Stop the Confusion: MailChimp Lists, Groups & Segments Explained

I used the MailChimp platform for more than four years before switching to ConvertKit, and learned to navigate it pretty easily. I taught myself the ins and outs of lists, groups, and segments, I understand hidden and visible fields, and know how to set up various triggers for automation workflows without much thought.

But that's not the norm, and I know that based on the questions I receive via email, in the courses and webinars I lead, and in my Facebook community.

One of the questions I get asked most often is:

What the heck are groups & segments?!

This is usually asked in frustration, and I do my best to explain, but it's a difficult concept to grasp. Today, I want to attempt to explain the different between MailChimp lists, groups, and segments, and share several ways in which these three terms might apply to your own email marketing campaigns.

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

One of my favorite metaphors that helps me explain the difference between the three terms is this:

A segment is the home your subscriber lives in.

A group is their subdivision.

A list is their city.

Let that sink in for a second and it might help you create a visual.

While you might grasp the meaning of each term, you still might be a bit confused as to how they each apply to your email list within MailChimp. Let's dive in.

Want to start simpler? CLICK HERE TO LEARN MAILCHIMP  BASICS FOR BEGINNERS FIRST.

MAILCHIMP LISTS

Most bloggers will probably only ever need one MailChimp list, like a master list for everything you do.

It's worth noting that MailChimp charges you based on the number of subscribers in your list. If you create 3 lists, for example, and I subscribe to each of your lists, MailChimp will count my email address three times. If you're on the free account, that's not a big deal, but as your list grows, this could present a problem.

To avoid paying for the same subscriber multiple times, you need to implement groups and segments.

But let's discuss lists first. Your list will be the hub of all of your email marketing activity.

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

Why might you ever need to create more than one list? If you have more than one blog or website, you might benefit from creating one email list for each blog or website.

You will then be able to create groups and segments for each individual blog or business based on each individual list.

Remember, based on my analogy, your list is the city in which your subscribers live.

MAILCHIMP GROUPS

The best way to understand groups is to think of them as categories. So within your "city" (your master list), there are multiple subdivisions, or "groups".

You add groups to your sign-up form and can make them visible or hidden, but to keep things simple, we're only going to talk about visible groups.

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

For example, I created a group for Newsletter Frequency, giving my Sweet Tea & Saving Grace subscribers the option to choose to receive a weekly recap, a monthly newsletter, or both.

You might create a group for your blog categories and allow subscribers to select their favorite types of blog posts.

How are we doing so far? Making sense?

A quick note about adding groups to your sign-up form:

MailChimp allows you to add checkboxes, radio buttons, or a drop-down menu. If you want your subscribers to be able to choose ONE OR MORE of the options, use checkboxes. If you want your subscribers to be able to select ONLY ONE option, use radio buttons or the drop-down menu. Get it? Ok good.

MAILCHIMP SEGMENTS

So, we've got all of our subscribers in one "city", or list. We've given them the ability to choose which "subdivision" to live in, or group. Now it's time to put them in a specific "house", or segment.

Now, after creating a group on your sign-up form - let's use my Newsletter Frequency group as an example - you will then go into your list and create segments based on this group.

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

As you can see, my group is Newsletter Frequency, and I have created 2 segments - one for monthly, and one for weekly.

Segments are not limited only to group contents. You can segment your list based on all kinds of data, like campaign activity (like how many emails they have or have not opened), subscriber data (like how long they've been a subscriber), member rating, or any combination of these and others.

SEVERAL WAYS TO UTILIZE SEGMENTATION

Segmentation has so many awesome purposes - way more than I can get into in one blog post - but I'll show you a few of my favorite ways to utilize segmentation. I've already mentioned segmenting based on newsletter frequency, so let's look at a few others:

CLEANING YOUR LIST

One of the things I preach to clients and students is to focus on quality over quantity, meaning the total number of subscribers is not nearly as important as the engagement from that list, like your open and click rate.

LEARN MORE ABOUT CLEANING YOUR EMAIL LIST HERE.

If you have been growing your email list for a while, there's a good chance you have some stale subscribers sitting there taking up space. (I'm going to write another post specifically on cleaning your list, don't worry!)

Using segmentation in MailChimp, you can find out who has been on your list the longest, and of those subscribers, which ones are no longer interacting with your emails.

Your segmentation would look something like this (be sure to select "all", not "any"):

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

TRACKING SUBSCRIBER SIGN-UP LOCATION

Yes, you really can do that in MailChimp! With a simple line of code added to your embedded MailChimp form, you can notate every single place where you embed your sign-up form, then segment your list accordingly.

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

First you need to navigate to Settings --> List fields and *|MERGE|* tags. Add a new text field and name it accordingly.

As you can see in my own example above, I named the field "Signup Source". Be sure the "Visible" box is unchecked so this field DOES NOT appear on your sign-up form. Give your merge tag a name - I used "LOCATION".

Next, navigate to Signup Forms --> Embedded Forms, copy the whole code and paste it into the Notepad app on your computer. (Don't use a Word doc, as it can negatively affect the coding.)

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

Look for the line that begins with <form action= and scroll to the right until you get to the end of the long URL ending in quotation marks, just before the word "method".

INSIDE THE QUOTATION MARKS you will add this little bit of code:

&MERGE=value     "MERGE" will be the name of your text merge tag you just created. In my own example, this is "LOCATION". Replace "value" with the location of your sign-up form.

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

In the image above, you can see that I added &LOCATION=sidebar to notate that this form will be embedded in my sidebar.

Each time you embed this form into a new location, simply change the "value" to reflect that location - like "home page", "post footer", "about page", etc.

You will simply create a new segment for each location, like this, changing the name of the location for each place you want to track:

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

CONTENT UPGRADES

I'm kind of obsessed with content upgrades, blog post-specific freebies that add value to your blog post and encourage readers to sign up for your email list.

MailChimp integrates seamlessly with LeadPages, allowing you to easily deliver content upgrades to your readers.

Using the same steps to add a hidden text merge tag as we used to track our subscriber's location, you will create a merge tag for each new content upgrade, with one slight difference:

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

To track your subscribers' location, we left the default merge tag value blank. For content upgrades, the default merge tag value should be "yes".

Create a segment for each content upgrade like this:

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

When you create your LeadBox for each content upgrade, be sure to click to "show advanced options" to show hidden fields, then select your corresponding segment:

Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!
Avoid paying for duplicate email addresses, send more targeted emails, and give your subscribers options. MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments explained!

You can then opt to have your content upgrade delivered immediately via a link in the LeadPages "thank you page" section, or set up an automated workflow in MailChimp triggered when subscribers land in that particular segment.

There you have it, a detailed explanation of MailChimp Lists, Groups, and Segments.

Your turn: Do you currently utilize segmentation in MailChimp? If so, in what ways? If not, what ideas do you have to do so in the future?