What are the differences between a Group, an Import, and a Segment? And when should I use each?

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  • Updated 2 years ago
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In talking strategy and engagement with Emma users, I’ve learned there’s some confusion about groups vs. imports vs. segments -- all tools on your Audience page. Let’s break down each feature so you 1, aren’t wasting your time (the worst), and 2, aren’t creating a rat’s nest of unhelpful data (the second-worst).


When you land on the Audience page of your account, your groups display by default. Groups are collections of contacts that can be manually added – for example, if someone tells you they want to receive your emails sent to dog owners, you can click the Add a contact button to manually add them to your Dog Owners group – yet are typically created by importing a list of contacts into your account using the Import contacts tool; perhaps your existing Dog Owners group was created through an import of addresses you collected at a specific event. Groups are an easy way to designate which email addresses receive which messages.



When you import a .csv or Excel file into Emma, you’re prompted at the end of the process to add those email addresses to a group. At this point, most folks are inclined to create a brand-new group. That makes sense, right? This is a specific list, so you import it into its specific group. The trouble with this workflow is that many Emma users quickly end up with huge (and sometimes hard to organize) lists of groups. Important groups become hard to find, and old groups confuse us when we try to find the right set of people.

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Another way to organize your Audience is by using segments. Segments (found on the tab next to the Groups tab of your Audience page) are a fantastic value-add to your Emma account, because they are dynamic (meaning the segment re-runs each time you open it) and can be created by searching for contacts who share common traits. Set them up once, and they become an evergreen list of contacts.


Segments can be created based on group membership, contact fields, response information (think everyone in a specific group who has clicked in the last three months) or signup/manage preferences history. When it comes to contact fields, the sky's the limit: You are able to store as many pieces of information about your contacts that you like and then create segments based off of that information. With contact fields in place, you can keep your list of groups uncluttered and do the majority of your sending to segments.

Let’s talk examples

You can import contacts into your Dog Owners group, then create a segment that looks for everyone in that group who has a Siberian Husky – assuming you have a contact field in which you’re storing breed. When you’re creating your next email, you can then tweak the content to make it more relevant to that specific audience of people. When you go to send your mailing, you know that if you send to that segment, you’re capturing everyone who fits the criteria you’re seeking. You’ve got a more organized and easy to use audience, as well as a more targeted sending strategy that’s destined to get you better results.

What are some of the ways you use groups and segments? Do you automate messages based on contact field information, or do you use groups to specify specific interests? Share your best practices below, and find new ways to target your most valuable customers.

Extra reading:

• Why images are the secret ingredient 
• Use variety in your emails to grab attention
• What questions should you ask before sending your email?
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Rachel Rogers, Communications Strategist

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Posted 4 years ago

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Joslin Diabetes Center

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Very informative, thanks. My question is:  if I have two groups and I want to create a segment from just one of those groups, how do I do that? 
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Katie Lewis, Official Rep

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Hi! When you're following these steps to create your segment, you can select to narrow down your results by folks who are in the group of your choice. :)
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Joslin Diabetes Center

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Great!  Thanks very much.
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Frederick Oliver

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Great article. I have been preaching to my agency users to use segments rather than groups for years. The beauty of segments is that they are dynamic and update automatically when contacts are imported or updated.  When a contact's data is changed and it meets the segment's conditions it is rolled into the segment. No need to manually add these contacts to another group. So much easier to manage.
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Discover Europe

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This article is very helpful, I'm just still confused as to how I should be setting my audience up. I want my master list of "opt-ins", and then different, smaller segments with what type of tours they are interested in. Does it matter at all if I set up the smaller audience groups based on interest fields as a segment or a group? Thanks! 
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Grey Stepp, Support Team Manager

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Hey there Discover Europe, 

Typically to figure out whether to use segments or groups, I like to think about HOW the contacts are being added to the account.

Groups are more "manual" in nature.  Imports into groups, signup forms sending contacts to specific groups, etc.  If those are how contacts are coming in, it may be best to use GROUPS.  

Segments are more "dynamic" , or rather they update automatically based on criteria in the contact record.  So if you're bringing in information that can be used to identify who should be in each segment, it may be better to set up segments and have Emma automatically sort those for you.  

For example,  if I had a signup form for "Tour A" and a spreadsheet of contacts I was importing that was all "Tour A" and a separate signup form and spreadsheet for "Tour B", I would use groups, because you can assign the signup form or the import to the specific group.  

If you had a single signup form and you were having the contacts choose in a contact field whether they were interested in "Tour A" or "Tour B", then I would use segments to automatically filter those contacts into the appropriate segment based on what they entered into that contact field.  

Let me know if I need to go any deeper on that topic!