email personalization

Two terms you’ll hear a lot when you read about email marketing are email personalization and segmentation. What do they mean, what should you do with them, and how can they help you increase response to your email messages? I’m going to answer these questions in this post to help you use email more effectively and build a more active and engaged list. There’s a video at the end, so be sure you scroll all the way down.

You’re probably already familiar with the idea of email personalization. I’ll bet you get messages all the time that say, Hi, [your first name]! in the subject line. Yes, that’s a very basic form of personalization, but it doesn’t go quite far enough to have an impact on your open rate.

Your readers are busy and, like you, their inboxes are full of email from every source imaginable. To compete with the noise, your message must be relevant. You can personalize emails based on location, buying habits, and which content the reader has interacted with in past campaigns. This is the sort of personalization that drives up open rates and makes your email much more effective. When a reader sees a subject line that relevant to them, more often than not, they’ll click to open.

Email personalization goes hand in hand with segmentation. When you segment your email list, you create a subset with common characteristics that apply to them. It may be based on a number of factors, from demographics to geographical area.

According to Experian, emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened. Results of a study by Accenture revealed that 58 of customers are more likely to make a purchase when a retailer recommends options for them based on their past purchases or preferences. We all like to feel noticed and recognized and receiving messages that are relevant to our interests makes them much more compelling. Epsilon research found that 80 percent of customers are more likely to make a purchase when their experience is personalized.

Here are six (6) ways to segment and personalize your messages and make them more relevant so that you train your readers to pay attention.

  1. Reward your best customers with special perks. An extra 10% off coupon, early access to a sale, or an event or gift that only the VIPs receive.
  2. Local events. If you have a local focus, create a segment of your list that you invite to in-person events or in-store sales. There’s no need to send to customers who aren’t in your area — why frustrate and annoy them with messages that aren’t relevant?
  3. Segment by buying habits. If you know your customer just bought cat food, it’s highly likely they have a cat and they may need other cat-related products you can suggest. Use this knowledge to provide cat-related content they will enjoy and welcome. We’ve all received the “you, bought x, you might also like y” message — and they work.
  4. Abandoned cart emails. If you sell online, do you have an automated abandoned cart email set up? When the shopper doesn’t finish the transaction, do you have an automation set up to remind them they have items in their cart? Sometimes we change our mind or get distracted in mid-purchase and a reminder can get us back to finish buying. Perhaps you even sweeten the deal with free or reduced shipping.
  5. Personalized content. Set up an automation to segment the types of content readers respond to. If you send a newsletter and link to blog posts, what categories do they click through on? Do this consistently and you’ll have a clear picture of what interests your readers and you can serve them more of what they want.
  6. Birthdays, anniversaries, and other special days. If you have the information, send a special message for an occasion or important date. A birthday coupon is nice, or a special holiday that pertains to your business, like the recent Pi day promotion I received for a local bakery.
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How Do you Segment Your Email List?

Most major email providers provide tags to help you with this. Here’s how it works: as you’re designing your message, you build in your calls to action (CTAs). Some email providers allow you to automate your tagging based on clicks, purchases or other reader behavior. Over time you’ll gather information that can help you know their likes and what they respond to.

Let’s say you’re having a wine tasting and you send an invitation to your email list. Out of 1000 contacts on your list, 50 click the invitation link. That click tells you that those contacts are either local or are willing to come to you for the event. You could set up two segments for this list: 1) Local, and 2) Interested in wine tasting.

Although MailChimp, which offers free service if you have fewer than 2000 contacts, doesn’t provide automated tagging for segmentation, they do offer tagging for email personalization and you can easily send a message to a specific segment. Here’s how.

Here are a few segments I’ve used in MailChimp. This is from just before my book was published and I had included the book in an email campaign. I set up an automation to segment those who clicked on the book. I used this segment to send a message to only those who had expressed interest when the book was available.

email personalization with MailChimp
Let’s look at my “clicked on book” segment. I created this segment from a list of contacts who clicked on a link to a promotion about my book before it was released. Then when it was ready for purchase, I was able to send only to the list of contacts who had expressed interest.

Read More About Email Marketing


In MailChimp, go to Audience > Tags (on the right side of the page). When you hover over Tags, you’ll see a link that says, Target with Campaign. On the next screen, you’ll see a button (on the left) that says Create an Email and under that,  Connect to this audience with a more targeted message.

email personalization MailChimp

The next screen will be your regular email design interface and your recipients list will be limited to the segment you’ve chosen. The rest of the process is the same as any other email campaign  you’d send.

email personalization

How to Tag in MailChimp

After you’ve sent a campaign, you’ll have a report that tells you how many opens, clicks, unsubscribes and other actions readers have taken.

Go to Campaign > View Report

Click on the number next to Total Clicks.

That will take you to a page that lists the links — click the link you want to use to segment your list. You’ll see a list of contacts who clicked on that link.

As there’s no way to add tags from this page, you can export the contacts as a CSV file, tag them in your spreadsheet and re-import them with tags. It’s clumsy, but if you’re using MailChimp free, you’ve got to be willing to do a little work.

After a few campaigns, you’ll have a list with segments that will allow you to send relevant email messages to those on your list.

Email Personalization and Segmentation in Active Campaign

use Active Campaign (a paid solution), which does offer automated tagging. For each campaign, I can set up automations to tag any reader who clicks a specific link in the email. This lets me instantly segment based on interests.

email personalization active campaign
Here I can set my trigger for “clicks a link in an email,” so that anyone who clicks will be tagged automatically. I do this for each email message and for each link, and it’s a great way to gather information from your readers’ engagement with your message.
email personalization active campaign

In Active Campaign, I can set which link I want to use to segment my list. This could be a product, a link to an event, or a blog post and you can assign any tag you wish to the clicks. This will create a segment of contacts who have expressed interest in the content behind the link.

If you haven’t started using segmentation and personalizing your emails beyond the name in the subject line, look at it carefully and see how you can use it to provide a more tailored customer experience.