How to organize your subscribers in ConvertKit using tags, custom fields, and segments

Wondering what's the difference between tags and segments in ConvertKit? And honestly, what the heck is a custom field? We'll break down what all these jargony terms actually mean and how to use them the right way so that you can ensure that the right emails go to the right subscribers at the right time.
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Tags, custom fields, and segments are the backbone of your ConvertKit account, and in my opinion your email marketing automation strategy in general. When setting up your visual automations, tags and custom fields are especially important since they’re used a cues to ConvertKit to trigger a next step for a subscriber, helping you to ensure that the right emails go out to the right subscribers at the right time.

But as I’ve seen from helping clients with their ConvertKit accounts and my years of using the platform for my own businesses, ConvertKit tags are often used incorrectly and can make your account a massive jumbled mess.

(That’s why taming the chaos of your tags & segments is the first pillar in the Email Automation Audit.)

In this post, we’ll define what these these pseudo-jargony terms mean and get an overview of how to use them effectively in your email marketing. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What the difference is between a segment and a tag in ConvertKit?
  • How do you use and create segments in ConvertKit
  • What are custom fields
  • How you create custom fields
  • A better system for naming your tags and custom fields
  • How to edit the names of your tags and custom fields

ConvertKit segments vs tags

The number one things that confuses people: understanding the difference between ConvertKit tags and ConvertKit segments.

Tags are essentially individual pieces of information attached to a subscriber.

For example, someone who purchased Product A or who is currently enrolled in a specific email sequence. Typically they’re best used for:

  • Binary cases (e.g. you either purchased a digital product or you didn’t, or you’re currently enrolled in an email sequence or you’re not)
  • Instances where there can be multiple options (e.g. multiple topics subscribers want to hear about)

(Although, as we’ll talk about with custom fields in a bit, if you want to get more granular about labeling your products or services, custom fields might actually be better than tags.)

A segment, but contrast, are dynamic groupings of subscribers. As ConvertKit explains:

Segments are fluid groups of subscribers who meet certain filter conditions.

I also happen to find Mailerlite’s definition of subscriber segments even more helpful:

Segmentation is the art of grouping subscribers together based on common traits in order to send more personalized, targeted campaigns.

In ConvertKit, segments can be based on tags that a subscriber has (or doesn’t have). For example, you might have a “Customer” segment which includes anyone on your email list who purchased Product A, Product B, and/or Product C.

Image of a ConvertKit pop-up with words Create Segment at top, below that Segment Name and the description Linkouture Customers with a variety of ConvertKit tags selected
A sample ConvertKit segment comprised of subscribers who have purchased any products

You can also create segments based on geographical location, by date range that they subscribed, particular forms they subscribed to, or by a custom field.

Also, as a side note, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — use tags to identify if someone clicks on links in your emails.

Yes, there are instances where you’ll want to set up a link trigger so that you can automatically have an action happen if someone clicks on that link.

If you want to get super granular and know which links people are clicking on in which emails, then you should be creating UTM codes. Tags are absolutely horrible for this purpose. And yet….so many people fall down this rabbit hole.

How do you use segments in ConvertKit?

As you saw, segments are used as a way to group subscribers based on other identifying information. You might use them as a way to exclude certain subscribers.

For example, maybe you want to a segment of non-purchasers to let them know you’re currently offering a sale. You’d create a segment by excluding anyone without a Product tag.

My personal favorite way to use Segments is to create a “Newsletter” segment.

I always recommend if you’re using a Welcome Sequence (or some other nurture sequence, such as pitching a product or paid service) to create a segment that excludes anyone currently enrolled in those email sequences. That way if you want to send out a regular broadcast newsletter you can easily exclude the people currently enrolled in your welcome sequence. (Or any other nurture sequence for that matter.)

Why would you want to do this? You want to ensure you don’t send too many emails to new subscribers in the same day, especially if you have them going through an evergreen email marketing funnel. (Which is likely to annoy new subscribers and get them to unsubscribe pretty darn fast.)

Say your newsletter day is Friday, but someone signed up for your list on Thursday and started the welcome sequence on Friday. Well now they’re getting the first email in your welcome sequence AND your newsletter on the same day (and are probably wondering if they suddenly will be getting multiple emails from you in a day…)

But if you send your newsletter just to your Newsletter segment, you know that only people who have completed your welcome sequences are receiving your newsletter.

Here are some other instances where ConvertKit segments are very helpful:

  • When you’re running a launch, and you want to send emails but exclude anyone who already purchased or who opted out from hearing about the launch
  • Special offers for anyone who purchased any product
  • Following up to subscribers who clicked on a link to a product or service but didn’t purchase so that you can follow up and learn why

How do you create a segment in ConvertKit?

To create a segment, click on Grow –> Subscribers. On the right side below the big reddish button that says “Add Subscribers”, click on + Create a Segment.

