups of people.

What Does It Mean to Personalize Email Content?

Years ago, when people used the term “personalize” in relation to email marketing, it meant that the subscriber's name was included in the email.

That’s no longer the case.

Personalizing in 2018 means tailoring your email content to different groups of people, and delivering specific types of content based on that information.

For example, here’s how you might tailor content to the segmented lists we mentioned above:

  • For subscribers who have purchased in the past, you can offer:
    • “Refer-a-Friend” promotional specials
    • Product updates
  • For subscribers who are in a free-trial phase, you can offer:
    • Tips on how to use the service
    • Links to onsite tutorials
  • For subscribers who work in upper-level management, you can offer:
    • White papers
    • "State of the Industry" reports

Personalizing emails also means excluding certain types of content. For example, brands can avoid sending 1st-time promotional offers to customers who have already purchased from them in the past.

Another way that some brands personalize content is by geography. For example, the email below comes from Instacart grocery delivery service and is tailored to the precise stores that exist within the subscriber's zip code.

Instacart screenshot

Not only does the Instacart email do a great job of promoting their services, but the personalization lets the reader know that the company pays attention to their individual account.

How to Build Lists That Help You Tailor Email Content

The first step in list-building is deciding how to personalize your content. There are many different categories you can cater to, and your choices will depend on what type of products or services you’re promoting.

Begin by deciding how you’d like to segment your lists and what type of information you’ll need to collect from subscribers.

For example, useful information to collect from subscribers can include:

  • Topics: What subjects are most relevant to this person’s home or work life? 
  • Industry: What industry does the person work in?
  • Management level: Is the person in lower, mid, or upper management?
  • Location: What country, city, and zip code is the customer located in?
  • Reading habits: What type of content does the person like to read and interact with in their spare time?
  • Behavior: The term “behavior” refers to how the subscriber interacts with your website, social media, and emails marketing.

For example, determine if the the subscriber has completed any of these transactions on your website:

  • Made a purchase
  • Used promotional codes
  • Signed up for a free trial

Or, have they clicked on links within your emails, and if so, what types are they most likely to click on?

  • Social media preferences: Understanding a person’s favorite platforms can help you to gain a sense of how they like to interact with other brands, and what type of content best engages them.

By collecting information like this, you can better understand what type of email content will appeal to a customer.

How to Gather Subscriber Information

There are many ways to get the information you need for email lists. Asking for personal details when a person first signs up for your email list is not one of them.

Before you ask for subscribers’ personal details, you need to build trust. 

So, keep your initial signup form simple. It’s okay to ask for a name and email address at the time of signup, but if you ask for more, you may lose the conversion.


Once a person has subscribed to your brand’s emails, you can begin collecting personal details that help you tailor their content. Here are 4 tactful ways you can request personal information:

  • 1. Offer enhanced content in exchange for filling out a form, and promote that content to your email list.

If you’re a B2B business, then content like whitepapers and industry reports are a valuable resource. So, you can offer access to whitepapers and reports in exchange for personal information from your subscribers.

You might include questions like “What industry are you in?” or “What level of management are you?”

For example, HubSpot offers a vast library of resources for marketers. 

HubSpot screenshot

To download a free resource, the reader fills out a form that includes personal details about their company.

HubSpot screenshot 2

if your industry is retail-oriented instead of B2B, you can offer coupon codes and special deals in exchange for completing forms that ask for personal information.

The questions you ask will vary depending on what your brand needs to know to assign each subscriber to appropriate lists.

  • 2. Add a preference center to your email list.

One of the best ways to learn what type of content your subscribers want to receive is by allowing them to choose their own content through an email preference center.

An email preference center is a page that lets your customers pick and choose the categories they’re interested in learning more about.

For example, in the footer of all its emails, AdAge magazine offers a menu item called “email preferences.”

AdAge screenshot

The link takes you to a large selection of categories. Below is a sample of some of the options AdAge subscribers have to choose from.

AdAge email preferences

When subscribers are given control over the content they wish to see, they may be more likely to engage with their emails.

  • 3. Track the content your subscribers interact with.

Use your email marketing software to track clicks within your emails. Tracking clicks is one way to understand what type of content is most compelling to different groups of subscribers.

For example, if you’re in the restaurant business you might send emails with topics like breakfast, lunch, vegan foods, and steak specials. 

When a customer clicks on a promotion for vegan lunch specials, this is a great opportunity to add them to a list of non-meat eaters. 

Then, you can deliver more email content about the vegan lifestyle or the fabulous vegan entrees on your menu.

This type of personalized content is a good way to help boost both your open and click rates, because customers feel that you’re catering to their needs.

  • 4. Include opinion polls, quizzes or tests in your emails.

Opinion polls and quizzes can be an engaging form of content for email subscribers. For example, you can offer a quiz that tests their marketing skills. Or, ask subscribers for their opinion on something that’s trending in your industry.

There are many ways to gather personal information about your subscribers that will help you to make their emails more interesting and valuable to them. 

Learn 3 email storytelling techniques for your business.

Take Advantage of Segmented Lists to Boost Your Email Open and Click Rates

There are many ways to build email lists that allow you to personalize content for your subscribers. Fortunately, you can automate most of the process through your email marketing software provider.

If you’re new to segmented email lists, take the time to learn how they work. Most email marketing providers offer thorough training. 

Take it slow in the beginning by creating a small number of lists, and build up to multiple lists to further personalize your email marketing as you grow.

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