The Golden Rule of Managing Lists in Mailchimp

Mailchimp is a very popular tool for small business owners who use email marketing to communicate with their clients and contacts and it’s something that most VAs will need to use at one point or another. When we’re given the job of managing a database on behalf of somebody else, it’s important to know the basics and best practise guidelines so that you can help your client make an informed decision about their strategy. Very often, your customers will understand less about this kind of software than you do, especially if they are new in business, or new to email marketing. I have come across so many small businesses who don’t quite understand the golden rule or why it’s so important, and it has caused all sorts of problems for them as a result.

So “what is it?” I hear you ask… and the answer is…

You only need one list

This is the golden rule that I tell all of my clients – you only ever need one list per company. Just one. No more. This very often goes against how most small businesses have their lists set up and they’re often reluctant to merge them. But it really is important, not least because by having more than one list, you increase the chances of people reporting you for spamming them.

This is because If they choose to unsubscribe from one list, Mailchimp won’t unsubscribe them from every list, therefore, you may unknowingly continue to send your contact information they don’t want to receive anymore, and that can get you in a whole pile of bother. Similarly, if you are asked to up date the contact’s information, or if they try to do it themself, Mailchimp won’t update all contact records automatically, you have to do each one manually, which is not only time consuming (and therefore more costly for your client) but can also lead to mistakes being made or an inconsistency in your database.

Even worse is when you have the same contact on more than one list, and then decide to send the email to both lists – so your contact ends up getting two (or more!!) copies of the same email which can often upset your recipients and cause them to unsubscribe.

Arguably, you could say that this is a flaw in the way Mailchimp is set up (and I would be inclined to agree) but it’s not something that we can change, and so it is something you need to be aware of if you are going to use their service. For me, the best way to do things is to only have one list per business, and use segments and groups to dissect this list and split your contacts up as show below.Mailchimp Groups

So why would anyone want more than one?

One reason people commonly use more than one list is if they have forms that are used for people to signup to a particular landing page or series of emails. If you have more than one of these types of marketing funnels, Mailchimp isn’t too flexible, and very often you’ll find the process feels a little ‘sticky’ when you are trying to accommodate different types of people during the signup process. What you need to remember here is that the signup process (as far as Mailchimp see it) shouldn’t necessarily be tailored to your individual product, but should be generic for all people who signup to receive your information. At this stage, people are just agreeing for you to contact them with further information.

If you are wanting to send people to different thank you pages depending upon where they sign up, or if you want to customise the signup process, I would recommend using a third party form or landing page provider, such as Wufoo, Lead pages or Squeeze Page Toolkit. This way, you can fully customise the signup process from start to end whilst still adding your contacts into one list.

There is also a way of setting up your form with customised fields, for which you set a value at the point where you add the form to the website or landing page. You can then use the value in this field to identify where the contact signed up, and therefore personalise the emails they receive. More about that in a future article… but it should be an easy task for any tech savvy VA or web developer.

Another reason people want more than one list is because they don’t understand how Mailchimp really works. To lots of people it makes sense to have one list per product, project or marketing campaign, but in these instances, it’s often the case that they also don’t understand the points I have talked about above, such as what happens with the unsubscribe process.

Below is an example of when not to set up a new list:

Bad Mailchimp List

The Exceptions to the Rule

There are a few exceptions to the rule and reasons why a company has more than one list, for example if you have two very distinct groups of prospects, who will never cross over and be sent the same information. An example could be a company such as ours, where we have lists of virtual assistants who are interested in learning more about the industry and running a VA business, and then also lists of business owners who are interested in knowing how a VA can help them and finding out how to employ the services of a VA. It’s extremely unlikely that we will ever want to sent the same email to these two groups of people, and therefore it makes sense to have them in two completely separate lists.

Of course, if you (or your client) own more than one company then you definitely need to have one list for each of them – this way you can make sure the signup forms and welcome emails sent out are completely tailored to each business and you won’t confuse your new contacts when they subscribe.

Here’s an example of when you should have more than one list in your Mailchimp account:

Good Mailchimp List


There may also be a few other times when it’s a good idea to separate your database contacts into multiple lists – if you have any other ideas, or uses for lists, we’d love to hear them. On the whole though, the golden rule is always “you only need one list”. Keep an eye out for the next article where we’ll look at how to use that custom field to direct your contacts to the correct autoresponder campaign and also how to use groups and segments correctly.



  1. A good start, thank you. but if you maintain a single list of recipients but then want some to receive newsletter A or others to receive committee paper B, or maybe both depending on who they are, how do you manage this?

    And do so in a reasonably automatic manner? Is this something you get Mailchimp to manage or do you handle this at the webpush the results to Mailchimp?



    • You would do this using the segmentation inMailchimp. You can label your contact with multiple labels, then create a ‘segment’ of your list based upon the labels you have assigned to them. You are then able to send an email or newsletter to just your selected segment.

