Email Marketing: One Email List to Rule Them All and Why

35mm film photo taken in Surabaya Indonesia by mark l chaves

re you using more than one email marketing list? If so, you should consider using only one physical list. In the case of email lists, less is definitely more.

First I’ll give the reasons why having multiple email lists is a no-no. Then to illustrate the dangers of multiple lists, I’ll walk you through a newsletter email scenario that most of us did before we knew better.

Why Multiple Email Lists Are A No-No

  1. You increase your chance of being shut down because of anti-spam compliance. Yes, you can be booted out for being a spammer before you even knew what hit you.
  2. Managing several lists instead of just one eats up your precious time thus creating overhead and cutting into your profits not to mention stressing you out.
  3. If you are on a plan that charges by subscriber (email address), you will needlessly increase your costs. Every email address counts against your subscription quota — even the duplicates.

A Newsletter Email Scenario

Suppose you have lists of contacts and you want to start a newsletter.

Example of a typical list of contacts (i.e. your main list).

You import your contacts into your favourite email marketing application, e.g. MailChimp, GetResponse, AWeber, or Constant Contact. Your first newsletters are about broad topics, and everyone seems happy. One day you send out a send out a newsletter about photography because it’s a super trendy topic, and you dabble with a camera anyway.

One of the toughest challenges that marketers face is understanding who is in your database, how your contacts are different, and then deciding how to best market to them. The best place to start is by grouping your contacts by similar characteristics, and then building a strategy for each group — Jeffrey Russo, HubSpot Academy

Then it happens, you get your first few unsubscribes. You give it some thought and do a little research. You decide to create a new list just for photography newsletters because you want to write more on the subject. You recall from memory who is interested in photography and add them to the list. You keep your original list around as your main go-to list.

Photography list.

The Trap

This works out crazy well. Then you create a list using your female contacts so you can share women specific health information. This list is a bit easier to create because you have the first name to help you determine who is female (not 100% reliable though).

Your readers who are women.

The women-only newsletters work out too. And it just so happens you get caught up in the yoga craze. So now you start writing about yoga, and yet another specialised list is born from memory.

Your yoga peeps.

The Yucky Stuff: when things start going bad

So the good thing is that you discovered that if you broke up your main list into groups (segments), you were able to share more pertinent or targeted information. Your targeted content was more relate-able than your original emails making your new campaigns more engaging.

But, here’s what’s lurking around the corner when using multiple physical email lists. And, it could get ugly real fast.

  1. Mary Allarounder’s email bounced from your last women’s newsletter. If you forget to remove her from your photography and main list, her email will bounce two more times thus penalising or shutting down your account. If you remembered to remove her from the other two lists, then your account is saved. But you realise that tracking her down cost you time, and you won’t be able to handle more of these as your subscribers and lists grow.
  2. You learned how to create an opt-in form on your website. You create a form on your home page and tie it to your original main list. When you get notified that someone subscribed, you do your best to get into your main list and figure if they should be added to one of your specialised lists too. Every time you skip an update you miss an opportunity to convert. You realise your lists are getting out sync real fast.
  3. What if you want to expand your readers because you know that yogis are also into fitness or photogs are also into traveling? What if you want to promote a women-only yoga class? How would you do this given that you are only capturing the email address and first and last name?
  4. Jane Yoga gets married and changes her last name to Smith. Jane is a loyal follower, and she is digging your yoga newsletter. She updates her profile on your yoga list with her new last name. You send out an announcement newsletter to all your readers using your main email list (first list). Jane sees your latest newsletter and wonders why her last name is still ‘Yoga’ while she scratches her head.

Having one physical master list organised into useful segments is essential for effective and sustainable email marketing.


For me, having one physical master list organised into useful sub-lists (i.e. segments) is essential for effective and sustainable email marketing. In a perfect world, before any marketing activity begins, we should know our audience. In reality, we tend to blast off emails or pound on social media channels before we learn more about the real people behind But, once we start thinking, “Hey, what if we group our contacts according to their demographics and what they like?” we open the door to a deeper connection with our followers. Segmentation is fundamental for marketing (as in life).

Background reading

  1. MailChimp’s best practices for email lists.
  2. HubSpot’s beginner’s guide to segmentation.
  3. Mailchimp groups, segments, and tags overview video updated for 2020.

Thanks for reading!

I slung code for Fortune 500 companies in a previous life. Now, I write and make some photographs. I’ve moved on to Portfolio on