Email List Management Basics: What is the Ideal Account Structure?


There’s a reason shows like Hoarders and Tidying Up with Marie Kondo exist: We, like Marie, love mess. But more than the mess, we love to watch the transformation — from afar, if possible.
One digital location that tends to accumulate mess in the workplace? The ESP (email service provider). Whether you use Mailchimp, Pardot, Campaign Monitor, or any of the other options for email marketing out there, the first thing you need to do before sending any emails or adding any new subscribers is to audit your account to make sure it is set up for success. Here’s our breakdown of the ideal email account structure.

The ideal account structure

Ideally, you will have the following:

1 master list of prospects

Depending on your tool, you’ll either want to have a master list, or just make sure all of your prospects are easily findable in your account. Some tools, like Mailchimp, charge based on how many subscribers you have in your lists, but you can have as many groups as possible. This means you will want to restrict the number of lists you have in order to cut costs. Check the pricing structure of your tool before building out unnecessarily costly lists or groups.

3-5 categories

The taxonomy here will vary depending on your tool. Either way, the largest container in your account should be based on how someone found or is related to your organization. Ask yourself the question: How did this person get to be on your list? Some examples of group categories of categories of lists could be:

  • General Interest
  • Programs
  • Events
  • Donors

More granular groups

Again, taxonomy varies depending on your email service provider, but all will have a way to identify subsections of your list. Again, these should be based on how someone found or is related to your organization, but they should also be more specific than the group categories or categories of lists. For example, in the Donors category above, you could include groups for:

  • Event donors
  • Lapsed donors
  • Top donors
  • Campaign donors

Segments based on subscriber behavior

Within the each list there should be segments based on behaviors to target users based on engagement. Think: How did this person interact with your emails once they were on your list?
One way you could use a segment would be to build a winback campaign to send emails to people who have not opened your newsletter in the last 6 months to remind them they are on your list and encourage them to re-engage.

Tags to track lead status

Within the each list there are tags to track lead status. Depending on your organization’s email goals, this could mean their status toward becoming a volunteer, making a purchase, or donating. When using tags, be sure to set up your taxonomy first, and have a cheat sheet available for anyone that uses your email service provider — this will prevent any erroneous or superfluous tags from being added down the line.

Why does this structure work?

Why do we recommend building out an email marketing account this way? As noted above, it often cuts cost by reducing the number of lists — which also reduces the likelihood of double-sending to an individual subscriber.
This structure also functions like a funnel or a Russian doll — you start with your full list of prospects, and then organize them into smaller sections within the list, and on and on. Finally, by incorporating segmentation based on both how someone got to your list and then how they interacted with you once they were on your list, you can use both layers of segmentation to better understand your audience and tailor messaging to resonate with them. Studies show that segmenting emails can increase open rate by 15%.

How do we implement this?

Now you may be thinking, this is all good in theory, but how do we do this in practice? We have just the spreadsheet for you. Download our template below, and follow these steps to update your account for sustainable growth, follow these steps:

  1. Write up your ideal account structure in the first tab of the spreadsheet to use as your aspirational guide
  2. Update the migration map in the second tab of the spreadsheet to outline how each existing list or group in your account will be kept, renamed, moved, or deleted entirely
  3. Export all lists in your account and save copies, just in case
  4. Go into your account and update your existing lists and groups based on your migration map. You should end up with your ideal account structure.
  5. Review your lists to make sure subscribers are in the right place

Want to keep your email list clean? Here’s our guide to email account hygiene.

Email Migration Template


Email Audit and Migration Template

Email lists can get messy. Set yourself up for success with this template!