Email segmentation: A best practices guide

27 Mar 2024  |  by Katie Harvard

9 min read

In 1978, Gary Thuerk created the first ever marketing campaign to be sent out via electronic mail. 45 years on, email marketing is still very much a relevant tool in every marketer’s toolbox (or should we say inbox), and isn’t going anywhere any time soon. There are more than 4 billion email users worldwide, and every inbox receives its fair share of the 347.3 billion emails sent every day. With numbers like these, the odds are stacked against you when it comes to your email marketing striking a chord with your would-be customers and clients. But as the number of emails and emailers rises, so too does the amount of technology at our disposal to tip the odds in our favour.

Email segmentation is one of the strategies used to make sure you’re getting the right messages to the right people, by segmenting your email subscribers into groups based on their attributes. This increases your chances of getting exactly the right information into someone’s inbox that’s likely to engage and convert them. Ready to get started?

What is email segmentation?

As mentioned, email segmentation is the term used to describe dividing your email recipients into groups, based on the traits they share that are likely to impact the way they respond to marketing campaigns and products. Segmentation is achieved through gathering data about your customers. The types of data and resulting segmentation can be divided into several categories, including: behavioural, demographic, psychographic, technographic, and geographic.

Every interaction with a customer or even a potential customer can provide you with data that you can then use to gain and keep their attention. It is a key element of personalisation - something that makes interactions with your brand much more memorable and enjoyable, and can drive engagement and conversion as a result. 

For example - you wouldn’t (or at least, you shouldn’t) send the same emails to loyal, regular, customers as you would to someone who hasn’t made a purchase or even opened messages for a few months. They’re likely to be in very different stages of their customer journey and, by extension, their relationship with your brand. By tailoring your communications you show you’re paying attention to your audience’s needs, and care about giving them a personalised experience.  

The key benefits of email segmentation

  • Email segmentation leads to higher engagement, which increases the chance of conversions.
  • Targeted campaigns keep customers loyal, strengthen their relationship with your business, and increase the likeliness of repeat purchases being made.
  • Email marketing can reduce cart abandonment by sending indecisive customers reminders and personalised incentives to convince them to complete their purchases.
  • It is also proven to increase your email marketing ROI, by making your email marketing campaigns more efficient and successful. 

How to go about email segmentation

While email segmentation is a guaranteed way to improve the success of your email marketing, there are conditions to this success. You can’t dive in without a clear plan of exactly what you want your segmentation to achieve, and how you hope to achieve it. 

Planning your email segmentation strategy

To be able to create a cohesive, constructive strategy, you will need to consider your business and its objectives, your audience, and the segments that will be the most beneficial to identify and target. While the exact process will vary depending on your business, here is a standard step-by-step guide you can follow.

Set your goals

Decide on the goals that you want your segmented email marketing to achieve. They might include:

  • Reducing churn
  • Increasing engagement
  • Encouraging repeat purchases

It’s important that your chosen goals align with your wider business objectives and don’t contradict them. For example, if one of your wider business aims is to increase customer retention, using email segmentation to send out targeted messages to encourage repeat purchases will feed into this goal.

Plan your tactics

There are a wide variety of email marketing tactics that can be made more effective through segmentation. Examples include:

  • Welcome emails - Triggered in the event of a new subscriber, welcome emails set the tone for your brand and often include some kind of promotion for newcomers. Segmenting welcome emails for retail might involve sending different emails to subscribers from different geographic locations, and tailoring their promotional material to their nearest store.
  • Abandoned cart emails - If a potential customer has filled their online cart but left your website at the last moment, you can send them emails to remind them they still need to check out. When these emails should be sent and whether or not they may need to include an extra incentive would be informed by looking at segmentation data.
  • Special date emails - Birthdays, anniversaries, public holidays and subscription anniversaries are all great reasons to send out some tailored email correspondence. This is the kind of personalisation that can really engage your customers, and make them feel valued. Segmentation could involve grouping customers by birth month in order to send birthday offers.
  • Upselling emails - Using data you have gathered on your regular customers, you can send emails suggesting complementary products, or upgrades on things they have previously bought from you. You might want to segment your emails depending on different customers’ interests and hobbies, and the products that would be most relevant to them.
  • Timebound emails - Whether promoting a flash sale or offering a discount for a limited time, these emails would need to be segmented to target customers who are known to frequently check their inbox and open correspondence from you. 

Identify key segments to create

Once you have decided on your email marketing tactic, the next step is to identify and create the necessary segments. Common types of segments to group your customers by include:

  • Behavioural e.g. shopping habits or social media use
  • Geographic e.g location
  • Technographic e.g. smartphone vs laptop users
  • Psychographic e.g. personality or attitude
  • Demographic e.g. age, income, or gender
  • Needs-based e.g. relevant to specific needs
  • Customer lifecycle stage e.g. new or returning customers

Depending on the information you need to create these segments, there are several ways the required data can be gathered. Some information will already be included in the details a customer gave when they subscribed, such as their age, gender, and location. Some will need determining from more in-depth research, such as surveys, questionnaires, or conducting focus group interviews.

