Understanding how to segment your email contacts is the biggest key to increasing email marketing effectiveness. 

I get a lot of email. Like most of you I delete a good amount of it before I ever even look at it. I take a quick peek at the subject line, who is sending it and whether or not I think the content is something I need to devote more time to. Based on that information I decide whether to open it immediately, flag it so I can read it later or whether I just delete the message.

It really is that simple. The key to a good email marketing strategy is to make sure that you are thinking about how you would react to the same type of email and adjusting your efforts to make sure your email marketing doesn’t suck.

Let’s disect one of my recent email campaigns and see if we cant help you understand the value of segmenting your email lists and targeting your message in order to get a higher open percentage. 

For goodness sake, use a reputable Email Service Provider

Please don’t let me catch you copying and pasting an excel column into your gmail or yahoo email to send mass emails. That is a very good way to end up falling in to spam traps and getting flagged as a spammer, not to mention that there is no way to track your email marketing campaign if you just send it from your personal account like that.

Trust me, do yourself a favor and set up a free account with MailChimp or Constant Contact for your email campaigns. I use HubSpot’s email marketing tool for most of my emails but I still use MailChimp once in a while. It is free, user friendly and they give you great analytics.

Your email marketing will never get better if you try to do it all through your personal email client.

Define the reason for your email marketing campaign

The purpose of the email campaign we are breaking down in this example was to announce some changes to our website, mention a few of our recent accomplishments and try to increase our social media engagement. I was specifically trying to target a group of people who I know personally, but have not contacted in a while so I was reaching out to let them know what we have been up to over the last year.

By defining a specific purpose you can make sure you know who you want to receive the message, what you want to tell them and more importantly, you can decide who to leave off of each specific campaign.

Spend time on the subject line

The subject line might be more important than the email itself. After all, if no one opens your email then the stuff inside doesn’t matter right? Spend as much time crafting the subject line of your email as you do preparing the entire email itself. Seriously, do not underestimate the importance of a good headline for your email.

  • Keep your subject line on topic. Make sure it is in line with what is in the email.
  • Don’t get spammy. Stay away from phrases like “open now”, “must read” or anything cheesy like that.
  • Shorter is better but there is no real rule of thumb. Just don’t make it a mile long.
  • Personalizing the subject line is great unless you get it wrong!

Segment your email lists

This is probably the most important part of running an effective email marketing campaign. If you are just throwing every email you get on to one list then you will eventually kill that list by sending every one the same message every time you send an email.

Segmenting your lists is pretty simple if you are using an inbound marketing tool like HubSpot but MailChimp and Constant Contact both give you ways to segment your lists. The thought process here is that you want to make sure you are only sending people messages with information that they are interested in.

An easy strategy for segmenting your list is to break down your products/services, or whatever it is your company does, by category. Then create a list for each of those segments of your business. Just because you are segmenting your email contacts doesn’t mean that people cannot be on multiple lists, you just want to make sure that people are getting information that is relevant to their interests.

The open percentage and click through rates for your email campaigns are almost wholly controlled by how well you segment your lists. Not to mention you cut down on your unsubscribe ratio by limiting the number of people who receive unwanted emails from you.

Breaking Down Your Email Marketing Analytics


Open Ratio: In this example I am using MailChimp and I sent this email to 588 people. You can see that 44.6% of the people I sent the email to opened it which is well above the 17.6% industry average for this type of list as well as considerably higher than the average open ratio for this particular list. The unopened stats are also important. You can see I am well below the industry average.

The reason behind such a high open ratio for this campaign is because I personalized this email and sent it out from my personal email address (you can set the sent “from” and “reply to” email address in every email client worth using) and included my name in the subject line. I told them it was a personal note from me and my company. Not to be repetitive but the subject line in your email marketing is very important and should reflect what is inside the message. In this instance I wanted to personalize the subject line because I had not talked to some of these people in a while and had not sent them any emails in a while. I wanted to add a personal touch just to make the email seem a little more warm and inviting. I would not recommend this on a regular basis as it can lead to desensitizing people to your messages. Not to mention that if you personalize the subject field and the message is not personalized it will just end up leading to a higher unsubscribe rate.


Unsubscribe rates: If you are properly segmenting your lists these numbers should be pretty low. I had 6 unsubscribers on this campaign which is higher than the industry average. Honestly I screwed up on the list and included an iTunes email, along with two other automated emails in the list so I had to manually unsubscribe a few of them which took me over the top. This is just a good example of how even the pro’s get it wrong once in a while.

There were no complaints on this email marketing campaign which is what you should shoot for every time. If you are doing a good job of segmenting your lists this should not be a problem. If you are sending your emails to every person you ever meet or are buying your email lists then you might see some high numbers here and that is no bueno!

Scrub Your Lists

You will inevitably have some soft or hard bounces throughout the course of your email marketing efforts but as long as you are scrubbing your list your open ratio should be consistently improving. Every email client that I talk about in this article automatically scrubs your email lists for you. This should not be something you spend a lot of time worrying about unless you are transferring from one client to the other.

Scrubbing your list simply means removing failed email addresses and eliminating bounced emails. Essentially the software is making sure you are keeping your list as fresh and as current as possible. If your list is a little older the you might have a higher than normal bounce rate or unsubscribe ratio. As long as you scrub your lists these problems should sort themselves out over time. Just make sure you don’t keep importing bad data in to a new list as it is common for old email addresses to be converted to spam traps and those are no fun.

Give people control over their subscriptions

All of your email marketing should have subscription management links at the bottom. At bare minimum you need to have an unsubscribe link but more options here are always good. For example, what if someone no longer wants to receive emails about the widgets you sell but they still want your monthly newsletters? If their only option is an unsubscribe link then you run the risk of them quitting all of your lists. Instead you should allow them to manage their subscriptions so they can pick the information they want to receive from you. There is no better way to segment your lists than by having your subscribers segment themselves.

Finally, if you are delivering great content then you shouldn’t be getting a bunch of unsubscribes anyway. That should be the goal anyway. You need to make sure that the stuff you send out is something that you would be ok with receiving. If you keep that simple rule in mind you will be well on your way to becoming a master email marketer.

What do you think? Any email marketing tips I missed? Any secrets you want to share? Leave it in the comments!

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