ActiveCampaign is a powerful customer relationship management (CRM) tool that makes it easy to manage your contacts and automate your marketing campaigns. Three key features of ActiveCampaign are lists, field, and tags, which allow you to store additional information about your contacts and segment them based on specific criteria.


Understanding the difference between using lists versus tags in ActiveCampaign can be a bit challenging, especially if you are used to other CRM systems. Although both can be utilized for contact segmentation, it is generally more advantageous to use tags for this purpose.

However, there is one scenario where lists may prove to be a better option – managing unsubscribes. Let’s explore why.

Imagine you send out three different types of emails to your contacts – marketing, news, and member updates. To keep things organized, you have created a single list called “My Contacts” where you have placed all your contacts.

Now, let’s say you send out a news email to your contacts. When you send out an email, it typically includes an unsubscribe link. If a contact clicks the link to unsubscribe, they will be removed from the entire list, leaving you unable to contact them for marketing or member updates – even if all they wanted to do was to stop receiving news emails.

A better approach would be to have separate lists for each type of email, such as marketing, news, and member communication. This way, if a contact decides to unsubscribe from one type of email (e.g. news), they can still remain on the other email lists (e.g. marketing and member communication).

While you can achieve similar results by using tags to segment email types, this approach is more complex and can lead to undesired outcomes. Therefore, using separate lists for different email categories is the simpler and more efficient method for managing unsubscribes in ActiveCampaign.

To create a list in ActiveCampaign:

  • From the main ActiveCampaign menu, select Contacts.
  • If the Navigation menu isn’t open, open it.
  • Select Lists from the Navigation sub-menu.
  • Click the Add a list button located at the top right of the window.
  • Follow the prompts and instructions to add a list.

Custom Fields vs. Tags

When deciding whether to use a field (sometimes referred to as a custom field) or a tag to store a particular piece of information, consider the usage of that information. Ask yourself whether that piece of information is specific to that individual contact, or if it needs to be used in personalizing emails, or if the information value needs to be changeable. If so, it’s likely best stored as a custom field.

An example for a field is a contact’s job title. That information is specific to that contact and is subject to change. Other contacts may have the same job title, but it is still a piece of information (metadata) that defines that contact. And it is possible that you may want to use the job title in a personalized email.

An example for a tag could be that the contact completed a course. That information marks an action, event, or accomplishment for the contact but doesn’t really define the contact.

Sometimes it is hard to determine if a field or tag should be used. In general tags are more flexible, much easier to define, and easier to work with.

But fields offer some capabilities which tags do not offer. For example, with fields you can search for a field containing a partial value (like “June”), while tags do not allow searching for partial value.


Fields are most useful when you need to store specific pieces of information about your contacts that aren’t included in their basic contact information (such as name, email address, etc.). For example, if you run an e-commerce store, you might create a field to record the lifetime purchase value for each customer so you can identify your top customers and personalize your messaging based on their buying habits.

Custom fields are also useful for:

  • Storing demographic or other personal information about your contacts (e.g., age, gender, location)
  • Tracking information related to the sales process (e.g., deal stage, estimated close date)
  • Capturing data from surveys or other forms (e.g., product preferences)

To create a custom field in ActiveCampaign:

  1. Navigate to the “Lists” tab.
  2. Select the list for which you want to create a custom field.
  3. Click the “Manage Fields” button at the top of the page.
  4. Click “Add Field”.
  5. Enter a name for your new custom field.
  6. Select the data type (text, number, date, etc.) that best fits your needs.
  7. Optional: Choose whether or not to make this field required when adding new contacts.
  8. Click “Save”.

Once you’ve created one or more fields, you can add values for those fields for each contact in your list.


Tags are another way to categorize and organize your contacts within ActiveCampaign. Unlike custom fields, which contain specific pieces of information about each contact, tags allow you to apply labels or keywords to each contact based on various criteria.

Tags are most useful when you need to categorize or segment your contacts based on more general criteria. For example:

  • Indicating which products or services each contact has shown interest in.
  • Categorizing your contacts by industry or job function.
  • Segment your contacts by interests or behaviors (e.g., “interested in social media marketing”).
  • Segmenting your list based on behaviors (e.g., “clicks links in emails”).

Tags can help you target your marketing messages more effectively by allowing you to send messages only to those contacts who meet certain criteria. They’re also useful for tracking the effectiveness of different campaigns and understanding which segments of your audience are most engaged with your content.

In general, tags work best when you’re looking for broad categories or segments that apply across many different contacts. If you have specific data points that apply only to select individuals within your list, it’s typically best to use custom fields instead.

To create a tag in ActiveCampaign:

There are multiple ways to create tags in ActiveCampaign: individually, in bulk, while assigning tags to contacts, and via API integration. The simplest way to create a tag(s) is via the Contacts > Tags management interface in ActiveCampaign.

  1. From the main ActiveCampaign menu, select Contacts.
  2. If the Navigation menu isn’t open, open it.
  3. Select Tags from the Navigation sub-menu.
  4. In the Add Tags dialog box, enter each new tag to be created on a separate line.
  5. Click the Add tags button.

Note: The above steps will create a new tag, but the tag won’t have any description or purpose documented for it. It’s a good idea to edit each of the new tags and add a descriptive purpose for the tag which can serve as a helpful reference in the future.

To apply a tag to a contact in ActiveCampaign:

The following process can be used to add or remove tag to either an individual contact or multiple selected contacts.

  1. Navigate to the Contacts tab.
  2. Select the contact(s) you wish to tag/untag by checking the selection box to the left of the contact’s name.
  3. Click the Edit button located above the contact list.
  4. In the editing dialog, click on Add a tag (or Remove a tag) located in the right side column.
  5. Start typing in some characters from the tag. A dynamic search is conducted and any matching tags are shown.
  6. Select the tag you want, or you can continue typing and a new tag will be created.
  7. Repeat steps for any additional tags you want to add.
  8. Click Add or Remove.
  9. When all rules are defined, click Apply.

Once you’ve applied one or more tags to your contacts, you can use those tags as criteria when creating automations, campaigns, and other targeted marketing messages.


Custom fields allow you to store specific pieces of information about each contact beyond their basic contact information, while tags allow you to categorize and organize your contacts based on various actions, criteria, or segments. By using both custom fields and tags effectively, you can gain deeper insights into your audience and create more effective marketing campaigns that resonate with your target customers.