Mailchimp Tags vs Mailchimp Groups

How to decide which you should be using…

Mailchimp Tags or Groups?

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In the second half of 2018, MailChimp sent out an email that (for those of us a little too deep into the MailChimp world), was akin to Indiana Jones discovering the Holy Grail or Luke Skywalker discovering the force.

“We’re Pleased to announce the introduction of tags…”

Tags would allow for effective segmentation, and all the fun, yummy stuff that comes with that.

Tags would take over from Groups (which were in many people’s eyes, already tags in all but name) and the confusion would end.

Tags would give some clarity on the whole group/segment discussion.

Tags would make you a cup of coffee and give you a neck rub when you felt tense…(…ok maybe this last one is a bit of stretch.)

But tags were still something that we all hoped would revolutionise our usage of the beloved simian based email system.

…unfortunately, since they were introduced, the reality of tags & groups has never really been clearly defined.

It’s something regularly discussed in the MailChimp Answers Facebook Group that I run (join us if you haven’t already done so!).

So what should you be using? Tags or Groups?

Well, before we delve into the pro’s and con’s of Mailchimp Groups vs tags, let’s take a small step back and understand why we’d want to segment in the first place.

An old Jedi once said…

If I can corrupt a quote from the Star Wars universe…

“Segmentation leads to Engagement, Engagement leads to Conversion, Conversion leads to the light side of the force (and more sales)”

The fact is, if you want your marketing to succeed, the more specific and relevant you are, the better.

When we’re communicating in a mass-market environment using tools like MailChimp, it’s very easy to treat everyone the same.

…and that’s where people’s marketing efforts start to struggle and fade.

Successful marketing is NOT about treating everyone the same, it’s about identifying groups of individuals that have things in common and treating each of these groups differently.

Saying different things to them, showing them different images, selling them different products.

Let me give you an example:

I’m a lover of ‘cool’ trainers, and currently really love Vans.

Now Vans are a “skate” brand, and the closest you’ll see me to a skate park is when I see one on TV…

Vans are seen by hardcore skaters as “Authentic”… but to me, they’re purely fashion.

As such, if Vans can identify that someone is an actual ‘skater’ they’ll send them completely different information and marketing compared to what I see as purely a “fashion” person.

Skaters don’t necessarily want to be cool (and I know I’m oversimplifying things) and so the message I’d respond to may not be the one they respond to.

Segmenting the market means a slightly different message to each group…

…and a more specific message is likely to get a positive response… and so on…

Bottom line, is if you’re not segmenting your database in some way, your marketing has the potential to improve.

So how can you segment in MailChimp?

Segmenting in MailChimp

MailChimp gives you several different ways to segment your overall database.

…you could have an audience/list for each segment (click here to see why that’s probably not the best idea)

…or you could segment a single audience using something…something like segments, groups or tags.

For the purposes of this article, I will not be going into segments as in essence, they are pretty much the same as tags (in fact they are tags in reality, but let’s not get into semantics)

Sooo… Groups vs Tags… who you got?

The case for Tags

Tags are relatively new but since they launched them in mid 2018, MailChimp have been pushing them pretty hard.

Tags are essentially a way to identify people who have things in common. You can ‘tag’ a group of contacts in MailChimp in whatever manner you choose. 

Say for example you had a group of people who were press contacts in your list – well you could tag them all with the ‘press’ tag.

These tags allow you to separate these people from everyone else and communicate with them separately – which is pretty much the idea behind segmentation!

When it comes to tags, here are some of the key benefits…

  • Once you’ve got people in your list, it’s pretty easy to ‘tag’ them, just find them and use the tag button.
  • More and more signup tools (Gravity Forms, MailMunch) give you the option to apply a tag at signup depending on which form you are using (which is always a big plus in my book).
  • You can trigger automations based on individuals being tagged… so if someone requests a report, you can create an automation and then tag someone who wants it and the email is automatically sent….plus you can auto tag people once they’ve had an automation sent.
  • It’s easy to see them on the MailChimp list view and easy to identify those who qualify.
  • You can have unlimited tags.
  • They play well in Mailchimp Customer Journeys.
  • You can automatically add tags to people who complete a Mailchimp Landing Page.

So pretty good… they are quite powerful, but how do they match up with Groups (the OG of segmentation).

The case for Groups

Groups have been around for a long time in MailChimp, it’s just that (in my mind) MailChimp have done a pretty crappy job in marketing and explaining them.

I’ve already written a whole blog on Groups, which I suggest you go check out after you’ve finished this article, so I won’t go into things in too much detail here, but to my mind here are the key benefits of groups

  • You can add people to a group once they are on your list (it’s not as easy as tags, but still pretty easy)
  • Most, if not all sign up tools have the ability to add people to multiple groups at signup, and you can even do it with MailChimp embedded forms (see how here).
  • You can give people the option of choosing which group they want to join at signup.
  • You can trigger automations  based on joining/leaving groups (in the same ways as tags)
  • You can see Groups visibly on the MailChimp main list view (again, not as easily as tags, but again, still pretty good)
  • You can have up to 60 groups in a list.
  • You can use groups to create ‘conditional blocks’ in your emails, meaning you can change the contents of a specific email depending on what group that individual is in (very cool!)

