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The ultimate guide to personalizing emails with behavioral targeting

The ultimate guide to personalizing emails with behavioral targeting

During my pre-smartphone days, I lived an hour from the nearest city, rendering me dependent on local TV stations for weather forecast updates. 

The reports rarely addressed my “neck of the woods” in detail. Many times it didn’t matter. But I cared when the heavy snowfall hit — while the metro area was bone dry — and was anxious to know when it would relent.  

Things have since changed. At least one station features forecasts for each region in the viewership area. My younger self would have appreciated that and valued the station more than its competitors.

What does this have to do with behavioral targeting? 

When brands incorporate behavioral targeting — directly speaking to different needs and preferences — it can make people feel seen and, therefore, important. 

Behavioral targeting is a form of personalization. Research shows that when a brand offers personalized experiences, 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase. 

But I’m getting a bit ahead. Let’s start with defining behavioral targeting and exploring all benefits of this personalization strategy. Then we’ll dig into the good stuff: getting as close to one-to-one email marketing as possible at scale.


What is behavioral targeting?

Behavioral targeting is a marketing strategy that harnesses user data. It’s about tailoring messages based on past behavior, like browsing history or shopping interactions. 

Communications are more pertinent to the recipient because they address relevant habits and interests. 

Marketers have their pick of behavioral targeting techniques to use across the marketing funnel, such as:  

  • Remarketing through social media ads or display ads on other websites
  • Appealing to customers who quit their subscription with direct mail 
  • Sending a push notification to promote a recently viewed product
Screenshot of a Facebook ad for Hydrant, featuring an image of the product with a check mark and verbiage "only the best" and an x under a different product with the words "lose the rest"
Example of a remarketing ad from Hydrant

Behavioral targeting’s downside is that it can trigger privacy concerns. If you’ve ever researched a brand and it pops up soon after in your Facebook feed, you get it. 

But the great thing about email? Your subscribers gave explicit consent to message them, provided you acquired your list through permission-based means. 

So, the consent factor makes email marketing one of the more effective behavioral targeting channels. 

There are three primary types of behavioral data relevant to email marketing: 

  • Email engagement: subscribers’ responses to your email newsletters (open rates, click-through rates, etc.) 
  • Website interaction: the pages a subscriber visits or products they place in a shopping cart 
  • Purchase behavior: past customer purchases
Graphic with the title behavioral data and icons with the accompanying text: email engagement, website interaction purchase behavior

We’ll cover email tactics, with examples, for each of the three data types later.

Benefits of behavioral targeting with email 

If I haven’t communicated the importance of personalized marketing for every Shopify store, let me try again. 

According to McKinsey research, companies that excel at implementing a marketing personalization strategy experience 40% higher revenue than those considered “average” performers. 

Sliding behavioral targeting into your email marketing strategy often results in better email metrics

  • Increased open rates. Personalized emails should include targeted subject lines, which are more likely to grab attention.
  • Improved click-through rates. When you cater your content to the recipient, you’re driving up the potential for more clicks to your website. 
  • Higher conversion rates. More click-throughs improve your sales chances.  

Not so measurable, behavioral targeting with email strengthens relationships with your subscribers. What Shopify store doesn’t want to build customer loyalty?

What you need for email-based behavioral targeting 

You might think, “OK, a ‘one-to-one marketing’ approach can do wonders for my shop. But it sounds complicated and too time-consuming.”

Behavioral targeting can be as easy — or intricate — as you want. 

In either case, you need platforms that gather data on subscriber interactions. Shopify innately does this by storing and constantly updating information about each customer. The ecommerce solution tracks the three aforementioned behavioral data points: website interactions, purchase behavior, and email engagement (in tandem with your email marketing provider). 

That’s all you need to get started. 

Want to upgrade? We suggest two extra endeavors: devising customer segments and creating unique coupon codes. 

Customer segments 

You don’t need segments for behavioral targeting. Email automations carry much of the load (more on that in a minute). 

