Avoid a Tagging Crisis in One Hour


A tagging crisis creeps up on you.

It won’t happen suddenly or all at once. It will start with forgetting a single tag. You’ll figure it out soon enough and you’ll be lulled into a misleading sense of false security. “Everything is fine.”

It snowballs quickly from there… months after that, you’ll be beating your head against the desk. “What arcane code is this? Why would I create such ridiculous tags?”

You’ll become paranoid… contacts have tags you swear someone else put there.

You’ll begin to doubt yourself. Maybe other people can handle tags and you can’t. Maybe tagging is just too much for you.

You’ll remember when tagging seemed so simple and useful and you’ll wonder how all this could have turned so ugly.

Rest assured, this is something every tag-using marketer usually goes through once. I say “usually once” because most people who find themselves in this situation learn a hard-won lesson so painful they’ll never make the same mistake again:

If you invest a little time upfront to create a plan, you can avoid the pain, suffering, and lost data that follows, like the sun follows the moon, from creating tags on a whim, and thinking to yourself, “That’s easy, I won’t forget that.”

It’s not, and you will.

Please learn from the mistakes of the marketers who have come before you. Heed my warning — an hour spent now, creating a plan and organizing your tagging system, will save you a lot of frustration in the future.

If you are showing the early signs of a tagging system in collapse:

  • A history of creating many tags as you go without documenting them.
  • A nagging feeling that you don’t completely understand your tagging system anymore… you can push it down, but it keeps popping up.
  • It takes a while to remember what tags do, where they are used, or when they are applied.

… I recommend that you invest in the process outlined below for planning and documenting your tags as soon as possible. You may still be able to rescue your current tagging system and so prevent having to start over from scratch.

If you are currently in some stage of grieving after experiencing a complete collapse, you’ll find the information below helpful as you reconstruct your tagging system. There is a way out of this mess, you can do it, and this post will help.

What are tags?

Tagging is a quick, versatile way to consolidate, and then leverage, information about your contacts.

You can think of tags as labels. You can apply as many labels to a contact as you need.

Tags can indicate different types of contact data:

  • Important behavior – clicks, opens, downloads, purchases, etc.
  • Status/attributes – customer, prospect, repeat customer, advocate, engaged, disengaged, geo-location, etc.
  • Interests – what links did they click, what URLs did they visit, what lead magnets did they request?
  • Subscriptions – newsletter, blog subscriber, notify of sales, etc.
  • Misc data – products purchased, lifetime value, etc.

So tagging gives you a way to consolidate many different types of contact data into a single format.

When do you use tags?

There is some overlap between how tags, lists, segments, and custom fields can be used:

Lists are like folders. You can drop contacts into them, but it wouldn’t be feasible to create different lists for all the things you’d want to track in order to create targeted messages and intelligent marketing. Tags can be added and removed on the fly, automatically, while lists are less dynamic. Lists are general, while tags are more specific.

Segments are subsets of contacts based on conditions you define. Segments are generally groups of contacts you find yourself sending emails to repeatedly. Segments can be created from any contact data, including tags, but they are different in that a “segment” is a group of contacts that match certain conditions while a “tag” is an indication of a condition.

Custom fields are data fields you can create for storing a value in addition to the default fields. You might use a custom field to track unique values like dates, numbers, etc. For instance, if I wanted to store a contact’s Slack name, it would make sense to use a custom field for that. In contrast, a tag “is what it is.” It doesn’t store a value, it just indicates something.

My rule of thumb is that I use tags when it would be easier and custom fields, segments, and lists when that would be easier (given their different purposes). Trying to store a contact’s Slack name as a tag, for instance, wouldn’t be easy —  to apply or use.

If you have a situation in mind where it is unclear which you would use, please post it in the comment section and I’ll let you know what I would use in that situation.

How do you apply a tag?

You can apply tags with automations. You use “Apply tag” or “Remove tag” actions and there is no additional set up needed:

You can also apply tags using the bulk editor:

To apply tags to a single contact, you can do that from their contact record:

During import you have the opportunity to apply tags:

And, if you have the technical know-how to do so, you can add tags via the API.

