5 Ways to Segment Email for Better Performance

5 ways to segment

Long gone [should be] the days of sending bulk email willy-nilly. With so many best practices and algorithms determining inbox placement, sending one version of an email to one gigantic list is typically not the right move. Instead, email marketers should segment email. 

There are a bunch of different ways you can segment your mail, but the most popular methods sit underneath two umbrellas: based on behavior and based on type. 

If you want to improve your email performance, we highly recommend testing and optimizing your distributions using the following segmentation options. 

First, Though: Why Segment Email? 

Yes, email segmentation can get complicated. For lots of senders, it’s much easier to have one list with all recipients on it so when you’re ready to send mail, you pick the list and let it fly. 

However, recipients are unique. Their needs and interests are different. Their behavior varies. Treating everyone exactly the same is similar to assuming mailbox providers (MBPs) treat every piece of mail the same. Unfortunately…they don’t, so neither should you. 

Segmenting your mail can make a major impact on your email performance when you do it correctly, based on your goals. If you want more engagement to improve your sender reputation and deliverability, segmentation is an answer. If you want to rest fully assured your most critical email, like receipts or password resets, is being delivered reliably, segmentation can help you there, too. 

But beyond segmenting to improve performance, you should segment to avoid risk. Think about it: If your only stream of mail gets blocked at Hotmail, ALL those messages aren’t being delivered. If you have receipts mixed in with marketing mail…shudder. 

Segmentation doesn’t have to be a very complex ordeal, but even the smallest amount of segmentation can go a long way.  

Let’s start looking at how to do the dang thing. 

Segment Email by Recipient 

One of the most intuitive ways to segment email is by recipient. Using recipient behavior or attributes is a great way to build quality lists to align with the goals of your email, be it your intention to sell more product or just make sure you’re communicating important information quickly and reliably. It opens up a world of testing, where you can see what messages or styles are working, what groups are most engaged, and so on. 

But before we talk about the ways you can slice and dice your lists, there’s a very large elephant in the room: data quality. 

Segmenting by recipient means you need data about your recipients. And that data needs to be accurate! We’re not just talking about what their eye color is, either. You could have multiple records for the same person, or your data can be old and incomplete. Maybe only 50% of your contacts have a full profile in your CRM, leaving out important data you could be using to put them on the right lists. 

And yes, we said “lists,” so you’ll also have to be attuned to how much email you’re sending to any given person, because if Person A is on four lists, the last thing you want to do is send them four emails in a very short timeframe. 

TL;DR is segmenting by recipient can be tricky. The risk is usually worth the reward, but we suggest you prioritize data quality and find a way to organize and structure segmentation intelligently to improve your performance rather than hinder it. 

For the sake of education, let’s assume you live in a world of sparkling clean data! Here are some ways you can use it to improve your email performance. 

1. Segment by Behavior 

One of the best ways to group recipients is by their own behavior. For instance, you can create a segment of people who consistently open your mail. If someone’s opened the last two messages you’ve sent, they can go on your “engaged” list. Likewise, if you have folks who haven’t interacted with the last four messages, perhaps they go on an “unengaged” or “at-risk” list. 

Doing this successfully is a great way to better target your email. More relevant mail means a greater likelihood you’re going to say the right thing to the right person.  

Better email should mean more revenue from your email marketing.  

Beyond cold, hard cash, you can also help improve the performance of your email in a more holistic sense. If you need to boost your sender reputation after a few less-than-ideal campaigns, you can spend some time emailing your most engaged recipients to cash in on their positive engagement. 

Using behavior for segmentation also helps you understand how you should operate your email program. If you have a chunk of folks who only open your email once per month, you can create a monthly distribution for them to cut down on the noise (and reduce their opportunities for hitting “unsubscribe” or marking your email as spam.) The opportunities are endless. 

To segment email by behavior, you should look at your email performance data. Most ESPs will give you information like opens and clicks, so you can identify your engaged recipients and then manually build a list. Figure out your parameters and then look through your data to see who fits the bill. Divvy them up by their activity and voila, you’re segmenting by behavior. 

2. Segment by Demographics 

Data quality rears its head again!  

Our next suggestion is to segment your lists by demographics, but it’s important to note again this is dependent on the amount and quality of data you keep on your recipients. That said, demographics or attributes are a granular way to segment mail for better performance and if you can pull it off, it opens an [almost] endless world of testing possibilities. 

Using demographics or attributes are a great way to get a sense of your audience and their preferences. Asking for personal data can be tricky, but you can build profiles using things like: 

  • User-provided profiles 
  • User-provided preferences 
  • Purchase history 

For example, if you have shipping information on your customers, you could create a list of recipients who live in cold climates. You could look at purchase history and group together folks who bought women’s clothes in the last six months. Do you ask your customers if they have kids? Create a child-focused list for those who have rugrats at home. 