You’ll get a pop-up that looks like this:

Popup on ConvertKit that says Create Segment at top

Give your segment a name (e.g. Customers) and choose what filters you’ll use for identifying who should be in that segment (or who should not). You can choose people with:

  • Any of the identifiers (for example, anyone with any product tag)
  • All of the identifies (e.g. if you want to create a segment of anyone who’s purchased all of your products, so they’d have all of those product tags), or
  • None of your identifies (e.g. anyone who has not purchased any of your products and therefore doesn’t have any of the associated product tags)
Image of a pop-up with words Create Segment at top, below that Segment Name and the description Linkouture Customers with a variety of ConvertKit tags selected
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In the example above, you’re creating a segment with ANY of the tags — if you choose instead ALL instead of any, then ConvertKit would create a Segment of subscribers who’ve purchased every one of those products. If you chose NONE then it would be no one who’s purchased any of those products.

Here’s a video that walks you through the process of creating a segment

What are custom fields and where do they fit in?

One of the most underutilized features is ConvertKit custom fields. Why? I don’t know if it’s because tags are so obvious and easy to create that it doesn’t even occur to us that there could be a better way. I also think most of us don’t understand what exactly custom fields are, or how to create them. (I include myself in this camp for my first few years of using ConvertKit.)

Tags definitely have their time and place, but it’s important to note they’re somewhat limited in their functionality because either the EXACT tags exists or it doesn’t.

By the way, where I see my clients most fall down the tag trap is when they want to tag everything. Suddenly you have a list of tags longer than the line outside of an Apple store on the day of the latest iPhone release — and you don’t even remember what half of them are for or you have subscribers with conflicting tags.

That’s why one of the first things I do when working with anyone is creating a solid Subscriber Strategy so that you know exactly what to tag and how to set it up so that it’s actually helpful.

In contrast to a tag, a ConvertKit custom field has infinite possibilities. Like a name or email address (both, by the way, are technically custom fields.)

And whereas tags are best used for binary cases (e.g. either you purchased a course or you didn’t), a custom field could tell you where a subscriber is within that course without have to create a bunch of extra tags which just make your ConvertKit account messy and cumbersome.

Examples of how to use ConvertKit custom fields

Example #1: You sell a course on another platform and want to be easily identify what step subscribers are at within the course. Instead of a tag “Purchased – Product A” you could have a custom field that that shows you the current point subscribers are at within the course. For example, the levels might be “purchased”, “started”, and “completed”. That way you could set up more customized emails (and heck, automations) to people who purchased but have not yet started to remind them to get started already.

And just to be Devil’s advocate for a moment because I know you’re thinking, “Couldn’t I just create a tag for each of these three levels?” And the answer is of course, it’s your ConvertKit account. But that’s three extra tags in your extremely long list of tags. And whereas for each subscriber only one level could exist at any moment within that custom field, a subscriber could theoretically have all three tags simultaneously…which would just cause pandemonium and chaos in your ConvertKit account.

Example #2: You run a webinar once a month (and you’re going on two years now — go you!) and you want to identify the most recent webinar a person signed up for. If you have a tag for each individual webinar, your tags are going to get overrun fast. Instead, you could use a custom field that is updated every time someone enrolls in the latest webinar. You can still create a segment of everyone with that custom field if you ever want to send an email out just to people who’ve ever signed up for your webinar, but now you don’t need to choose 24 tags to contact them

Example #3: You want to identify what level your subscribers are in the customer journey. (Wow, that sounds really markety!) Say you have a business as an Instagram manager and you want to know if your subscribers have created an account but haven’t posted yet, are posting but not regularly, or are posting regularly but looking to grow their following since you have different services you offer depending on where they’re at. In this case. it makes more sense to use a custom field to identify this. This also allows you to update their profile when something changes — for example, the person who hadn’t posted regularly until they took your course and now are ready to grow their following. In this case your custom field, (we’ll call it “instagram_level” would change — and that change could trigger a whole new automation!

(But that’s a post for another day.)

Example #4: Offer payment plans for your product or services and want a way to identify that? Custom fields are PERFECT for this. For each thing that you sell, you could create a custom filed along the lines of Product Name – Payment type instead of a tag for each one.

How do I create a custom field in ConvertKit?

To create a custom, click on Grow –> Subscribers. From there you click on an individual subscriber.

Below where you see their subscriber info with their name and email address, you should see + Add a new field. A new box will appear that says Field Name and Field Value. For now you don’t need to worry about Field Value, but you will create the field name.

NOTE: When you create it, it’s important to use all lowercase and user the underscore symbol (_) instead of spaces between words. So for example, “Course A level” would be course_a_level.

After you create it, click on Update Subscriber and this custom field will show up on every subscriber automatically. At the moment it will be blank, but they can be changed or updated by using visual automations.

