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Top tips for structuring and segmenting your mailing list

All email marketers should aim to send targeted and personalised emails because they get a better response. Organising your mailing list should therefore be at the heart of your email strategy.

But what does organising your mailing list mean? What information do you need to know about your audience so that you can send targeted emails? The answer to these questions will be slightly different for every organisation, but working through these steps will help you build a mailing list where the information you need is always at your fingertips.

You’ll find this resource useful if you:

  • haven’t yet implemented an email service provider
  • are about to migrate to a new email service provider
  • would like to start segmenting your mailing list
  • want to have a spring clean of your existing email service provider contacts

Common technical terms

This article uses a few technical terms. This section helps to make sense of these terms, especially where different email service providers use different terms for similar tools and features.

Email service provider (ESP)

This is the system you use for sending out batch emails. Some commonly used ESPs include Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, GetResponse, MailerLite and WordFly. Each system uses slightly different terminology and as many as possible are included in this glossary. Once defined, the terms are used interchangeably.


A segment is a group of people in your mailing list who share certain characteristics. For example, you might have a segment who are all interested in family events for children aged 8-12, or perhaps a segment for people who want to hear about late night cabaret events. Segmenting your mailing list helps increase engagement with your emails because you can send information that is more interesting or useful to each group.

Email list/mailing list/audience/subscriber list

This is the list of everyone who has signed up to hear from you via email. You might sometimes email everyone on your mailing list, but it’s better to send targeted emails to fewer people each time.


Each time someone signs up to your mailing list, they’ll be created as a contact in your ESP. Their contact record will contain information such as their name, email address, marketing preferences and opt-in status.

Sign-up form

This is the form that collects the information you need to add someone to your mailing list. It can be as simple as collecting an email address, or you can collect extra information such as name and contact preferences. It’s a good idea to keep your sign-up form as simple as possible to encourage sign ups. You can collect extra information later if you need to but having too many fields on a sign-up form can be off-putting for new subscribers.


Most ESPs allow you to add marketing preferences to your contacts. This means your contacts would be able to choose the kinds of things they want to hear about. You can use this feature so that people can let you know the kinds of events they’re interested in, the age of their children, their location and anything else that will help you to send more targeted emails.

Profile page/preference centre/subscription page

If you use groups/lists/preferences, this is where your contacts can let you know about any changes to their interests. For example, if someone has told you their child is in the 8-12 age bracket, they might need to change it as their child gets older. It’s a good idea to send a link to the profile page in every email so people can easily update their preferences.

Tags/custom fields/attributes

Groups/lists/preferences are normally public facing so that your contacts can self-select their interests. Tags/custom fields/attributes allow you to add extra information to a contact record that they don’t need to update and therefore do not need to see. You can use these to identify things like regular donors, members or press contacts.


This is all about how much people in your mailing list interact with your emails. You can measure engagement by looking at how many people open and click through on your emails and whether people unsubscribe. There are lots of techniques to help increase audience engagement. Sending targeted emails to the right audience segment is a key part of improving audience engagement.

Opt-in/subscribe status

When someone signs up to your mailing list, they are opting in to hear from you. Under the GDPR you can send them marketing emails unless they opt out or unsubscribe.

What is the purpose of your emails?

Start by identifying the aims of the emails you send. This will help you to plan the kinds of emails you’ll send and who you’ll send them to.

Here are some examples:

  • Increasing bookings for events, tours or exhibitions
  • Increasing the number of people who view your website or blog
  • Encouraging people to make donations
  • Making sales through your online shop

What kinds of emails will you send?

Now that you know the purpose of your emails, you can think about the kinds of emails you need to send. Different kinds of emails will help you achieve different aims. The most important factor is to make sure that you have a clear call to action – what do you want your contact to do next?

For example:

  • A regular newsletter with links to your website
  • Welcome emails on sign up
  • New product announcements and special offers
  • Nurturing emails for membership or donations
  • Transactional emails pre- and post-event
  • Re-engagement emails

Who should receive your emails?

It can be tempting to send emails to everyone on your mailing list. It’s fine to do this occasionally, for example with a general interest newsletter. But you will get a better response if you segment your mailing list so you can send more targeted emails. The more relevant your emails are to people’s needs, the more likely they are to engage with your emails.

So, consider the emails you identified earlier and answer these questions for each one:

  • Who would benefit from receiving this email?
  • Who is likely to take the action you want them to take?

What data do you need to collect?

Once you’ve identified the groups of people who should receive your emails, you’ll have a better idea about the data you need to collect and store in your ESP. You’ll also need to think about where you can collect this information.

Here are some examples with different audience segments, looking at what information is needed to create the segment and where it can be collected:

Newsletter to primary schools

  • Audience segment: Primary school teachers
  • Data needed: information about whether contacts are primary school or secondary school teachers.
  • Where to collect the data: on your mailing list sign up form or through your preference centre
  • Why segment? Teachers are busy. If you send information about primary school events to a secondary school teacher they might feel their time has been wasted and be less likely to open a future email from you.

Event announcement

  • Audience segment: people who have attended a similar event in the past
  • Data needed: information about attendance at previous events.
  • Where to collect the data: this information will be stored in your box office system. You can either set up an integration between your box office and ESP, or manually upload the information to your ESP. Your ESP help documentation will have information about how to do this.
  • Why segment? People who have attended a similar event in the past are likely to be interested in your new event and more likely to engage with the content. They are also less likely to unsubscribe from your emails if you only send them relevant content.

Re-engagement campaign

  • Audience segment: people who haven’t opened or clicked on your emails over an extended period. How long the period is depends on how often you are sending your emails.
  • Data needed: engagement data from previous sends.
  • Where to collect the data: your ESP should store this information automatically.
  • Why segment? It’s easier and more cost-effective to re-engage someone than to reach a new subscriber, so it’s a great idea to send re-engagement emails. It doesn’t have to include a special offer, but this may help to motivate them and create a sense of urgency. You can find out more Campaign Monitor’s how to run an effective re-engagement campaign.

Set up your ESP

Once you’ve worked through all these steps, you should have an idea about the different ways you want to segment your audience, which will help you plan how to organise your contacts. Here are the steps you might need to take.

  • Look at the help documentation for your system – they should have information on how to set up and segment your mailing list and creating a sign-up form.
  • If you want your contacts to segment what they want to hear from you about on sign up, decide what preferences you would like your contacts to be able to self-select.
  • Create these preferences as groups or lists in your ESP.
  • Add these preferences to your sign-up form and/or your preference page.
  • For segmentation based on information from your other systems, such as your box office, online shop or membership system, you will need to set up groups and tags so that you can attach them to individual contact records and target them in the future.
  • If you need data from other systems, check what your options are for integrations or manual transfers of data. These will be different for each combination of systems. The information should be publicly available on each company’s website, or you can speak to your system account manager if you have one.
  • If you would like help setting up or modifying your ESP, you can Ask a Tech Champion at any time.

What’s next?

The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up for our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.

Original article by Peggy Naumann. Reviewed August 2023.

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