Some of these benefits are very similar to Tags, some a little different… so who do I prefer?

Groups vs Tags

OK… so what’s the conclusion of all this.

18 months ago, I was definitely in the Groups camp… but that was mainly because I used Groups extensively in my own marketing and didn’t see the benefit of moving over to tags.

Nowadays, for any new clients, I tend to recommend tags but why?

Well firstly, it’s my belief that tags are the future.

(no Whitney… it wasn’t the kids… it was tags all along)

From my understanding of Groups and how they were ‘technically’ created within Mailchimp (a long time ago), the options were limited in terms of expanding what you could do with them.

…which is why Mailchimp brought in tags (and didn’t just rename groups as tags).

Thus, if functionality in segmentation is going to get better, then it’s going to be through tags (and not groups).

Which means, unless you’ve got a pretty good reason not to, Tags are more likely to be future friendly then groups.

The other reason that I was still on the Groups bandwagon 18 months ago was that most tools hadn’t been updated to play with tags yet… a year and a half later, most, if not all, are now tag friendly.

So (apart from some specific circumstances, which I’ll list below), I’d recommend that if you’re starting out on segmenting your database, you use tags over groups.

(of course, if you’re already using one or the other, don’t change unless you’ve got a really good reason to do so).

Extra considerations for Groups

Even though I’m recommending tags now for my clients, it would be remiss of me to say that they are perfect.

They’re not.

Here’s a few reasons why you might still go with Groups over Tags.

Despite my own recommendation, there are still some people using Mailchimp’s own forms tool – or even they’re hosted signup form.  If you are using these, then you do have the option of both adding people automatically to groups or giving people the choice in the form.  You can’t do this with tags (yet). This is another reason to change to using a better form tool.

You can use Conditional Merge Tag Blocks/Dynamic Content with groups… so you can display text in an email dependent on which group they are in – something again you can’t (yet) do with Tags.

…but if you’re using a nice plug-in for your forms, and aren’t going down the conditional route, then tags are the ones for you.

There is a third way – why be forced to make a choice?

Having your cake and eating it

The whole analysis of this article has been whether you should use Groups or Tags… but why must you choose, why can’t you use both???

There are circumstances where tags are quite helpful and much easier that Groups – for making quick lists of people to target based on certain criteria – tags are very nice… and it’s so easy to add people manually to tags… and the fact that they are no limits to the numbers, means that using tags tactically can be a very helpful.

… and then using Groups as a more structured approach for more longer term, solid classifications makes sense as well…  especially if you want to say different things to different people in a single email (using conditional merge tag blocks)

The fact is, it’s all about you and your own usage of MailChimp.

There is no doubt that to improve your chances of success, you need to do some form of segmentation.

…and both Tags and Groups are tools that will help you do this in MailChimp.

For me, Tags are the winner… and if you want to keep things clear in your mind and your database and only want to use one, i’d recommend them.

…but Groups certainly have their uses and shouldn’t be ignored either…

So in the final reckoning, Tags win… but then recruit Groups and together they dominate!

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Robin Adams

Robin Adams

Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
51% marketer and 49% Chimp, Robin is the main man behind and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.

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  1. David Howell

    Great article. Have you written anything about whether or not survey answers can be saved to specific contacts? I have info (3 questions) I’d like to collect on my subscribers that I would like to save, either in a merge field, or as a tag that’s been created, but I can’t find a way to do this where the data is actually saved to the contact. Using a survey seems to only collate the data.

    The closest I’ve come is to make the questions part of a signup form vs. a survey.

    • Robin Adams

      David, thanks for your comments… I’ve not used the survey function excessively, but I know that it’s not ideal for ‘segmentation’… you might want to check out this article on segmenting with clicks – Tracking Link Clicks in Emails

  2. Tema

    You say you don’t recommend Mailchimp’s own signup forms. What do you recommend (I use wordpress, and am trying to streamline/merge my use of tags, groups and segments. It’s a mess!)

    • Robin Adams

      We always suggest either Yikes Easy Forms or Gravity Forms. Although the recent updates to Mailchimps embedded forms mean they’re a bit better now!

  3. Sabine Jordan

    Great article. I’ve been researching the groups/tags conundrum for some time now. I do have a question: Let’s say a contact is in more than one group (or has more than one tag) and then the segment calls for sending an email to everyone who is in a list of groups the contact is in, or a list of tags that the contact has, does it send out multiple emails to the same contact based on the fact that they are present in more than one group or have more than one tag? If you know what I’m asking?

    • Robin Adams

      A campaign is only sent to an email once, (as long as it’s a single campaign) even if the contact meets multiple criteria


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