Understanding the difference between segments and lists

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Learn the difference between segments and lists, which are two Klaviyo tools you can use to keep track of your subscribers and contacts. Segmentation is one of the most important aspects of your Klaviyo account. Not only can you get extremely granular with your data, but segmentation happens fast, allowing you to get back to your data-driven marketing. That being said, it is important to understand the difference between segments and lists when getting started with Klaviyo. 

Not sure where to get started with segments? Check out our guide to getting started with segments.

What is a segment?

Unlike a traditional subscriber list, segments are defined by a set of conditions. For example, a segment could include everyone who's ever purchased, visited your website last week, or opened a specific email. Segments are dynamic and will grow and shrink based on customer behavior. They are typically used in three ways: 

  1. To send targeted campaigns
    Instead of sending a campaign to your entire newsletter list, you can use a segment to build meaningful cross-sections of your list to which you can send more relevant content; e.g., you could contact everyone on your newsletter list who also opened an email from you in the past 30 days.
  2. To trigger email flows
    If you would like to trigger an automated email flow whenever someone meets a set of conditions (e.g., has made exactly one purchase) for the first time, you can use a segment as the flow trigger.
  3. For analysis
    Since segments are automatically updated in real-time, they provide an easy way to see what's going on with your audience.

What is a list?

Unlike dynamic segments, lists are static. They contain anyone who has subscribed to join the list and will only grow or shrink as people either subscribe or unsubscribe. As a general best practice, we recommend having a single main list (e.g., a newsletter list) that contains all of your active profiles who have consented to receive your marketing communication.

Lists vs. segments

If you explore the Lists & Segments tab of our account, you will see and be able to create both lists and segments:

  • Lists are used by almost all ESPs — they're a collection of people's email addresses grouped under an identifiable label; you can add people to a list manually, or people can join a list themselves by subscribing through a form
  • Segments are defined by a set of conditions, as explained above, rather than a fixed list of people — a segment will grow as new people meet the conditions and shrink as people no longer meet them

Lists are used for growing an audience that you can then keep in touch with through automated flows and campaigns.

Segments can be used to help with a variety of additional marketing efforts:

  • List cleaning
    One example, people who have received but not opened your last 20 emails should be segmented out of the main list you send to.
  • Cross sell
    Build a segment of people who bought a specific product but have not purchased one or more related products.
  • Marketing
    Build a segment of people who have never purchased from a specific category or visited certain pages on your website.
  • Loyalty programs
    Build a segment of people who have spent over a certain threshold.

Segments, unlike lists, will automatically curate from all people in your account based on the conditions you establish — this is why it is important to confine your segments to a specific list (like your newsletter list) if you are going to send them an email campaign. Otherwise, segments will pull from everyone in your account, including people who have not necessarily opted in to receive marketing emails from you.

Likewise, because segments are dynamic and built on fitting certain preset conditions, contacts will only be added to a segment when they fit the conditions of the segment. As such, you cannot quick add, import a segment, or make a signup form to add subscribers to a segment, but you can do that for a list.

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