So grouping customers into segments based on similar characteristics is another personalization approach. 

Look at behavior patterns, such as how subscribers engage with email or buying trends. For example, you could create segments such as: 

  • Subscribers who have clicked through an email in the last six months
  • Customers who have purchased a particular product or from a collection 
  • Customers who have spent at least $100 over the previous six months

Shopify provides pre-built templates for popular customer segments. You can also use filters to devise your own.

Screenshot of the templates section in Shopify, with a highlight over "engage first-time customers"
Shopify’s segment templates

Unique coupon codes

Sales promotions and special offers are other avenues for bringing personalization to life. Instead of a generic Shopify discount code that anyone can access, add a touch of exclusivity to your offer with a unique coupon code.

Screenshot showing 300 off with code 27T55N
Unique discount code generated with Seguno

Unique codes stop coupon abuse for your shop. But to your subscriber, they feel as if the offer was made just for them. 

Seguno email merchants have direct access to unique code creation within Shopify. Non-Seguno merchants can generate them quickly with Seguno’s Bulk Discount Code Bot

Email strategies [+ examples] for behavioral targeting

Behavioral targeting with email marketing happens through two methods: 

  • Email newsletters, driven by customer segments and sent to the group at the same time
  • Email automations, triggered by subscriber actions and therefore delivered on an individual basis 

Our behavioral targeting recommendations below feature a mix of both email types. They also hit multiple stages of the customer journey

Newsletters that react to email engagement 

Have you ever received an email from a brand asking whether you’re still interested in receiving its newsletters?

I’m sure you have. It’s a classic example of behavioral targeting based on email interaction.

Your inactivity — whether you haven’t opened an email in a long time or clicked through to their website — signifies that the brand and its content don’t matter to you.

Brands recognize this. And they know that unengaged subscribers can drag down their sender reputation and potentially harm email deliverability. The “stay subscribed?” email lets the uninterested leave the list gracefully while nudging the still-invested to pay more attention.  

TOMS, for example, lures with the subject line: “You’ve been missed! Will 10% off grab your interest?” The incentive — a unique discount code — isn’t necessarily needed to keep a subscriber around but could result in a happy customer.  

Screenshot of an email with the headline "catch up with 10% off" and photo of a person's feet in sandals

Other newsletters based on email engagement include: 

  • “Remailing” a newsletter to the non-openers with a tweaked subject line; we suggest using remails for significant newsletters or special promotions
  • Reaching out to subscribers that regularly interact with your emails with an offer

Automations that respond to website interactions 

Think of how many times you online window shop — sometimes tossing products into the shopping cart and other times not — only to close out without buying anything.

Now think of how many other people do the same every day. 

That’s a lot of opportunity for your Shopify store to turn browsers into customers. Or at least keep you on their radar. This is where automations do some heavy lifting without much effort from you. 

Below is a browse abandonment email example I received after bouncing from DSW, notifying me of a price drop on the Vans I viewed. 

Screenshot of an email with the headline "Tracy, new price alert!"and photo of a sneaker

Two other automations to counter web visits that fall short of conversions include: 

  1. Abandoned cart automation: sent when an email subscriber adds one or more products to the cart and leaves
  2. Abandoned checkout automation: sent when an email subscriber adds one or more products to the cart and begins the checkout process before leaving  

We always advocate extending one email automation into a series of messages. For these particular website interactions, remind them about the items that caught their eye and leverage it as an opening to make other product recommendations.

Email newsletters and automations based on purchase behavior

There’s a ton of behavioral targeting potential around subscribers that buy from your shop. In fact, it’s a gold mine for fostering a deeper relationship and working toward customer loyalty. 

Consider that increasing your customer retention rate by a mere 5% can increase profits by 25% to 95%. 

Both automated emails and newsletters are paths for getting there. 

Automated post-purchase emails 

Post-purchase email automations are a must for one-to-one marketing, and various options exist. 

