We’re all looking for ways to increase email open rates. By far, the most effective strategy I’ve found is email segmentation. Doing things like experimenting with subject lines, A/B testing, and finding the optimal day/time to send your newsletter are all great ways to help you increase open rates. But if you’re looking for results, try these email segmentation strategies.
When you segment your list, you’re sending an email to a portion of your subscribers. It’s a way of getting information people want to the people who want it.
For quick reference, here are the five steps of email segmentation:
When you try email segmentation for the first time, it can be like magic. Using this tactic, you may be able to more than double your open rate.
If you want to use this tactic, you’ll have to get off of autopilot for a little bit to think strategically as to how you’ll use segments to your advantage and to set up your groups. However, I think it’s a very worthwhile investment.
Step 1: Decide how to organize your email subscribers
When you’re just getting started, think about a few groups you’d like to target. Ask yourself: How do you divide your content? Who is your audience?
For example, let’s say your organization runs computer programming camps for teen girls. You may organize your list into parents, volunteers, donors/sponsors, and prospective campers.
The difference between groups and segments in MailChimp
In MailChimp, you can sort your subscribers into “groups” and “segments.” Groups organize people by their interests and preferences. Segments are filters, usually based on an action they’ve taken. For example, you may create a group for volunteers. Then, you may create a segment of subscribers that includes volunteers who didn’t open any of your last five campaigns.
Sound confusing? That’s ok. You don’t need to understand the difference between groups and segments right now – just know that we’ll be using both in this guide.
At this stage, what’s most important is for you to think about who you’d like to target, what kind of content you might send those targeted groups, and how you might be able to identify subscribers in those groups.
Step 2: Sort your existing list and set up tracking for future subscribers
These are all optional, but highly recommended, ways to put your subscribers into groups – there are still a lot of ways to segment your list without doing any of these steps. Skim this list and choose which tactics, if any, would help you reach your goals.
Create groups in MailChimp
To create groups, select your list. In the “Manage subscribers” tab, select “Groups.”
On the right, click “Create Groups” and choose the options you’d like.
Set up merge tags on your website
You should have sign up forms on just about every page of your website. If you add a tag to the MailChimp form code, you’ll be able to know which page or section people signed up from.
Think about how your content is divided on your website and the groups you want to reach. How can you tag the sections of your website in a way that will help you target certain audiences?
Let’s go back to the example of the organization that runs computer programming camps for teen girls. If their website is divided into separate sections for parents, volunteers, donors/sponsors, and prospective campers, they could tag the enewsletter sign-up forms with the appropriate tag for each section. Then they can send relevant information to those specific audiences.
Note: You may have to work with your web developer to create sections for your enewsletter sign-up forms on different sections of your website. If you just have one form at the footer of your site, for example, you may not be able to insert the MailChimp tag on different sections.
Here’s how you can create a new tag for your list:
First, go to your list in MailChimp. Select the down arrow and choose “Settings.”
Select “List fields and *|MERGE|* tags.”
In the “Field label and type,” add a label that makes sense to you. I use “Sign up source.” Make sure the “Visible?” box is unchecked (this prevents the field from showing on your website form).
Be sure to scroll down and save your changes!
Now that your merge tag is set up, go to the section of your website you want to add the tag. In your sign-up form code, add this before the “Submit” button:
<input id=”MMERGE3″ name=”MMERGE3″ type=”hidden” value=”volunteer_section” />
It will look something like this: Make sure the “MMERGE3” value corresponds with the “Field label and type” you want to track (so if it’s MMERGE4 for your list, make sure your code says MMERGE4 instead). Change the “value” to whatever you’d like to name your tag.
Congrats! Your merge tags are set up!
Sort people into groups from webinars and events
If you run webinars, this is a great opportunity to sign attendees up for your email list (do make sure there’s a disclaimer somewhere when they sign up that they will also be added to your newsletter list). In the webinar sign up form, you can ask people to select the topics they want to hear about from you and/or why they are interested in your topic. Basically, you can have people self-select to opt-in to your existing groups when they register for your webinar.
If you have in-person events, this is another opportunity to have people self-select which group(s) they want to opt-in to on your sign-up sheet.
For past webinars or in-person events, you can put people into groups based on the topic of the event. For example, if your webinar or event was an orientation for new volunteers, you can put everyone who attended that event into the “volunteers” group.
Use your existing database to segment your enewsletter list
You can use your database as another opportunity to segment your subscribers. MailChimp integrates with many kinds of databases, and if yours is compatible, you may be able to sort people into groups within MailChimp.
If your database doesn’t integrate with MailChimp, you’ll still be able to use it (just make sure the people you’re uploading to MailChimp are subscribed to your list). All you need to do is download a spreadsheet of the people you’d like to add to a certain group. Make sure you have separate spreadsheets for each group and that you save them as .csv files.
Here’s how you can add current subscribers to your groups:
- Go to your list in MailChimp. From the drop-down menu on the right, select “Import.”
- Choose “Integrated service” if your database links with MailChimp, or “CSV or tab-delimited text file” if you’re uploading a spreadsheet.
- Select the file you want, check the box that says you understand your billing plan may be automatically upgraded, and click “Next.”
- Match each column to a MailChimp field. Once you’ve matched all the columns in your list, click “Next.”
- Check the box to add imported subscribers to your groups. Select the group(s) you want to add your subscribers to.
