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MailChimp Deathmatch: Groups vs Tags

It's the question we're all asking... who you got?

by | Feb 28, 2019

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Yay… tags… they’re awesome… aren’t they?

In the second half of 2018, MailChimp sent out an email that (for those of us a little too deep into the MailChimp world), was akin to Indiana Jones discovering the Holy Grail or Luke Skywalker discovering the force.

Tags were here…

Tags would allow for effective segmentation, and all the fun, yummy stuff that comes with that.

Tags would take over from Groups (which were in many people’s eyes Tags in all but name) and the confusion would end.

Tags would give some clarity on the whole group/segment discussion.

Tags would make you a cup of coffee and give you a neck rub when you felt tense.

…ok maybe the last one is a stretch.

But tags were still something that we all hoped would revolutionise our usage of the beloved simian based email system.

…unfortunately, the reality is a not as clear cut.

It’s something regularly discussed in the MailChimp Answers Facebook Group that I run (the biggest in the world!).

In a nutshell, Tags offer some benefits over Groups, but Groups still offer some benefits over tags, and mean that until things change a bit more, I’ll be sticking with Groups.

But before we delve into the pro’s and con’s, let’s take a small step back and understand why we’d want to segment in the first place.

An Old Jedi once said…

If I can corrupt a quote from the Star Wars universe…

“Segmentation leads to Engagement, Engagement leads to Conversion, Conversion leads to the light side of the force”

The fact is that if you want your marketing to succeed, the more specific and relevant you are, the better.

When we’re communicating in a mass-market environment using tools like MailChimp, it’s very easy to treat everyone the same.

…and that’s where people’s marketing efforts start to struggle and fade.

Successful marketing is NOT about treating everyone the same, it’s about identifying groups of individuals that have things in common and treating each of these groups differently.

Saying different things to them, showing them different images, selling them different products.

Let me give you an example:

I’m a lover of ‘cool’ trainers, and currently really love Vans.

Now Vans are a “skate” brand, and the closest you’ll see me to a skate park is when I see one on TV…

Vans are seen by hardcore skaters as “Authentic”… but to me, they’re purely fashion.

As such, if Vans can identify that someone is an actual ‘skater’ they’ll send them completely different information and marketing compared to what I see as purely a “fashion” person.

Skaters don’t necessarily want to be cool (and I know I’m oversimplifying things) and so the message I’d respond to may not be the one they respond to.

Segmenting the market means a slightly different message to each group…

…and a more specific message is likely to get a positive response… and so on…

Bottom line, is if you’re not segmenting your database in some way, your marketing has the potential to improve.

So how can you segment in MailChimp?

Segmenting in MailChimp

MailChimp gives you several different ways to segment your overall database.

…you could have a list for each segment (click here to see why that’s probably not the best idea)

…or you could segment a single list using something…

…something like segments, groups or tags.

For the purposes of this article, i will not be going into segments as in essence, they are pretty much the same as tags (in fact they are tags in reality, but lets not get into semantics)

Sooo… Groups vs Tags… who you got?

The case for Tags

Tags are relatively new but since they launched them in mid 2018, MailChimp have been pushing them pretty hard.

Tags are essentially a way to identify people who have things in common.  You can ‘tag’ a group of contacts in MailChimp in whatever manner you choose.  Say for example you had  a group of people who were press contacts in your list – well you could tag them all with the ‘press’ tag.

These tags allow you to separate these people from everyone else and communicate with them separately – which is pretty much the idea behind segmentation!

So when it comes to tags here are some of the key benefits…

  • Once you’ve got people in your list, it’s pretty easy to ‘tag’ them, just find them and use the tag button.
  • Some signup tools (Gravity Forms, MailMunch) give you the option to apply a tag at signup depending on which form you are using (which is always a big plus in my book).
  • You can trigger automations based on individuals being tagged… so if someone requests a report, you can create an automation and then tag someone who wants it and the email is automatically sent….plus you can auto tag people once they’ve had an automation sent.
  • It’s easy to see them on the MailChimp list view and easy to identify those who qualify.
  • You can have unlimited tags

So pretty good… they are quite powerful, but how do they match up with Groups (the OG of segmentation).

The case for Groups

Groups have been around for a long time in MailChimp, it’s just that (in my mind) MailChimp have done a pretty crappy job in marketing and explaining them.

I’ve already written a whole blog on Groups, which I suggest you go check out after you’ve finished this article, so I won’t go into things in too much detail here, but to my mind here are the key benefits of groups

  • You can add people to a group once they are on your list (it’s not as easy as tags, but still pretty easy)
  • Most, if not all sign up tools have the ability to add people to multiple groups at signup, and you can even do it with MailChimp embedded forms (see how here).
  • You can trigger automations  based on joining/leaving groups (in the same ways as tags)
  • You can see Groups visibly on the MailChimp main list view (again, not as easily as tags, but again, still pretty good)
  • You can have up to 60 groups in a list.
  • You can use groups to create ‘conditional blocks’ in your emails, meaning you can change the contents of a specific email depending on what group that individual is in (very cool!)

Some of them are very similar to Tags, some a little different… so who do I prefer?

Groups vs Tags

OK… so what’s the conclusion of all this.

Well in my view, Groups still offer a better solution that tags, if it’s a question of either/or.

The fact that most form tools have the ability to put people into groups, whereas only a few have the ability to work with tags, puts Groups ahead.

…and the fact that Conditional blocks (which are very powerful, once you get your head around them) can only be used by Groups (and according to MailChimp, this functionality is not coming to Tags), is another plus in their column.

The fact that tags are so easy to add, and that they are unlimited (occasionally I’ve butted up against the 60 group limit), makes them very attractive, but in terms of pure power, Groups are still victorious….

At this stage, if you are starting out with segmentation on your list, I’d advise you use Groups initially (other opinions are available).

…but why be forced to make a choice?

Having your cake and eating it

The whole analysis of this article has been whether you should use Groups or Tags… but why must you choose, why can’t you use both???

There are circumstances where tags are quite helpful and much easier that Groups – for making quick lists of people to target based on certain criteria – tags are very nice… and it’s so easy to add people manually to tags… and the fact that they are no limits to the numbers, means that using tags tactically can be a very helpful.

… and then using Groups as a more structured approach for more longer term, solid classifications makes sense as well…  especially if you want to say different things to different people in a single email.

The fact is that it’s all about you and your own usage of MailChimp.

There is no doubt that to improve your chances of success, you need to do some form of segmentation.

…and both Tags and Groups are tools that will help you do this in MailChimp.

For me, Groups are still the winner… and if you want to keep things clear in your mind and your database and only want to use one, i’d recommend them.

…but Tags certainly have their uses and shouldn’t be ignored either…

So in the final reckoning, Groups win… but then recruits Tags and together they dominate!

Robin Adams

Robin Adams

Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
51% marketer and 49% Chimp, Robin is the main man behind chimpanswers.com and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.


  1. David Howell

    Great article. Have you written anything about whether or not survey answers can be saved to specific contacts? I have info (3 questions) I’d like to collect on my subscribers that I would like to save, either in a merge field, or as a tag that’s been created, but I can’t find a way to do this where the data is actually saved to the contact. Using a survey seems to only collate the data.

    The closest I’ve come is to make the questions part of a signup form vs. a survey.

    • Robin Adams

      David, thanks for your comments… I’ve not used the survey function excessively, but I know that it’s not ideal for ‘segmentation’… you might want to check out this article on segmenting with clicks – Tracking Link Clicks in Emails


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