Everyone says to “segment your audience” and to “add tags”.

Okay thanks – but WTF does that actually mean?

Email marketing is full of industry terminology which can be very confusing.

And this isn’t helped by the fact that different email marketing software uses different terminology for the exact same thing.

So in this post I’m going to try to explain so that you can actually leverage these powerful audience tools effectively and without too much overlap.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to stick to more standard definitions and then I’ll explain a few variances from different email software at the end.

The most important thing to understand about lists, segments and tags is that they are a hierarchy.


Lists appear at the top. They are the broadest grouping of your subscribers.

In fact, some software recommends that if possible, you only have ONE list.

I’m not quite that strict but I like to think about a list as a group of subscribers that I will be likely emailing the same thing on a regular (or strictly temporary) basis.

Examples include:

        Newsletter list

        Customers / Clients

        Course Students / Members

        Wait list


The idea is that if you were to send an email you would never need to send it to more than 1 list at a time.


Segments appear just under lists in the hierarchy and consist of various groups of subscribers based either information you know about a subscriber or an action that subscriber takes.

You would use these to send to smaller, specific groups in your list.

Examples include:


        Subscriber Type (e.g. industry, stage)


        Have a certain tag

        Engaged vs Unengaged

        Did not open a certain email

The key thing to remember about segments is that they are dynamic. Subscribers will automatically be added to the segment if they meet the criteria you set.


Tags are like labels that you can assign to your subscribers. You can have almost as many as you want and use this information to help you assign subscribers to segments. Or in some email marketing software you can email directly to subscribers who have a tag.

They can be added manually or automatically through automations.

They can also be used as a trigger for automations (e.g. “New Client” tag added = send onboarding emails).

Tags are helpful for quickly identifying subscribers with common characteristics or who have taken a certain action.

Examples include:

        Opt In Incentive they signed up for

        Product they purchased

        Topic they are interested in

        Webpage they have visited


A final thing worth mentioning are fields. These are the most specific – at an individual level. The most common examples are First Name or Email Address.

But there are many more you can add as custom fields and they typically fall into 3 categories:

  1.     Text based fields – where they can enter any data they like
  2.     Date based field
  3.     Selection fields – where they need to select from predefined values

Selection fields (e.g. dropdown or checkbox) are really useful if you want a subscriber to identify what they want to know more about or a characteristic that will help you create a more custom experience for them.

For example, at sign up you might ask what stage they are at (beginner, intermediate or advanced) or what type of topics they are interested in.

Once you have that information you can create segments of these subscribers and send specific emails just to them.

Date based fields are also useful for not only things like birthdays but also sending age appropriate information as a baby sleep consultant or certain emails based on an upcoming wedding date.

Text based fields aren’t as useful for segmentation but could be used as personalised content within emails.


As mentioned at the top of the post, the above is confused a bit by some email software providers using different terminology for different things.

MailChimp for example uses the term “Audiences” in place of lists.

They also have another level of categorising subscribers called “Groups”. These are handy for subscribers self selecting on signup or if using a 3rd party signup tool like MailMunch so you can easily identify who signed up for what opt in incentive.

MailerLite on the other hand uses the term “Groups” instead of “Tags”. 


Email marketing is full of terminology but the most important thing to think about is what will be most useful for your business.

List out the different categories of subscribers you think it would be useful for you to have and then have a look at your email marketing software provider to figure out the best way to organise them. It’s not as important to follow exactly what someone else recommends as it is for you to find a way to as quickly and simply as possible to identify and email those groups.

Start with one. Have a play. And you’ll soon find your feet.



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