Segmenting your lists by demographics can be an incredible way to reach your users on a personal level. While email personalization is table stakes today, crafting an email designed to appeal to specific traits of the recipient can make a huge difference in whether or not someone takes action. 

In fact, a 2023 survey from Epsilon found 80% of shoppers are more likely to purchase from a brand offering personalized experiences. 

Is someone in Florida going to peruse your end-of-season sale if you send them a message about snow boots? No, but you could send the snow boot email to your cold-weather dwellers and your Floridians a message about sale items more relevant to their needs. 

Important note here: Personalization based on demographic or attribute can be treacherous. Make sure you’re using good data and common-sense choices. Just because a shopper reported they were a married female does NOT mean an email about shopping for husbands will be relevant to them. It’s 2024, folks.  

Segment Email by Type 

You don’t have to take all your cues from your subscribers! This is good news for senders who aren’t swimming in clean data or who are stretched thin and can’t spend lots of time manually cherry-picking people into the right lists like a human Sorting Hat. 

You can instead segment email by the mail type itself. Is the message transactional or marketing in nature? Do you need to be more cognizant of domain or IP reputation for a select group of messages? 

Split your mail on your own terms.

3. Segment by Purpose 

This method of segmentation is highly recommended for all senders: You should separate marketing mail from transactional mail. We mentioned this earlier, but if you’re sending all your mail via one stream, anything that goes wrong could affect all of your mail. 

Mailbox providers don’t know (or care) what kind of mail you’re sending, so they won’t prioritize a password reset over a marketing message. They’re only making decisions based on things like authentication, user reactions, volume, and all the other algorithm-based intelligence they have.  

It’s up to you to categorize your mail if you want to better insulate streams from affecting one another. Over time, those two streams should have similar but different sender reputations. Transactional mail typically has higher engagement than marketing mail, for instance, and that will better ensure fast delivery.  

How do you do this? You have options! 

You can have two separate IP addresses and dedicate one to marketing mail and one to transactional. You could also send from two separate domains to protect the reputation of each. So, for instance, you could send receipts from @shop.socketlabs.com and newsletters could come from @newsletter.socketlabs.com. 

SocketLabs senders with access to Rule Engine have the easiest path to take. Rule Engine offers senders the ability to set parameters that trigger action. For instance, if you’re planning to send a batch of test emails to people using addresses with your own sending domain, you can create a rule to route that mail via a different IP pool to ensure it is delivered quickly.  

You could create that rule a couple different ways. You could segment it based on “To Domain,” or you could even segment it based on subject line. If a subject has “[Test]” in it, Rule Engine will handle it exactly to your specifications. 

rule engine segmentation blog

4. Segment by Content 

Earlier in this blog we talked about segmenting mail based on demographics. Let’s revisit it, but turn it on its head. 

You can segment by email content. Instead of creating unique lists and then tailoring content to them, you can create lists based on email messages you need or want to distribute.  

Maybe you want to see if a percentage-off coupon is more effective than a dollars-off coupon. You can create two separate distributions for the same campaign!  

Segmentation is your key to testing. You don’t only have to make decisions about your email marketing based on the recipients themselves. You can separate mail streams based on the content itself and use either blind or handpicked test groups. If you find a particular kind of content is successful across different segments, you might have THE message for your brand.

5. Segment by Performance  

Performance- or reputation-based segmentation is mostly for our more complex emailers in the house. If you are sending via multiple domains or sending on behalf of other customers, like a parent hotel brand with multiple sub-brands, you can very quickly find yourself in a mess of different rates of deliverability. 

Segmenting your mail via reputation is a great way to make sure as much of your mail is being delivered appropriately as possible, without hindering other mail in the process. 

For those not using SocketLabs and Rule Engine, separating mail by performance can feel more like an art than a science.  

Do you have a handful of mail streams or senders with less-than-ideal list collection practices? You’ll want to make sure you’re sending their mail on the same IP, and that IP should not be used for your other, more scrupulous senders. Do you have a generally good sender who had a strange snafu and would benefit from the reputation boost of a different IP than usual? You could segment that mail out temporarily. 

Make sure you’re using your ESP’s email performance tools to identify the most logical, performance-based segments. They might not give you step-by-step directions, but you should use the data as your guide. 

When using Rule Engine, segmenting by performance becomes less art and much more science because you can separate mail based on a subaccount’s StreamScore. Anyone sending mail with a score less than 80 goes X route while the rest go on Y route. Easy! 

Choose Your Destiny 

Segmentation is really about you and your goals. What do you want to see from your email performance? Do you want more engaged recipients for a larger pool of potential customers, or do you want highly targeted messaging for those most likely to buy? Carving up your lists based on your end game will allow you to test, improve, and find your rhythm without the big risks that go hand-in-hand with really big lists. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Rule Engine and how it can make segmentation a well-oiled process without hours of manual sorting, request a demo and we’ll make it happen! 

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