This information becomes particularly useful when it comes to upsells and offers. For example, you wouldn’t send offers and family discounts on baby products or toys to a customer you know to be single and childless.

Send your email communications

Invest in an email marketing platform that has all of the features required to do your campaign justice. A platform with substantial automation capabilities will be worth its weight in gold for several reasons. The major benefit to using automated workflows to send out your emails is the time and energy it will save you in the long run - automation allows for emails to be sent automatically in response to specific events, e.g. cart abandonment, and removes the need for manual messaging.

Automated email marketing platforms make it easier to nurture leads by tracking metrics such as click-through rates and bounces. More capable of noticing patterns than the naked eye, as well as being able to carry out A/B testing, your chosen platform should be able to easily track and compare the performance of the different elements of your email marketing campaign. 

An email marketing platform will also be crucial in helping you stay on top of compliance and data handling regulations. They make it easier to track and manage subscriber consent and information. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of GDPR regulations, as failing to adhere to them can give your business a bad rep, not to mention hefty fines or further legal action. 

You may be confident with HTML coding your emails, or you might need help with designing them in the form of pre-made templates. Being able to build your email marketing campaigns from scratch or use existing designs as a springboard means you can develop your skills and confidence, and decide which method works best for you.

This may seem like a lot to think about - but the point is, an email marketing platform can do the majority of the thinking for you, leaving you with the decisions you actually care about making. A good platform should be able to do all of this and more.  

Review, test and review again

Your emails are ready and are being sent to your various segmented subscribers. Job done? Not quite. 

Reviewing and testing are critical to keep your email marketing segmentation successful. The focus of email segmentation is making sure that you’re sending the most relevant content to your audience - but what is considered ‘relevant’ is bound to change over time, and it’s important you keep pace.

Customer preferences and behaviours change, and you will need to update your communications accordingly. This is a positive process that will often involve being able to highlight your campaign’s successes as well as the areas that need work. You will then be able to clearly demonstrate this success to managers and stakeholders. Regular reviewing and retesting of your email marketing will also mean you can stay on top of marketing trends, avoid subscriber fatigue, and gather lots of performance data.

Example: Your initial goal was to increase email open rates among a particular segment of your audience. You test two different subject lines to see which is the more likely to encourage a customer to open the email. If a clear favourite becomes apparent, you can try to identify what about it is so appealing, and use this in further communications. 

One thing that may become apparent through reviewing and testing is the possibility of over-segmentation. While the desire to get the right information to the right people might have you breaking your audience up into increasingly smaller segments, this may not significantly impact your campaign’s overall performance - and might ultimately be a waste of time. Regular reviews of your tactics and emails will prevent this from happening, and give you a clear insight into what’s working well and what needs changing.

Let’s recap.

Email segmentation sends the right message - literally

Your subscribers are split into segments according to specific attributes, such as geographic location, shopping habits, or age range - these different groups can then receive targeted, personalised correspondence.

Email segmentation brings benefits

When executed properly, email segmentation is guaranteed to improve the quality and success of your email marketing efforts. It can increase engagement, reduce churn and bounce rates, and lead to increased customer loyalty and repeat purchases.

You need to plan

Don’t dive into email segmentation without first setting goals for what you want it to achieve. Keep these goals aligned with your wider business goals, and decide which individual tactics (e.g. welcome, upselling, or reminder emails) best fit them.

Create the right segments

Identify the different segments you need to reach with these emails, and how the details of your correspondence might vary as a result. Use this information to keep your emails relevant - e.g. summer holidays may vary depending on a customer’s worldwide location, so a ‘one-size-fits-all’ holiday promotion won’t be accurate.

Automate your emails

Pick the right email marketing platform, and all of your plans can be executed with the click of a button. Don’t waste time on repetitive manual tasks that could be easily automated. Aim for an email marketing platform that understands what you need and can support you from hitting send to the journey’s end.

Keep striving for better

It’s impossible to be so good at email marketing that you’ll never need to review and test your performance. Gather feedback and data both qualitative and quantitative, use A/B testing to your advantage, and strive to keep your content as relevant as can be. Every time you feel as though you’ve conquered a trend or technique, a new one will be visible on the horizon - or even closer than you think.

See how Apteco Orbit can support your email marketing

Data drives decision-making. Apteco software unearths the stories and patterns in your data and uses them to make sure you’re making the right calls for your campaigns. From email marketing to audience building, we can help you to make the connections between content and customers that lead to better results from your marketing efforts. With Apteco Orbit, all of this is possible through one intuitive platform.

For more information, or for a free trial or demo, take a look at what Apteco Orbit can do for you.


Katie Harvard

Marketing and brand specialist

Katie joined Apteco in 2017 and has worked in design and marketing for over 20 years. Before starting at Apteco, Katie refined her skills in advertising agencies and large global corporates. In 2012 she started her own marketing consultancy which she ran until she moved to the UK. Katie is passionate about design and branding. 

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