How can you use tags to target specific contacts?

By filtering contacts with combinations of tags, you can create extremely granular groups of contacts along a variety of dimensions.

For instance, if you want to send an email campaign to satisfied, engaged customers asking if they’d recommend your product to others, you could search for contacts tagged as:

  • “repeat customer for a specific product,” +
  • “clicked a link or opened an email in the last 60 days,” +
  • “indicated they are happy in after-purchase survey,”

… and see the contacts that have all those tags. You are basically saying, “show me the contacts who have all three of these ‘labels.’” By mixing and matching tags, you can find exactly the group of contacts you are looking for.

Leveraging tags to create better marketing and sales

The tags make it super easy to extract value from your data. Tags can be used for:

  • Analytics
    Know which lead magnets/content are performing (generating opt-in contacts). Know which products your contacts are interested in by applying interest tags on product page visits.
  • Creating case studies 
    A lot of valuable data remains hidden in statistics… interesting outliers disappear into a single aggregate number. Case studies are a great way to examine edge cases and exceptions to rules. You may be able to gain new insights and better understand your customer base. A contact’s record is a rich source of data — tags, Site Tracking data, location data, notes you’ve applied, etc. help you to understand who a contact is and what they’ve done.
  • Triggering automations
    Automations can begin when a tag is applied so you could begin several automations at a time with a single tag.
  • Adjusting lead scores
    Adding (or removing) a tag can be used to automatically adjust a contact or deal score.
  • Within automations
    Track the outcome of automations by applying a tag.
  • Creating segments
    Tagging really shines when it comes to creating segments. When a tag is added or removed, a contact can automatically be added to a dynamic segment.
  • Personalizing message content
    Tags can simplify the process of using the Conditional Content feature so that you can hide or display content on the basis of how a contact is tagged. For instance, if they are tagged as interested in a specific product, you could use Conditional Content to display that product image within the email.


A process to plan out your tagging system

1. Start with defining how you will use tags…

Do you want to…

  • Deliver content targeted to your contact’s interests?
  • Track attendance to your webinars?
  • Build a detailed contact profile before passing leads to your sales team?
  • Record specific link clicks, URL visits, or email opens?
  • Recommend products based on a contact’s purchase history?
  • Send highly segmented email campaigns?
  • Identify “bad” customers and “raving fans?”
  • Indicate prospects who are “sales ready?”
  • Begin other automations?
  • Track your contacts interests and analyze data to improve your content marketing?

Defining your use cases is foundational to how you organize and structure your tags.

2. Create a spreadsheet…

Plan out your tagging system in a spreadsheet so you can visualize what is going on and really get a feel for the structure and what would be most logical. Besides being essential during the planning stage, you’ll want to keep this up-to-date with your latest tags, notes on what they are doing, and how you are using them, so that you prevent a “tagging crisis.”

Here’s an example of a tag planning spreadsheet I put together (pictured above) and here’s an example ActiveCampaign user Anne Headon shared with us.


3. Decide on the structure of the tags themselves…

My experience has been that tags should be organized by category first, and then become more specific. So, for instance, if you wanted to keep track of content your contacts requested you might use a structure like:

Category – subcategory – specific
Content download – white paper – “7 steps to flawless macro photos”
Webinar – attended – “How to run a wedding photo shoot like a pro” – 10/14/15

And this is where the ideal tagging system becomes debatable. One school of thought, the one I subscribe to, is that tags should be descriptive (you read them and it’s obvious what they mean). The criticism is that this makes big, ugly tags that wrap across lines and you can mess up typing them by misplacing a dash or space.

The competing school of thought is that, to be as short yet information-packed as possible, tags should basically be like codes and to figure out their meaning, you’d have to know it from memory or reference a spreadsheet. They might look like this for the same tag:


In my opinion, it is usually best to avoid being cryptic. Abbreviations, codes, etc. only obscure the meaning of tags and, by causing you to constantly reference outside docs, undermine the speed and simplicity that make them advantageous.

