The Key to Maximizing Opens and Clicks: Segmenting By Engagement Level

We’ve said it time and time again here on the Hive blog: segmenting your list and email sends by engagement level is key, no matter what you sell. It’s one of the strongest yet simplest tactics for better opens, clicks, deliverability, and customer engagement. Heck, we believe it’s so important we built it straight into our product! Let’s dive into why segmenting by subscriber engagement is a crucial email tactic for any brand.

Why Segment By Engagement Level?

The goal of every email strategy is to engage subscribers and get them to convert, through an open, click, and hopefully a purchase. By segmenting your sends on unique past engagement behaviour, you’re sending emails to subscribers based on when and how they’ll most likely engage.

Think about subscriber engagement like the customer buying journey - by leveraging the data you have on how they’ve engaged with your last few emails, you can tailor their email experience unique to their relationship with your brand so far. This helps you build stronger customer relationships, and engage them in meaningful ways that improve retention. Plus, your list is split between subscribers who love your brand and always open and click your emails, and subscribers who’ve lost interest and haven’t opened emails in a while. In fact, chances are more than half your list falls into this latter bucket, as an average of over 66% of marketers lists are inactive. Why continue to send emails to unengaged subscribers you know won’t open them? Imagine you were that uninterested subscriber, wouldn’t you be annoyed and eventually unsubscribe? Continuing to email unengaged subscribers will affect your overall opens and clicks, and damage your deliverability to all your subscribers (even your engaged ones).

One more example - let’s say you have a segmentation strategy based on subscriber demographics like gender, location, or preferences. You should still segment by engagement on top of this to exclude inactive subscribers because chances are, even a targeted email based on their interests won’t capture their attention if they haven’t engaged in a while.

Segmenting your list by engagement level helps you know who in your list is likely to open your email and who isn’t, and makes it easier for you to strategically email inactive subscribers through re-engagement campaigns and winback automations.

How to Create Engagement Segments

Hive automatically buckets your contacts into engagement levels: actives, new subscribers, at-risk, inactives, and invalids, making it easier for you to send core campaigns to your active subscribers and strategically email subscribers in other levels. These engagement segments update in real-time based on how subscribers are engaging with your emails, giving you the most accurate and comprehensive view of your list. We expose engagement segments right in the email campaign builder, a step after general segmentation (on demographics, preferences, etc), making it quick and easy to select who you want to send to.

If you’re on an ESP like Klaviyo or Mailchimp, you’ll need to manually create dynamic segments off your master list, filtered on past engagement data. It’s important to double check that these segments are based off your entire list and update regularly to accurately capture and reflect your subscriber’s behaviour. Here’s filtering logic you can use to guide setup:

  • Active: Subscribers who’ve opened or clicked any of the last 5 emails they received
  • New: Subscribers who haven’t yet engaged but have received less than 5 emails
  • At-Risk: Subscribers who haven’t engaged recently and received at least 5 emails
  • Inactive: Subscribers who haven’t engaged with any of the last 10+ emails they’ve received
  • Invalid: Contacts who have unsubscribed, spam complained, or have invalid emails

This Invalid engagement segment is one you should never email (it’s illegal to email unsubscribed contacts anyway). You may already have a similar segment if you’ve made it a habit to clean and prune your list to maintain good list hygiene.

You can adjust these parameters based on your brand’s sending frequency and buying lifecycle. For example, a mattress company may choose to increase the number of emails from 5 to 10, allowing for more time before deeming a subscriber as unengaged.

Note how the estimated open rate decreases from 50% to 38% when the At-Risk and Inactive segments are selected. This reflects the slim chance subscribers in either of these segments will open your email if you choose to send to them. That's why it's best to send your core campaigns to your most engaged subscribers, and isolate unengaged subscribers to strategically email.

The #1 Sending Strategy, Leveraging Engagement Segments

In order to leverage the power of engagement segments and maximize your opens, clicks, and deliverability, it’s important to adjust your sending strategy to reflect these segments:

Send Regular Campaigns to Actives and New Subscribers

We recommend sending your main campaigns to your active and new subscribers, as they’re the most likely to open and click your emails. They’ve either engaged with your recent emails, or have just signed up to your list and have expressed interest in hearing from you. These two engagement segments are your bread and butter, because you know they’re likely to engage with any emails you send.

Immediately Welcome New Signups With a Welcome Automation

For new subscribers who have just signed up to your list, it’s important to immediately welcome them with an automated welcome email. This is the most effective way to engage new subscribers, as welcome automations trigger based on unique individual signups. With 74% of consumers expecting a welcome email when they subscribe, it’s important you have a welcome automation setup so new subscribers receive a welcome email before your regular campaigns (mentioned above).

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Building an Effective Welcome Series

Welcome automations are also crucial for better deliverability and inbox placement long term. To keep it simple, they’re the first thing a new subscriber will receive from you, making them the first thing ISPs (Internet Service Providers like Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook) judge when deciding your sender relationship with a new subscriber. Welcome automations are your best chance at signalling to ISPs that you're a trustworthy sender, and with a whopping 91% average open rate, they guarantee your future inbox placement.

Re-engage At-Risk and Inactive Subscribers With A Winback Automation

Your At-Risk and Inactive segments contain subscribers who haven’t engaged in a while. Your regular campaigns haven’t piqued their interest, so the best way to re-engage them and turn them back into active subscribers is through a winback automation. These automations are designed specifically to re-engage inactives, with incentives like exclusive discounts and direct re-engagement copy like ‘We miss you’ or ‘Is it us?’. These inactive subscribers were interested in your brand once upon a time, so there’s a high chance you can pique their interest again with the right email content. Check out this blog post for more tips on building an effective winback automation.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Building an Effective Winback Series

Why Engagement Levels Guarantee Better Deliverability

As Sparkpost says, “User engagement with emails matters more than ever. It’s the key factor in deliverability - and your success”. Your subscriber engagement is one of the main factors that ISPs take into consideration when scoring your sender reputation. By segmenting your list and sending based on engagement level, you’re essentially sending emails you know are likely to be opened, which effectively improves deliverability across all your recipients. To put it another way, by isolating unengaged subscribers and excluding them from your regular sends, you protect your inbox placement to engaged subscribers (sending to unengaged subscribers damages deliverability to all your recipients, engaged and unengaged).

Sending only to engaged subscribers you know will likely open and targeting those that won’t strategically with automations, puts user engagement at the core of your sending strategy. You can be confident that all your email sends are intentional and optimized for engagement, whether it’s a regular campaign to an active subscriber, welcome email to a new signup or re-engagement campaign to an inactive subscriber.

To dive deeper into deliverability and understand what ISPs look for when ranking your sender reputation, check out Hive’s Ultimate Guide to Deliverability. This guide breaks it all down and shares email tips that will further improve inbox placement, like setting up subdomains.

Wrap Up

Engagement levels bubble up how your list and email strategy are performing, giving you insight and transparency into how subscribers are engaging with your campaigns. Segmenting your list and adjusting your sending strategy based on engagement levels is key to maximizing your opens, clicks and revenue. Whether you sell merch, run a Shopify store, or manage multiple event venues, leverage the power of engagement segments to build stronger customer relationships, drive conversion and improve retention long term.

Hive's Ultimate Guide to Email Deliverability