- Check the box to auto-update your existing list. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. If you don’t do this, your groups will not be updated.
- Click “Import” and you’re done!
Step 3: Set up your initial email segments
Now that you have several ways to sort your list, you may find that you now have more than one way to track the same type of person or people with the same interest. For example, let’s say I have two ways of knowing if someone is a volunteer: if they signed up for my newsletter from the volunteer section of my website or if they marked that they were interested in volunteering in my sign-up form at an in-person event. Since I have more than one way of knowing if a subscriber is interested in volunteering, I need to create a segment in MailChimp if I want to email all the volunteers in my list.
To do this, navigate to your list. In the “Manage subscribers” tab, click the “Segments” option. This is where you can combine groups and/or segments in your list.
Here is an example of what a “volunteer” email segment might look like:
Step 4: Set up a schedule for your email segmentation strategy
Now that you have your groups set up and populated, this is the fun part. Trust me, it’s tempting to go a little crazy.
The purpose of segmenting your list is to send super relevant information to those groups. Keep in mind how frequently you want to contact your subscribers. I’d suggest you cap your emails at double your normal rate when you’re just getting started. For example, if you regularly send out a newsletter once a month, I’d suggest that you don’t send more than two emails a month when you start segmenting your list. Some people will be on multiple lists, so you don’t want to suddenly inundate your subscribers with a ton of emails.
Here is a email segmentation strategy example:
- Monthly newsletter, sent to entire list
- Email highlighting volunteer profiles, opportunities, and trainings, sent to volunteer segment
- Monthly newsletter, sent to entire list
- Email with FAQs from campers, sent to prospective camper segment
- Monthly newsletter, sent to entire list
- Email with FAQs from parents, sent to parent segment
- Monthly newsletter, sent to entire list
- Email highlighting stories of where campers are now, sent to donor segment
You’ll notice that in this sample schedule I still maintain the regular monthly newsletter. I’m just adding a focused email in between that I’ll only send to one segment.
I recommend this strategy for a couple reasons: First, the regular newsletter gives everyone on the list an opportunity to get a taste of a variety of content. This is important because some of your content will inevitably overlap, and groups may also be interested in more than one type of content. Second, this gives you an opportunity to continue segmenting your list based on activity (see step 5).
I like to think of the monthly newsletter as a taste of everything that’s happening in the organization. Then the segmented emails are an opportunity to send additional targeted information to those groups (which can be featured in the main monthly newsletter as well!).
Step 5: Continue segmenting after they’ve subscribed to your list
Now that you’ve got the hang of segmenting your list, let’s keep the momentum going. When people open certain emails or click on certain links, I like to put them into my existing groups or segments.
I think this is super helpful because this tells me what people are interested in without me assuming that they’re interested in certain kinds of content just because they belong to a certain group.
For example, let’s say I sent an email to my entire list highlighting all the different ways people can volunteer and get involved in the organization. Since the main topic was about volunteering, I’m going to assume that anyone who opened it may have some interest in learning about ways to volunteer, so I’d like to add them to my existing “volunteer” segment.
To do this, we need to go back to our list in MailChimp. In the “Manage subscribers” tab, click the “Segments” option. Click the “edit” button on the right next to the segment you want to add information to. Add a condition and select “Campaign Activity.” Then choose the newsletter that was on the topic of volunteer opportunities and save your segment.
Here is how your updated segment might look:
Not too bad, right?
Now, if you’re like me and you send out a newsletter to your entire list that includes a variety of links, this makes things a little more challenging. How do you know if someone opened the email because they were interested in volunteer opportunities? What if they were interested in the advice for parents? Or they wanted to read information about the new program you’re rolling out?
In this case, the only way to truly know which topic there were interested in is by which link they clicked.
Unfortunately, right now in MailChimp there’s no easy way to add people to groups or segments by the specific link they clicked. But I think I’ve found a pretty good workaround.
There’s an app for MailChimp called Mail Bonobo that makes segmenting your list based on clicks really easy! Using that app, I only spend about a quarter of the time segmenting my list vs. doing it completely manually.
However, it is still a pretty new app so it can be a little buggy sometimes. If it’s not working for you, there’s still the completely manual way to do it. It takes longer, but it works every time.
Here’s how to manually add people to groups based on the links they clicked in your newsletter:
- Navigate to the “Campaigns” tab in MailChimp.
- Click the “View Report” button to the right of the campaign you want to analyze.
- Click on the “Activity” drop-down menu, then select “Clicked.”
- Click the “Export as CSV” button and open the file. This will give you all the information you have about each subscriber, including which link(s) they clicked in that particular campaign. In the Excel sheet, it’s helpful to widen the URL columns so you can see the full link. I also delete the other columns besides the email address because it clutters my view.
- Copy all the subscriber information for each link onto separate Excel sheets. For example, if a link was related to parent resources, I would copy all of those emails into a separate spreadsheet so I can import them into the “parents” group. Continue copying and pasting emails into separate spreadsheet for all the relevant links until you’ve gotten to the end of the list. Save each spreadsheet as a CSV file.
- Upload each list to their respective group in MailChimp.
Since this method is a little time-intensive, I only do this about once a quarter. But I definitely think it’s worth the extra effort!
Happy segmenting! Let me know in the comments how segmenting has helped increase your open rates 🙂
Share this post on Twitter!
— Rebecca Reyes (@mnrebs) October 24, 2015