Mailchimp Tags and Groups:

The key difference you need to know

Mailchimp Tags and Groups

“I hope these tags are the right ones…
…or Mr. Jones is going to feel a bit ‘strange’ today”

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There’s no doubt that when it comes to marketing, I’m big on relevance.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that if you’re not being relevant to those who you’re communicating with… you’ve no chance to be effective in your marketing.

Relevance is the key to unlock the door of action… and let’s face it, that’s what your ultimate goal should be – someone taking action.  It could be completing a form, opening an email, clicking a link, or purchasing a product/service – being relevant will achieve a better result.

When it comes to being relevant in email marketing, we’re pretty much saying “don’t send the same email to everybody”.

Now we’re not saying that sending a regular ‘newsletter’ out to your database is a bad thing… more that targeted communication to specific individuals who have something in common should be part of your plan.

It could be ensuring you’ve an automation linked to someone completing a specific form your website… or offering an upgrade to people who’ve purchased a basic product… or even sending an invitation to leave a review for people who are loyal customers.

Each of those is a ‘targeted’ communication that is relevant to where someone is in their journey.

…but how do you target people in Mailchimp?


Ultimately, targeting is all about being able to put individual contacts into specific ‘categories’ based on actions they’ve taken or things you know about them – which means there needs to be something in the database that allows them to be clumped together and identified.

…and that’s where Groups and Tags come in.

Groups and Tags are Mailchimp’s way of “categorising” your contacts, and allow you to send campaigns and automations to people based on whether they’re in a tag or a group.

There’s lots of inventive ways that you can use both to enhance your email marketing, but one of the most common questions we get asked is, “what’s the difference between tags and groups and when should I use either?”

Ultimately, they both serve the same function… and for many, it doesn’t really matter whether you use Groups or Tags to categorise parts of your audience.

…but there is one key difference that you need to be aware of which will impact which you use.

(n.b. there are a few other differences, but at a base level, this one difference will put you on the right path).

So what’s this key difference?


The main difference between Tags and Groups as ways of segmenting your audience comes down to visibility.

Groups can be set up to be seen on any form you want completed, whereas tags can’t be set to be seen.

What does this mean in practical terms?

Well it means that if you want to give contacts a choice in how they’re communicated, you’ll want to be using groups.

Here’s an example of how you’d use them:

A business teaching people how to drive offers two services… basic “get qualified” lessons and “advanced driver techniques”.

If you’re learning to drive you don’t want to necessarily hear about advanced driving… and if you’re an advanced driver, you probably don’t care about learner lessons.

Creating a form which gives people the option to choose either “learner” or “advanced” lessons ensures that they select what’s right for them – and then means you can communicate to them about their specific need.

…plus, in the future, they can update their preferences to get info on advanced driver training after they’ve passed their test – through just updating the form.

That’s how you use groups – giving people the chance to “self select” what they want to hear about (and you can also use this for how often they want to hear from you – a great option if people don’t want to get “every” newsletter, but would prefer a monthly/quarterly update).

So in essence, “groups” are for your contacts… Tags… well they’re for you.


Tags are just as effective in segmenting your database as groups… but unlike groups, you can’t get your database to “select” tags.

That’s why here at Chimp Answers HQ, we always refer to tags as “tracking tags”, as we use them to track information about a contact.. such as which form they completed, where they are in their relationship with us, or other information we want to control and not give them the option.

We use tags to indicate if someone is a prospect or a customer, to know how they got onto our database, both bigger picture (manual import, form) but also to identify specific forms that someone has completed.

We don’t need someone to fill a form in and tick a box saying I’m interested in this subject – we know that because they’ve filled the form in.  Just adding a “tracking” tag to anyone who completes that form allows us to communicate effectively with them – as we know who they are because we know which form they completed.


The fact is, leveraging Groups and Tags effectively in Mailchimp is the best way to segment your audience, target individuals and be relevant.

…but you don’t need to get yourself confused about which you should be using

Simply put…

if you want a contact to select their own “segment”, use groups… if you want to do it for them, use tags.

What matters though is that you should be using tags and/or groups as a way of being relevant to your audience.

Relevance leads to action…  something we all want with our emails.

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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