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Segmentation: The key to Mailchimp Success

Audiences, Groups & Tags - How you should segment your database in Mailchimp

Want to know more essential Mailchimp stuff?

This article is one of series of "must read" articles I've produced on things I consider essential when it comes to Mailchimp - you can read all of these in the resources section of the site.

 Life’s better when everyone gets what they want… and we’re all different.

Take cake.

I like a lovely moist piece of Chocolate cake with lots of cream… whereas my wife prefers a nice slice of tart lemon curd cake… and my best buddy kills for a slice of classic white chocolate cheesecake.

…but if you’ve got a single audience (as you should) in Mailchimp and haven’t got any way of splitting people with different needs out, it’s as if you are serving all of your customers the same type of cake and not giving them any choice in what they want.

If you want to succeed in any form of email marketing, then you need to look at segmenting your audience. This allows you to target the right people with the right message at the right time – because everyone’s different, and they all want different things.


Effective segmentation is at the core of successful all marketing.

It could be that you offer different products or services… if you know that someone is interested in a specific product, why wouldn’t you want to talk to them specifically about the product they are interested in…and not waste their time with information about stuff that they don’t care about?

Knowing whether someone is just starting in their ‘relationship’ with you, as opposed to someone who’s been receiving marketing communication for a while, will affect what you say to them.

Even just having different ways that people can ‘sign up’ to your email list (e.g. from a footer, from a form on your website offering a free guide, from a landing page) you still need the ability to identify which method they’ve used and segment on that basis so you can send them messages based on where they signed up.

You need to segment your communication.  So how do you do this in Mailchimp?


There’s a right way and a wrong way to segment in Mailchimp.

The wrong way is to have multiple audiences.

Multiple audiences is definitely NOT the way to go in Mailchimp, there are so many reasons not to do this. (check out the article, “11 reasons why you should have a single audience in Mailchimp” if you really want to know how I feel!).

So, if multiple audiences are not the way to go… what is the right way to segment your database in Mailchimp?

Well, as you can imagine, there are actually a number of different ways of identifying individuals, or groups of individuals within Mailchimp, and at this point it might be worthwhile giving you a quick guide as to the various ways of storing and classifying data in Mailchimp – before I dive into the best way to do it.


Mailchimp’s 6 database building blocks

Ultimately, there are 6 different building blocks when it comes to data storage in Mailchimp, and knowing each of them will help you navigate and understand how Mailchimp works, and can work for you.

If you want to learn more about each of them, then I’ve written a more in depth article on Mailchimp’s database structure

  1. Audiences (formerly known as lists)
    As I explain in my article about audiences, the audience is the fundamental building block in Mailchimp. It’s your database of email subscribers (and you should really just have a single audience).
    Individuals subscribe and unsubscribe from an audience. You are charged by Mailchimp per the number of contacts you have in each audience.
    The key thing to know is that you can have an email address on more than one audience, but you can’t have an email twice in the same audience – the email address is the “key field” in Mailchimp.
  2. Fields
    Fields are the “pots” that you store specific information about an individual in… think of them as the columns in an excel sheet (where the list of data goes down).
    E.g. Email Address, First Name, Company, Date of Birth, etc.
    Try and think of  field is a ‘discrete and specific’ piece of information about an individual, i.e. it’s an “A” or “B” or “C” option, not “A” and/or “B” and/or “C”. i.e. (and let’s not get overly PC on this one) – you’re Male or your Female, or your date of birth… it’s not a range of options, it’s a specific value.
  3. Records
    Essentially, this is your data!
    Each “record” is one person/email in your database (just like the horizontal line in a spreadsheet) and each record has a number of fields to store data about them.
  4. Segments
    Segments are ways of getting Mailchimp to identify people with similar aspects and combining them together.  It’s definitely a way of segmenting your database, but as opposed to tags and groups (which I’ll come to next), segments are more for “on demand” segmentation – i.e. “who joined my list in the last 30 days?/who has an email address ending @gmail.com?/who signed up from my home page form?”
    Segments also allow you to discover people who’ve taken/haven’t taken an action relating to your activity (e.g. opened/clicked).
    Segments are great for some research about your data and can be used to identify particular sets of emails in an audience who match certain criteria, but they are more ‘temporary’ in nature – if you’ve got a segment you’re using again and again, it might be worth making it more permanent… and use groups or tags.
  5. Groups
    A few years ago, a version of this article talked about groups as being, just like tags, but not actually called tags!… and now that we do actually have tags in Mailchimp, it can get a bit confusing.
  6. Tags
    Tags were launched in 2018 and when it comes down to it, are pretty much the same as Groups within Mailchimp… but there are some specific differences, which is why I’m going to focus on them and explain each specifically.

So these are all the ways you can segment in Mailchimp… but typically, you’re likely to be using either Tags, or Groups… but which is right?


Tags or Groups?

The fact is that for most of you out there using Mailchimp… there isn’t actually a huge amount of difference between Groups and Tags.

They perform the same functions, and allow you to “assign” email addresses in your audience to a permanent segment.

Groups have been around almost as long as Mailchimp and as such are used by many ‘chimpers.  I myself have most of my marketing set up to use groups.  However, purely because of the way that Mailchimp implemented groups when they started, there were some back-office limitations (nothing you or I would ever really see), and so they knew there was a better way.

