In this animated explainer video, we take a look at the benefits of using a single list (or just fewer lists) and how this can help you streamline your account.
We generally recommend using a single list for all your contacts - instead of multiple lists for different sends, or for different types of contacts. Here's a few reasons why...
- If you have information coming from multiple sources or systems, it's easier to manage future data uploads when there's less lists to import into.
- The email preferences / list preferences function works best with a single list.
- Unsubscribe & bounce management is simplified.
- It's easier to group or segment contacts when there's only one list to deal with - it's also easier to send to a specific group of contacts.
- Lead scoring for email nurtures is vastly simplified.
- It's far easier to personalise the content of your email or SMS messages when you have a single list to pull contact criteria from.
- Reporting is improved when using a single list - as sends, clicks & opens are stored on a per-contact basis. If you were to run multiple lists with the same contact in each, we treat these as separate & unique contacts, so your reporting data would be split.
- If you have contact duplication between lists, a single list could save you money by keeping your total number of contacts low.
Regarding those last two last points - let's say that you had 400 contacts in one list and then 200 were copied into a separate list to send messages to. Although you have 400 individual contacts in the original list, the duplicates are counted as separate contacts. This means your total contact volume would be classed as 600 contacts, which would push your account into the next pricing tier.
Just because you're using a single / master list, doesn't mean it has to be the only list in your account. Although it's a good idea to combine customer lists into a single list, you can still definitely keep internal (staff) & external (customer) lists separate if you wish.
Every business is different, so we have provided some sample scenarios in the section titled "Common List Scenarios & Solutions", at the end of this article.
When Is a Single List Not Recommended?
If you have datasets that don't make sense to mix (like customer & staff lists), or if you don't think you'll have much contact duplication between your lists, then sticking with multiple lists is probably fine.
Additionally, if you need to use multiple forms on your lists (eg. multiple subscription forms, or multiple update profile forms for surveys, etc) and you're on our 'Starter' plan, we don't recommend moving to a single list - as our 'Starter' plan doesn't let you add any extra forms.
When you use a single list, or are thinking of combining multiple lists into one, it's important to make sure you can still find, or send to, specific contacts if you ever need to.
Let's say you have a basic eNews subscription list with a form on your website that just asks for the contacts First name & Email. Your other list is from an in-store decorating workshop and this list has all kinds of information such as their name & email, the date & time of the workshop they attended, the trainer who ran the workshop as well as the results of a post-workshop survey you sent the contact.
When combining these two lists, you'll easily be able to find & send to just the eNews-only contacts, as all of the fields relating to the decorating workshop would be blank. If you want to send to decorating workshop attendees, then that's easy too - because you can just search for contacts who have data in one or more of the related workshop fields.
However, what if the same person signed up for the eNews and attended a workshop? The data collected during a workshop also happens to contain the same two fields used for an eNews signup ...so how will you know if they want to receive your eNewsletter?
There are two key ways you can do this; Email Preferences and / or create extra fields to store additional identifying information so that you can find these contacts again at a later date.
Let's take a look at these ideas in more detail.
Segment Contacts by Using Extra Fields
One idea is to create a few new fields on your list to store extra information. Remember, you can have as many fields as you like against each of your contact records - so why not make extra fields to store whatever extra information you need about your contacts.
Before combining multiple lists into one, you could add an extra column to your data (in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets) to identify the source of the contact. However, this only works up until that point in time. Any new contacts subscribing to your eNewsletter via the website won't have this data appended to their record - so you're back to square one really. This is why we recommend using Email Preferences.
Segment by Using Preferences
Another idea (and remember you can use both of these at the same time) is to use our Email Preferences feature.
Preferences are great because you can assign them at the time of import, contacts can select their preferences when they fill in a (Subscription) form, they can change their preferences at any time themselves using an Update Profile or Preferences form, you can add more preferences over time, you can edit them at any time in bulk and you can also hide certain preferences from contacts if you need some internal ones, but don't want the contact to be able to see or change them.
Preferences are often used to let the contact opt in and out of certain communications from you - but you can use them for anything really. The three most common preferences our clients seem to use are 'Newsletters', 'Promotions' and 'Events'.
If we use these as an example, your contact could sign-up to your email list via a Subscription form on your website and choose to opt into your eNews, but opt out of everything else. Of course, if they change their mind later on, they can always edit their preferences.
Sending to the Right Group of Contacts
Once your single / master list is setup, the next logical step is knowing how to send your email or SMS messages to a specific group of contacts.
Instead of sending to an entire list like you may have done in the past, you will want to choose the Advanced Selection option on the send screen. On this screen you can run a search (or select a pre-saved search) to locate the contacts you'd like to send to.
This could be by either searching one or more of your fields for a certain value (or for the lack of a value) - or by searching for contacts that have a specific Preference assigned (if you're using our Email Preferences feature)... or both!
How to Send To Segmented Contacts or Contacts With Email Preferences, including how to save your segment searches
How to Move to a Single Master List
We have a dedicated article which provides how-to instructions on combining lists.
How to Merge Multiple Lists
Common List Scenarios & Solutions
In this section we've provided a number of common scenarios for multiple lists, with some information and potential solutions once you've moved across to a master list arrangement.
Scenario 1: A Different List per Send (Or per Campaign)
Some companies manage their customer data in another system, and merely import a list into our platform each time they do a send. How does this work when using a master list?
In this scenario, we would recommend creating a field on your master list called Campaign Name (or similar). Then when you do an upload of contacts into your master list for the next campaign send, your import file (or spreadsheet) would have a value in this field - making it easy to identify which contacts should receive the email you're about to send.
If some of the contacts you're importing already exist in the master list, our system will automatically update their existing records with the new Campaign Name value from your import file. Anyone new, will be added.
Then, when you go to do your email send, you'd just run an Advanced Search to find all contacts who have a particular value in their Campaign Name field and then do your send to those.
Scenario 2: Maintain a Frequently-Changing Distribution List (Eg. a List of Staff)
In some instances, you may have a list that updates fairly regularly - such as a list of staff at a large organisation where people come and go from time to time.
In this scenario, you would re-import your contacts into your existing master list as normal, but then run an Advanced Search on the field called Date Last Modified. This will allow you to search for contacts who's date last modified was before when you did your import.
You can then delete the resulting contacts, because they were not updated (and hence, were not in the list you just uploaded).
Scenario 3: Internal (Staff) & External (Customer) Lists
It's still fine to keep some lists separate - especially since your internal comms may be confidential and you don't accidentally want customers receiving it.
Remember, just because you're using a master list, doesn't mean it has to be the only list in your account. Although it's a good idea to combine customer lists into a single list, you can still definitely keep internal (staff) & external (customer) lists separate if you wish.
In this scenario, you would have two lists in your account; one for staff, and another for customers.
For more tips & tricks on database maintenance & list cleaning, see List & Database Maintenance Tips.