You may find that a mixture of abbreviations and descriptive words is a perfect compromise between the two extremes. For instance, you could abbreviate the category because that is consistent so you’ll become familiar with it and won’t have to reference a document.

EDIT: Here’s a tag formatting protip from ActiveCampaign user, Matt Mintun… after importing a big list and accidentally adding a tag that triggered a message sequence he didn’t want to send, Matt started noting which tags begin automations with a [trigger] label to make it obvious when he is using a tag that begins other automations. 

Avoiding a tagging crisis

Use tags only when needed
The more simple your tagging system, the better. You may be tempted to use tags for every little thing, figuring that more data is better and you’ll use it at some point, but this often isn’t the case. What will probably end up happening is that your tagging system becomes so overwhelming and confusing you can no longer use all the data you’ve collected. With tagging, as with so many other things, less is more.

Use your spreadsheet to plan out the purposes of your tags and resist the temptation to tag outside of how you actually plan on leveraging tags to produce better marketing. If you are tempted to create new tags, see how they fit into your spreadsheet/overall plan before creating them.

Use tags when appropriate
There are times that segments may serve the same purpose as a tag, but have the benefit of keeping your tagging system streamlined. For instance, if you are tagging contacts as having opened an email, you could keep them in a segment rather than applying tags.

Organize and prune tags regularly
By keeping your spreadsheet up-to-date you’ll be able to visualize your tagging system in its entirety and get a feel for when it is getting out of control, spot duplicate tags, and have a back up resource for when memory inevitably fails you.

Use our tag manager and its merge function to combine tags that are serving duplicate purposes.

How to merge tags


The move from list-based organization of contacts to tag-based organization has been a huge leap forward in contact management. But, without putting in some planning upfront, the advantages disintegrate, you’ll find yourself frustrated, and you’ll lose valuable data, so I hope you invest the time now to avoid such an unnecessary struggle.

New feature: Hide on mobile

Optimizing emails for mobile has quickly gone from important to essential. Today, far more emails are read on mobile than desktop or webmail clients:

Emails opened by environment
Source: Litmus, July 2015

We’ve been creating mobile responsive email templates for a while and we’ve just taken our mobile optimization even further with a new feature: “Hide on mobile.”


Targeting Your Marketing: Advanced Segmentation

Segment your list for better email marketing


The emails you do not send are more important than the ones you send.

If you email the wrong people, your deliverability will plummet. The people you want to reach, the contacts who want to hear from you and are ready to buy, will never even know you emailed them.

If your email isn’t engaging people, the algorithms assume it is unwanted so it’s filtered away from the inbox.


Targeting your marketing – Part 1: Advanced personalization

Strategies for targeting your marketing

In 2014, 86% of revenue came from email campaigns that used advanced tactics (not broadcast emails).

— DMA UK’s National Client Email Report – 2015

Our improved ability to target individual contacts might be the most important advancement in email marketing services since the autoresponder was introduced over a decade ago. The old marketing adage, “Get the right message to the right contact at the right time,” has never been easier to achieve.

Targeting is a proven path to better results. The closer your marketing message aligns with the needs and interests of your contacts, the more effective it becomes.


7 steps to create your best automated follow up sequence

Create your best automated marketing sequence

Download an infographic summary of this post


Are you using the best
automated follow up strategy?

Whether you are in the process of creating your first follow-up sequence, or you’ve been at this for years, your follow up sequence should be the result of a well-defined plan for achieving the results that matter to your business. tweet this

Instead, our follow up is often created on a whim or pieced together bit by bit over time to fill in gaps… this piecemeal evolution means our sequences probably aren’t the product of a well-considered, overarching strategy designed to produce the best results.

What’s more, a lot has changed since you created those sequences… powerful new marketing tools have been introduced, you’ve gained valuable insights about your customers, your product line has transformed, and you’ve learned more about effective online marketing.

This post on re-envisioning your follow up is a chance to implement everything you haven’t gotten to, but should.