  2. Hi,
    That’s a great article – thanks.

    One question I have, and I’ve been trying to work it out myself (unsuccessfully!) is to do with unsubscribing.
    I am using 1 master list, and have several groups set up within that. When someone clicks the link to unsubscribe, I would like it to be that they just get unsubscribed from that group, but not the entire list. Is this even possible?


    • Hi Dan,

      any luck in finding it out? I’m having the same question!

      So far I only learned that it’s not possible. That’s why you should give your recipient the option to update their preferences and make it clear that they’ll subscribe to ALL emails from you if they hit that link.


    • One way you may be able to achieve this is to create a unique link to unsubscribe from this topic only that leads to a specific url on your website. On the Integrations section of Automations you can see Goal as an option. Use a visit to this url as a trigger for an automation which will then send an email to say they’ve been unsubscribed from that topic only. Then use “leave interest group” as the Action on the email. So you can have this as an alternative action to unsubscribing completely.

  3. There are some practical difficulties with having one list in Mailchimp that I can’t see a way round – I’m hoping that you can point me at a solution.

    1. If you’re using double opt-in (as Mailchimp pushes you to do), the confirmation request email will be the same for all groups or segments, and will have the same list name. Is there a way round this, to have customised confirmation requests for each group or segment?

    2. Similarly the thank-you page or ‘subscription confirmed’ page is generic for the whole list – again I can’t see a way of having different pages for different segments or groups.

    3. If you have different lead magnets for different groups/signups, you can’t just have a link on your ‘subscription confirmed’ page or in the generic subscription confirmed email. And the automated email containing a download link that you can get Mailchimp to send when someone joins a particular group seems to have a substantial delay on it, leaving the subscriber wondering where their lead magnet is.

    Using a third party landing page service (e.g. Leadpages, which I use) doesn’t seem to solve these issues – unless I’m missing something, which I might well be. Is there a way round these problems?

    Using a third party landing page supplier

    • HI, i see that this comment was written a long time ago but hoping vou see this – I have the exact same problem, one single list just doesn’t work because of those reasons…. plus, besides what vou mention, and considering one of the images above: the people who signed up through the website may want to download the free ebook when they see it and may want the top tips too…. (that is also the problem i’m facing, and if i use one list only, people for example that fill a quiz and joined that way can’t then access offers because it shows an error of email already registered…. )- so for me that image is exactly an example of when lists don’t work….
      – Could vou share your thoughts please?
      – Andy, did vou find a solution?
      Thank you Both!!

      • For different opt-ins then addition to a group is the only way I’ve found to approach this, as you can send a sequence of emails after adding them to a group, separate from those of addition to the main list. If someone is already subscribed they won’t have to confirm again, they’ll just receive the content following addition to a group. Think of a group as being a tag in this instance. I have always achieved this using a third party solution to the subscription form though, eg LeadPages.

        • Hi Joanne, thank you very much for your reply – in theory, that does in fact seem possible, but at least for me, it doesn’t work, I’ve just tested because I was happy to get a solution – I’m using, with Mailchimp (and WordPress) both Thrive Quiz Builder and Optimize Press, both very popular – on Thrive Quiz Builder, it let’s me select a group to send the user to, and it apparently lets me register a user that is already on the list, but: it doesn’t change groups, so it has no effect. On Optimize Press, I see no option to select groups – all I can do is select a list, and then segment through a hidden field – so, it doesn’t work for this, because when a user that is on the list for other reason, tries to put the email to get access to the content, he/she sees the message that the email is already subscribed. Besides not working with both solutions because of this, I see another problem: what if (this may easily happen), by using the method of subscribing to groups in the forms (if it was possible :-s ) and not to lists, a user subscribes to something that makes it change groups, when in fact that user was in the middle of receiving an automated sequence of emails for the other offer – will the user stop receiving that? Because that would be a problem. I’ve been trying to get a solution for this for several days, before I reestructure everything (I wanted to do the master list, but saw that it wasn’t possible, so I’m preparing everything for… having 4 lists, which is the opposite of what is recommended here, but, due to these reasons, I don’t see any other solutions). Please let me know if there is something that I’m not interpreting or considering correctly, as it is possible. Thank you for your help!

          • A subscriber wouldn’t be removed from one group just because they were added to another, they can be going through automations and be in multiple groups at the same time. The only time this could occur is if in the automation sequence that followed addition to one group you made removal from another group a part of the sequence.
            It is tricky to achieve the signups to a group using MailChimp’s own forms and some third party forms. LeadPages has been reliable for me so far.

  4. Hi, thanks for this, I currently send a weekly email for info to clients & prospects, but would also like to start sending a monthly sales email to these same people from a different email address, in a different format.

    How would people unsubscribing from the sales email stay subscribed to the weekly info ones?

    Could this be done using a separate list, or would we need a different MailChimp account, or maybe on a different email marketing programme?

  5. Hi Joanne- is this still relevant for the 2019 update of MailChimp, are you aware of any tutorials/ case studies that have successfully conducted this?


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