Are you accidentally spamming your customers? Make sure you understand the difference between Mailchimp Groups and Lists!

Posted by Megan Seely in Marketing

Permission-based marketing is the cornerstone of great email campaigns. We all get far too much spam cluttering up our inbox; no one wants more, even from a business or organization they support! It’s possible to inadvertently spam your email subscribers, not just by adding them to a list without their permission, but also by misusing Mailchimp Groups and Lists.


  • Can be used to segment your mailing list by demographics, preferences, your relationship with the customer, email frequency, and so on
  • Are a segment of an already set up mailing list instead of a completely separate list of subscribers
  • Can be hidden or visible, and therefore used to segment your list by internal groups (e.g. “Signed up via a contest”) or public groups (e.g. “Please send me the weekly newsletter”). Or, use a combination of both
  • Visible groups can be modified by the customer as preferences (e.g. “Please send me the weekly newsletter” and “Please send me the daily digest” can be choices the customer selects at any time to opt in and out of various options.)
  • A single mailing list subscriber can belong to many groups
  • A mailing list campaign can be sent to multiple segments or groups at once


  • Are a self-contained list of subscribers with no relationship to other lists
  • The list name is visible on sign up forms and the Mailchimp welcome/unsubscribe emails (you can’t have a “hidden” list!)
  • Subscribers can only unsubscribe or re-subscribe from individual lists. If the subscriber is on multiple lists, they’re only opting out of one at a time
  • A mailing list campaign can only be sent to one list at a time


An ideal MailChimp setup might look like this:

A single mailing list with group segments for:

  • subscribers from Western Canada, Eastern Canada, and Maritimes (hidden fields)
  • subscribers from in-store signups (careful with these! New Canadian legislation requires you to prove they opted in… verbal acknowledgement is no longer enough), contests, or the website (hidden fields)
  • opt-in groups for “sales announcements”, “monthly newsletter”, and “new products” (visible, selected by the subscriber)


When would you have multiple mailing lists?

If you truly offer very separate experiences (perhaps you own multiple companies? Or offer both a consumer product and a branch offering services?) you may want to consider multiple mailing lists. You may want a separate mailing list for internal testing purposes (but you can also send the campaign along to any email address early in the testing process, which is far more efficient!) Generally speaking, though, you should let groups do your segmenting for you. After all, it’s what they’re for.