Check out the example from Solo Stove — a “product purchased” email, as we call it. Before this, I had received the typical transactional emails (order fulfillment and shipping status) after purchasing a fire pit. To the delight of my inner email geek, the message below soon followed.

Screenshot of an email with the headline "Mesa tips & tricks" with an image of wood chips being poured into a tabletop firepit

An email featuring a product tutorial is a fantastic example of behavioral targeting. Solo Stove even squeezed in related product recommendations to encourage more sales. Educational content — like how-tos and product care tips — communicates you have your customers’ best interests in mind. 

Other ideas for automated post-purchase emails include: 

Newsletters based on purchase behavior 

Email newsletters are typically less cumbersome to create than automations. But in the case of post-purchase behavioral targeting, a little more is required because of the segmentation factor. 

Extra effort goes for strategy, too. Consider segmentation possibilities and whether the potential benefits merit your energy. 

Is it advantageous to thank your best customers with a VIP sale? What about cross-selling to customers who purchased a specific product? Do you send a product launch email, providing first dibs on a new release that complements what they bought? 

Or you could follow KiwiCo’s lead. The newsletter below attempts to upsell subscription plan customers. 

Screenshot of an email with the headline "Add a book next month for free!" and photo of a kid looking at a book

Best email practices for effective behavioral targeting

If you expend effort on behavioral targeting with email, do what you can to maximize the capacity for impact. Here’s a roundup of condensed tips — many repetitions of advice scattered through this post — to help you execute your personalization strategy:

  • Get permission and respect privacy. Be on the right side of data privacy regulations. Ensure email subscribers sign up independently and can easily opt out. And protect subscriber data; don’t share it with third parties without subscriber permission.
  • Customize subject lines and email content when possible. Yes, back to the immense power of personalization. Insert the recipient’s name in the subject line or email. Picture the product left in the cart. Experiment with unique discount codes.   
  • Craft engaging content with a streamlined design. Focus your emails so they’re easy to digest. Email content structure matters, too. Strive for the right balance and composition of text, imagery, and calls to action (CTAs). 
  • Make recommendations. Pounce on insights about what intrigues someone. Suggest products aligned with their interests. 
  • Time it right. Consider your audience's behaviors and preferences so you’re sending at the right moment. Also, be careful with your cadence. Too much behavioral targeting will drive some subscribers away. 
  • Test and optimize. Experiment with different subject lines, content variations and CTAs. What resonates? What doesn’t? Track your open, click-through and conversion rates and keep refining. 
Screenshot of an email with the title "you're our favorite!" and featuring a photo of a man and woman laying on a beach towel
Personalization Mall includes the customer’s name in the subject line and uses an advanced feature to incorporate it into an email image

Revolutionize email marketing with behavioral targeting

Any Shopify store with an email marketing program has got first-party behavioral data at its disposal. Why not use it to go beyond the generic and connect with subscribers more deeply?

Start simple with both email content and targeting criteria. Trying to tackle too many segments or automations at once can be challenging to manage, not to mention destructive if you go too far with segmentation in particular. 

Focus on the segments with the most potential for positive one-to-one marketing responses, whether it’s responding to email engagement, website interaction, or purchase behavior. Adhere to our best practices — tailoring subject lines and content, adding in personalization where possible (for example, by adding personalized videos to your email) — and you’re on your way to delivering greater value to your subscribers and business. 

Your subscribers will appreciate the relevant messaging. Your Shopify store will get better engagement, more conversions, and heightened brand loyalty.

Create, manage, and track your email marketing—without leaving Shopify.

Seguno is the top-rated email solution built exclusively for Shopify. Grow your sales with high-performing newsletters, email automation campaigns, and integrations with Facebook, Instagram, banners, pop-ups and more. Build and send engaging emails in our easy-to-use editor and take email creation to the next level with our Canva integration. Automate your email marketing and drive more revenue with welcome campaigns, checkout abandonment, post-purchase automations, tag triggers and more.

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