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Seven Ways to Segment Your Email List

One of the most effective ways to boost your email open, click, and response rates is to tailor your content to different groups of subscribers. Need proof? According to Campaign Monitor, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened, and segmented campaigns drive a 760% increase in revenue. Knowing you need to use this strategy is easy. The hard part can be figuring out which segments make the most sense for your list. Here are seven to get you started.

1. New Subscribers

A Welcome Series is an easy way to cultivate and deepen your relationship with new subscribers right away. This means going beyond the simple autoresponder. We suggest waiting 24 hours before the first email of this automated series goes out.

  • Start with an introduction to your organization with more detail about your mission and programs. Use a second email to share inspirational stories from people or communities your work has impacted. In a third email you can talk about the future—what you are planning to accomplish in the coming year.
  • Next make an ask based on your goal. This could be something small like a social media follow, or something more significant like a donation request.
  • A side benefit of a welcome series (and this may sound strange) is that some new subscribers will remove themselves from your list after each email. Sending emails to subscribers who are more likely to engage with you is a good thing, because it can boost your open and click rates and improve your deliverability score. 

2. Program or Topic Interest

If your organization runs various programs, or focuses on a number of different topics, you might find that you get better open and click rates when you’re able to segment your list based on these elements of your work. One nonprofit we work with supports cancer research, but within that mission they send specific email content to different segments of their list related to different types of the disease.

  • By offering your subscribers the option to choose which content they are most interested in via a web form, you can be more confident that you’re developing useful relationships with these individuals. It shows them that you care about what they care about.
  • This tactic can also help your organization during fundraising campaigns. It’s a stronger ask if you can tell people that their money will go directly to support the program or issue they care about the most.

3. Opened but Didn’t Click

As we note in our blog post about email metrics, open rates and click rates are important numbers to track. Another important stat to keep an eye on is click-to-open rate (CTOR). This stat compares the number of people who click an email link to the entire group who opened the message. According to SendGrid’s 2018 Global Email Benchmark Report, the aggregate CTOR for nonprofits is 5.7%. 

  • A high CTOR is better, and we recommend tracking your own stats in addition to looking at benchmarks. Using both numbers as a guide, a high open rate and low click rate lets you know that while your subject line may be working, the way you’re positioning your content isn’t.
  • The subscribers who open your emails are demonstrating interest, making them an ideal group to connect with a second time. Try reframing the same content in a different way in a follow-up message to see if it grabs their interest more effectively and turns into a click.
  • This group is also a great opportunity for an A/B test. Using your openers you can test two variations of a single follow-up email to see what approach or design is more effective at converting these folks into clickers.

4. Clicked on a Link

We noted earlier in this post that giving subscribers the option to choose their own communication preferences through a web form helps you tailor content based on interests. Monitoring clicks is another way to do this, and it doesn’t require a form completion.

  • If you have topic-specific content, you can segment your list and direct specific messages to people who have clicked on previous links about this same subject. You can also use this tactic if your organization sends action alerts, such as requesting messages to elected representatives. 
  • Targeting a segment of your list with a related alert on a subject you know they care about can help you improve your response rate.
  • Diving into your clicks can even help inform your content strategy. Let’s say links on a specific topic are outperforming others. You can find ways to use those popular pages as starting points for website pathways to other content you want people to read. Or you can create more resources on that subject to maintain interest.

5. Participated in an Advocacy Action

Your advocates are a special group of subscribers, and you want to treat them as such. They’ve proven that they care enough about your mission to take time to speak up for it, which means they don’t need to be convinced that your work is important.

  • At a minimum, make sure you segment your advocates so you can keep them informed about the status of the issue they took action on. Good or bad, they should know the outcome and what next steps you are taking.
  • If the conversion rate on your action was high, or the total number of actions taken is an impressive number, that might be something to include as well. This can make them feel like they’re part of a larger community of advocates.
  • Within this group there are also Super Advocates, usually defined as people who both took action and donated to your cause. Analyzing this group can help you try and identify other potential Super Advocates or consider outlets for promotion where you might reach people with similar characteristics.

6. Made a Donation

We could write a book on donor segmentation. In brief, the biggest reason to segment your donors is to make sure they know that they matter to you and that their donations are being put to good use. If you’re sending an end-of-year campaign, you should send different content to people who have already given in the same calendar year.

  • These messages should start with a thank you for past support and if your tool allows, conditional content that asks for a reasonable increase in their previous donation. 
  • Similarly, you can ask one-time donors to sign up for recurring gifts and ask recurring donors to add to their monthly amount. We covered the topic of managing recurring donors in detail in this blog post.
  • Segmenting your donors also gives you the opportunity to inform them of how their previous support has helped your organization. If you group your donors by amount, you can tell them how their gift of ‘xx’ amount allowed you to accomplish a specific mission-related goal.

7. Inactive Subscribers

The previous six segments are based on actions people have taken. But you should also consider those who remain inactive. Inactive might mean anyone who has not opened an email in a year, or those who have stopped donating or participating in action alerts. Whatever your criteria are, you can target this group with its own campaign.

  • Begin with a reintroduction to your nonprofit highlighting success stories. Your second email can offer an easy option for lapsed subscribers to update their profile and change email preferences. In a third email provide the option to connect with you in a different way, such as following you on social media.
  • Set the wait time between emails—depending on your groups and messages this could be anywhere from three days to a week. As you remove subscribers who remain inactive, remind yourself that sending future emails to supporters who are more engaged is the right approach.
  • After each email in your campaign, return those who reconnect to your active list. Deepen these relationships with a ‘welcome back’ email and other automations. Offer them the option to select subscription preferences, ask former advocates to take a new action, or ask lapsed donors to renew their donations.

Parts of a Whole

Once you know which segments to focus on, there are a few other actions you can take to continue to add to them. Make sure to build forms that allow for opt-in to lists or topics right from the start. A two-step form is a great way to accomplish this. At first, just ask for name and email address, then direct people to an optional second step where they can give you more information. This way you’re not scaring people away but are getting details you need. No matter how you’re segmenting your list, find ways to personalize your emails. Use their name, the amount of their previous donation, or the topic they’re interested in. Finally, don’t get overwhelmed by all the possibilities—you don’t need 100 segments right away. Base your choices on your desired outcomes and then track, measure, test, and refine. If you’re looking for support or guidance around list segmentation complete this form to see how we can work together.

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