Wistia’s Integration with ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign is frequently asked about integrations which capture leads through videos embedded on websites; and for a long time, we did not have a quality solution. That problem has been solved. Recently, Wistia added ActiveCampaign to the list of Email Service Providers you can connect to, with the use of your ActiveCampaign API key.

With the explosion of mediums such as Youtube, video has become a vital player in marketing and sales for businesses all over the world. Wistia gives you serious video management tools and provides much more than a simple video hosting solution. Instead, they have created a tool through which you can customize, deliver, analyze and much more on one simple to use platform.

The integration places a subscription form within your videos, and can be set up within a matter of minutes, allowing you to immediately send any contacts captured into the ActiveCampaign list of your choosing. Once the contact is in ActiveCampaign, you can trigger the drip marketing and sales automation processes set up within your account to help you continually engage your contacts based on actions, custom fields, site and event tracking, and much more.

Filtering by Tags in Reports

As we’ve mentioned before, Tags in ActiveCampaign are a bit of a pet project that we see big potential for. Whereas we normally update our app in large changes section by section, implementing Tags in the ways we’d like basically needs to be peppered throughout gradually. Whereas we’ve previously added them to the series, the contact pages, and the import functionality, Tags have now started to creep their way into reports.

With our most recent change you can now filter your campaign and series reports by how your contacts are tagged.

Want to see which of your customers with a certain tag opened your messages or clicked on a link? Now you can.

Additionally this can be used when viewing top contacts, read and open trends and client trends. If you want to see what percentage of a your contacts in a certain tag are using Gmail, now you can as well.

Got ideas of what else we can do with tags? Let us know on our feedback forums.

‘Wait until…’ Time and Date Options in Automated Series

Yesterday we launched a great new feature, one that had been highly requested since the introduction of our Automated Series — time and date awareness.

With this new feature you can now effectively schedule steps in your automate series to happen only at the appropriate times for your contacts.

This can now be accomplished with a simple “Wait until…” step under the “Date and Time” section.

Best of all, the time we’re referring to here is not your time zone, it is the customer’s. We will now track and utilize each contact’s time zone offset via their IP address to allow you to send to them at the right time for their region.

If you set an automated series to wait until Monday at 9 AM, the next step will not progress until 9AM on the following Monday in their time zone.

No longer will you have to worry about sending messages at strange hours or days when you won’t be available to respond. As you can imagine this opens up a host of other possibilities which we can promise we’re already thinking about for the future.

Much like our enhancements earlier in the week we believe a more personal experience will lead to better results and this is just one of many steps we’re taking to help you provide that.

Got ideas for what we can do with this data next? Let us know on our Feedback Forums.

New Feature: Modify Case When Using Personalization Tags

Personalized marketing is typically successful marketing. The more you know about a person, the better you can target and communicate with them. One small facet of this in ActiveCampaign is the usage of personalization tags.

Personalization tags let you include custom greetings or use any information you have about a contact in your message. We recently decided to take a new look at this handy feature and we’ve now rolled out some new enhancements to it.

You can now add modifiers to personalization tags to control the case of how they appear in your messages. With this new update, gone are the days of:

Hello JOHN,

This type of “greeting” would occur when someone was signed up and in your mailing list with their first name in ALL CAPS. This sort of thing either occurred because they didn’t know how to turn the caps lock off, or some sort of export system, likely from a database exported them as such. Now we’ve made personalization tags that much more personal.

Where you would have previously written:


You can now write:


And ActiveCampaign will do the work for you to normalize things for human consumption yielding the following instead.

Hello John,

Much better right? You are no longer held down by the oppressive reign of the mighty CAPS LOCK key.

We didn’t stop there though. Maybe you like things all capitalized? all lowercased? We’ve got you covered. Check out our newly revised Personalization Tags help document for more. Happy personalizing!

Taking the “Creepy” Out of Social Data

There’s a lot of talk these days about data. And there should be. We’re dumping more and more of it onto the open Internet every  single day. Each day that dawns, consumers should be more interested in the use of that data than the day before. The “creepy  line” keeps getting nudged forward.

Img: Jeremy Keith via Flickr

But we’re all better off because of it. (more…)