Proven Email Segmentation Strategies You Should Try

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Table of Contents

Email marketing is considered one of the most significant acquisition channels available. There are countless case studies and independent research to support that stance, but many businesses don’t get the expected results. 

There are many reasons brands fall short of the outcome they expect. They may be emailing too much or not enough. The email content itself is mediocre, or the offers aren’t hitting the mark. Another common reason email campaigns underperform is that they get sent to the wrong people. 

Getting someone to open your email is half the battle, and people ignore irrelevant content. This guide will show you different ways to segment your email subscribers, so you’re able to send the right messages, improve email engagement, and generate more revenue. 

Repeated page and category visits 

Most of us have analytics tools enabled on our websites that show us the most popular pages. If you’re following conversion optimization best practices, then you’ve already tweaked those pages to get better results. 

An effective growth strategy uses your email marketing service to track specific pages visited by individual subscribers. There are two dimensions to this method. 

  1. Pages that are visited multiple times 
  2. Dwell time on those pages

The first aspect is simple. If someone visits a single page more than once, then there may be interest there. If they view it 3+ times, you can assume that they’re researching the product and may be ready to make a purchase. If someone is visiting multiple pages in the same category, you can infer they’re looking for a product that catches their eye. 

The second aspect, dwell time, puts the activity from the pages visited in perspective. For example, if someone has visited a page 10 times but only spends a few seconds there, they may be using it as a bridge page. When a specific page is the best way to navigate your website, you may want to ignore it when looking for segmentation opportunities. 

Create segments by tracking 2+ visits to the same page or 4+ visits within a single category. Combine those criteria with a dwell time of at least 60 seconds per page.  With these two metrics, you’ll be able to find the most engaged email subscribers and send targeted messages. 

The technical aspects of this are also straightforward. Mature email marketing platforms allow you to track site visitors on your website. When people meet specific criteria, you can tag or score them, so a prepared email sequence is triggered. 


The image above is from Cole Haan and arrives in the inbox with the subject line: Open to see the styles curated for you. It’s triggered when someone leaves the website without purchasing. The products viewed during the previous session get dynamically inserted into the email. 

Interactive quizzes 

Buzzfeed made online interactive quizzes popular, but brands have used them for several years to generate leads, segment contacts, and drive revenue. Zenni Optical used a single quiz to acquire 29,410 leads and $1 million in revenue. 

A quiz is more work than a simple lead magnet, but it can also produce much better results. It works on the principle of micro-commitments. The more questions someone answers, the more invested in the process they become. 

When you ask for their email address, you have a lot of useful information about them, which you can use to create tailored follow-up sequences. The key to a successful quiz is having a compelling topic and asking questions that allow you to segment them into the right bucket. 

The mistake many people make is creating a quiz that reads like a survey. Brands are so focused on getting information from their audience that they forget it should be fun for the quiz taker. Balance your goals with the user experience. Take the time to do detailed research about who your audience is, what they want, and what kind of outcomes would appeal to them. 

At a minimum, your quiz should be able to capture the interest of three distinct segments in your audience. When they submit their contact information, they’ll be shown a unique outcome and get segmented in your email marketing service. 

For example, if you were targeting people interested in fitness, you’d have multiple types of customers. Some would be starting to exercise, others would want to get more results, and a few would be interested in maintaining their current fitness level. A single quiz like “what’s your fitness IQ” can identify and segment all three of those groups. Keep the following in mind when creating a quiz: 

  • Design the outcomes first
  • Tailor your questions and & answers, so people get segmented into a specific group
  • Start with simple questions so people can get invested in the process
  • Create a quiz title that has a clear benefit and outcome
  • Add additional benefits to the lead capture page instead of only gating the results 

It may take a few tweaks to get the quiz right, but it’s well worth the effort. 

Email interactions

Segmentation based on email interactions is a great strategy when you already have people on your mailing list. Your email marketing software collects a lot of data, such as opens, clicks, replies, etc. The question is, what are you doing with that data? 

You can use it to create better email content and subject lines, but you can also identify and segment email subscribers. 

For example, if you run a brand related to fitness and know you have people at different stages, you may create a newsletter that only appeals to beginners. People at other points of their fitness journey would ignore it because it’s not relevant. Segment out the people that interact with the email. 