…and that’s where Tags come in.  When tags were launched, I was a bit dismissive of them, but I’m now coming around to some of them and have started to use them in a variety of client accounts I manage to structure and segment their data.

The bottom line though is that unless you’re quite advanced with Mailchimp, there are no fundamental differences between the two segmentation tools – you just need to pick one!


Picking between Groups and Tags

This is a question I get asked regularly (and I got asked a lot when Tags were brought out!), and over time I’ve actually realised that it’s potentially the wrong question to ask!

There are four other questions that you want to be asking which will drive you to making the right choice.  I won’t go into them in detail (this article delves deeper, because the questions are so fundamental to email marketing), but briefly:

  1. What emails do you want to send?
    Sounds pretty basic, but it’s actually really important to know the emails you want to send, because that’s what everything in your Mailchimp account needs to be set up to be done.
    – Do you want to welcome new subscribers?
    – Do you want to send a free guide to people who completed a specific form on your website?
    – Do you want to offer an extended warranty on a particular product purchased?
    Once you’ve a clear understanding of what emails you want to send, you can then ask the next question…
  2. What information do you need to send those emails?
    Every email you send requires you to know something… obviously their email address is a given, but you’ll want other information (the segmentation information).
    – Where did they sign up/join the audience?
    – Which product did they buy/express interest in?
    – Are they new or are they already in your audience?
  3. How do I want to store this information in Mailchimp?
    Once you know what information you need, means you can work out where best to store it in Mailchimp (is it a field, or a tag/group?) and thus gets you to actually create the place in your audience to store the data… but you need to get the info into Mailchimp…
  4. How can you get that information into Mailchimp?
    This question is so important in your overall email marketing strategy. Obviously, when you start, you might be adding people manually or from a spreadsheet, but as you progress you’ll want to start automating your system, and use things like forms to make data capture much easier… and those forms are the “link” that put the right information in the right location in your Mailchimp database.

Question 2 will give an indication of whether data is a field or a “segmentation” type of data.

Questions 3 & 4 will give you a direction on whether you should use Groups or Tags for your segmentation data… but why?


Segmenting from Forms

The most common way of segmenting that most of us will want to use is segmenting from an “Entry Point” – i.e. the form where they signed up.  Of course, we can go in and manually add people to groups/tags, but the power of email marketing is in making this process as automated as possible – which means using forms.

Knowing which form someone completed, allows you to respond appropriately with a specific message (i.e. if the form offers a free guide to be emailed to anyone who puts their email address in, you want to send an email automatically with that free guide…), and so you need to let Mailchimp know someone has completed that form. (I call all my forms, and in fact every way someone can get into my Mailchimp audience, Entry Points or EPs).

So making sure a form communicates with Mailchimp is key… and this is where the decision on Groups/Tags comes into play… because your form is technically outside of Mailchimp.

It could be on your website, or on a landing page, or somewhere else completely…

…and as there are so many different tools available to create your forms and ‘host them’, they all have pro’s and cons… one of which is that some work better using Groups in Mailchimp, some work better with Tags, and some don’t even give you either option.

…and that’s the key thing you need to know.

Your choice of using either Groups or Tags is mostly dictated by the way you add people to Mailchimp (your form) and what it prefers!

So it’s not a question of Groups or Tags, it’s more a question of which of them work best with the form tool you’re using!

(I know this seems like a case of “the tail wagging the dog”, but as there are so many different website platforms (wordpress, joomla, squarespace, wix, clickfunnels, etc.), and they all have their own different ways of working – its much easier to choose tags/groups based on the form, then picking one, and finding the right form tool for that method – which could mean restructuring your entire website!) 


What about when my form doesn’t limit me and I can use either tags or groups?

I’m starting to use tags more and more, and get the impression that although Mailchimp will never remove groups from the system (it’s too embedded for many users), they aren’t going to spend hours developing them and much of their focus for the future is tags… so I’d think about using tags over groups if you are starting from scratch and have no form limitations in what you can use.


Segmentation Best Practices

Everyone segments differently, because each business is individual and works differently… but there are some general principles I’d suggest you adopt when it comes to segmenting your Mailchimp database.

  • One Audience (as if I’ve not said this enough!!!)
  • Use fields to record specific information about an individual
  • Use segments to dive into your data and know more about who you’ve got and how they interact with your communication.
  • Use Tags/Groups to segment your database
    • Make sure you track EVERY entry point into your system – that way you’ll always know where people come from.
    • People can enter from multiple entry points so tracking each one is key.
    • You can also develop other tagging processes to track things like how close they are to purchase?/Whether they’ve received a complete sequence of automated emails?  The choice is truly driven by your customers and you.
    • Don’t limit yourself to just one tag/group per entry point.  When someone completes a form on my site they actually receive at least 2 tags
      • A tag related to the form they completed
      • A tag related to the general area that form relates to (i.e. an area of interest)

Wrapping Up

Segmentation is essential when it comes to success with your marketing.

Being ‘relevant’ means sending the right information to the right person at the right time… and the more relevant you are the more success you’ll have.

Relevance however means you need to know the differences between individuals… and store that information (and react to it) in Mailchimp.

…and you really need to be tracking things like Entry Points effectively using either Groups or Tags.

Remember… we all like different types of cake and are much happier when we get what we want! 

Want to know more essential Mailchimp stuff?

This article is one of series of "must read" articles I've produced on things I consider essential when it comes to Mailchimp - you can read all of these in the resources section of the site.

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.

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