Visualizing ConvertKit Segments vs. Tags vs. Custom Fields

Since we all take in information differently, I have created a visual of explaining how you might use each. You might notice that I have mushrooms in my branding, so let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend that your subscribers are an assortment of mushrooms. Your subscriber strategy, or how they’re organized, includes the following:

  • Name of the mushroom
  • Geographic locatinon
  • Endangered rating
  • Color
  • Shape
  • Size
  • Whether or not they’re edible

So how can we use tags and custom fields to organize this information? Let’s start with the tags. In this imaginary world where mushrooms are subscribers, they can be either one of two colors (pink or beige), one of two shapes (flat or pointy), one of three sizes (small, medium, or large), and they’re either edible or they’re not. So in this case, we’re going to create tags for each of them:

Dark teal square with a line drawing of a flat-topped light pink mushroom. Next to it there's a beige box with the word "Tags". Below it are four ConvertKit tags, including the following: "Color | Pink," "Shape | Flat", "Size: Large," and "Edible | Yes".

The name of the mushroom, much like the name of an actual subscriber, is always a custom field. And in this case, geographic location is best suited for a custom field due to the sheer number of possibilities. As for the endangered rating, since that can fluctuate over time, it’s best organized as a custom field in ConvertKit:

Dark teal square with a line drawing of a flat-topped light pink mushroom. Next to it there's a beige box with the word "Tags". Below it are four ConvertKit tags, including the following: "Color | Pink," "Shape | Flat", "Size: Large," and "Edible | Yes".

Above it is a beige box with ConvertKit custom fields. Below that are three custom fields: "Name - Rosea domina plana summo," "Geographic area - New England," and "Endangered rating - Warning list".

Finally, you can use those tags & custom fields to create segments, such as mushroom that are pink & large; large, flat & edible; and edible mushrooms that grow in New England.

Dark teal square with a line drawing of a flat-topped light pink mushroom. Next to it there's a beige box with the word "Tags". Below it are four ConvertKit tags, including the following: "Color | Pink," "Shape | Flat", "Size: Large," and "Edible | Yes".

There's also a beige box that includes the following Segments: "Pink & large," "Large, flat & edible," and "Edible mushrooms that grow in New England."

It’s worth mentioning that you could also create a segment that excludes certain identifiers, such as mushrooms that are flat, edible, and not small.

Creating a system for naming your ConvertKit tags, segments and custom fields

When creating your custom fields, tags, and segments in your ConvertKit account you should use a consistent naming convention so that it’s easier to identify and remember what they all stand for. Because ConvertKit only allows your tags and custom fields to be in alphabetical order, I recommend to clients that you use an identifier at the beginning to that it’s easier to clump them together.

So for example, if you’re using tags for each product or offer you sell, you’d use something like “Product Purchased: [Name of Product]” for each product. That way when you’re looking at your tags, all of your products are grouped together.

Similarly, if you’re using tags to identify what part of the automation journey they’re in, you’d start with something like “Sequence Currently Enrolled: [Name of Sequence”.

If you have multiple opt-ins, for example, and each opt-in has its own mini-sequence and then you follow everyone up with the same welcome sequence, you might use “Sequence Currently Enrolled: Opt-in A Sequence”, “Sequence Currently Enrolled: Opt-in B Sequence”, “Sequence Currently Enrolled: Welcome Sequence”.

If you want to translate that to custom fields, it would be “sequence_currently_enrolled” and then “optin_A”, “optin_B”, and “welcome_sequence”.

(As a total aside, when set up correctly, using custom fields over tags can more easily help you manage subscribers who decide to sign up for multiple opt-ins at once and help avoid them subscribers from being enrolled in multiple automated sequences at the same time. If that feels totally daunting for you, let’s schedule a call to see how I can help.)

How do I edit the name of a custom field or tag?

Ok, so now you might be thinking, “I totally need to clean things up so that I know what all those darn tags I made actually make sense to me and your system totally rocks. How do I do that?”

To edit the name of a tag, click on the name of the tag and click on edit. There you can rename it – be sure to hit save!

To edit the name of a custom field, click on any individual subscriber. Find that custom field and click on the name of the custom field. Rename it and then shit save.

Once you change the name of your custom field or tag, it will update everywhere else on your ConvertKit account – on each subscriber, automations, link triggers, etc.

It can be a bit tricky to wrap your head around all of these ConvertKit terms and when and how to use them — I’ve definitely been there! But when set up correctly, tags, custom fields, and segments are integral to organizing your subscribers so that you can easily send more targeted emails to your list, enabling you to save time and have more opportunities to earn income from your business.

Intentionally Setting up your Tags, Segments, and Custom Fields

In my opinion, tags, custom fields, and segments are often set up without much of a plan which is a missed opportunity.

Doing this intentionally helps to keep things organized for you as the business owner, ensure that subscribers are sent into the correct visual automation (and helps prevent them from receiving too many emails at once), and because it allow you to better understand your audience while also customizing the message to their unique needs.

That’s why I created the Subscriber Strategy Training to help improve email engagement, deliverability & conversions by creating a system for organizing your hot mess list of tags.

Now booking Email Automation VIP Days for May 2021