How do you apply this to your situation? 

It begins by identifying the customer segments you interact with often. Start with three or four so you’re not overwhelmed. Choose a few critical criteria like their preferences, income, age group, etc. If you don’t know, then you can send out questionnaires that ask psychographic and demographic questions

Set up tags or a scoring system in your email marketing service to trigger when people interact with relevant emails. Once they meet a certain threshold, move them into the proper segment, and start sending emails tailored to their situation.  

Segmentation based on purchase history

People can say something contrary to how they feel for many reasons. You may inadvertently phrase your questions in a way that pushes them to a specific answer. Your questions may also be the victim of the acquiescence bias – a response bias in survey research where people tend to select positive responses. 

No matter what the reason is, it’s easy to get the wrong data when doing research. 

One of the most accurate gauges of what someone finds essential is how they spend their money. People will usually buy what they want or need. This understanding is what makes purchase history one of the most effective segmentation methods available. 

The logic is straightforward. If someone has purchased something in the past, then that’s a clear marker of interest. The same person is more likely to buy something similar in the future. 

I’m a regular shopper at ASOS, and about 70% of my purchases have been shoes. ASOS has taken note and sends me emails about sales, new arrivals, and old favorites, which often include at least one mention of shoes. 

The email above offered me a 24 hour 20% discount on shoes which I may have taken advantage of if I’d opened the message on time. ASOS has found a way to get me to open emails, click links, and buy things through analyzing my past behavior. 

When implementing this for your brand, there’s a fine line to walk. Even though people have bought a specific type of item in the past, that doesn’t mean they won’t buy something else if the opportunity presents itself. You don’t want to segment people too aggressively and miss out on revenue because you failed to let people know about different products. 

About this, tech blogger Antoine Bechara says that “A good rule of thumb with this kind of segmentation is to send emails based on purchase history roughly 50% of the time and promote new categories the other 50%. Popular eCommerce platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify have deep integrations with major email marketing services, so this should be simple to achieve.” 

Keep in mind that preferences change. A longtime customer may develop new shopping habits in response to life changes or shifts in attitude. You can respond to this by giving the most recent purchases more weight when deciding which segment is most relevant to them. 

Opt-in surveys 

Not all brands can use purchase history segmentation effectively. When you have few products or engage via email first before the sale, it’s not as effective. Opt-in surveys are a great alternative. 

Opt-in surveys consist of a few questions, usually less than five, which help you understand your new contacts’ needs. After submitting information through your form, contacts are segmented into the relevant group. 

In the image above from Wild Audience, the opt-in survey has six questions about revenue, type of business, software used, and the subscriber’s goals. It takes that information and creates tailored follow-up sequences that lead email subscribers to the most relevant Wild Audience product. 

You may have noticed the parallels between an opt-in survey and a quiz. The main difference is that opt-in surveys don’t promise an outcome at the end. As a result, the conversion rates aren’t as high. Pair these with an incentive like a coupon or high-value lead magnet to counteract the lower conversion rate.

They work best when you understand the primary goals of your market. That’ll inform the options you put on your survey questions and allow you to segment them properly. Once you accomplish that, all that’s left is instilling the right buying beliefs needed to purchase with confidence. 

Final Thoughts

There are billions of emails sent every day. Inbox zero has become a myth that few people achieve. Email marketing is still one of the best engagement and acquisition channels – if done correctly. 

This guide has outlined multiple strategies you can use to segment subscribers and send better messages. Don’t attempt to implement all of them at once. Instead, focus on one or two that make the most sense for your brand right now. 

For example, an eCommerce brand may see the most benefit from segmentation based on purchase history and repeated page visits. A consulting brand may focus on interactive quizzes, opt-in surveys, and email interactions. You know your brand best. 

When one segmentation method starts showing results, consider adding more to your arsenal. Let me know how you’re segmenting subscribers in the comments, and don’t forget to share.

Author’s Bio:
Luke Fitzpatrick has been published in Forbes, The Next Web, and Influencive. He is a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney, lecturing in Cross-Cultural Management and the Pre-MBA Program. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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