What Are Email Distribution Lists and How To Use Them

ByNitesh Chand


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Managing communication efficiently is more critical than ever in today's digitally connected world, where every person owns at least one email address. With so many email addresses, it may become challenging to ensure that the right emails are sent to the right set of people without any mix-up or anyone being left out. That's where email distribution lists come into play. They act like a shortcut, using which, you can send important updates to your clients, project team, or even your book club without the hassle of typing each email individually.

In this guide, we'll explore the benefits of having an email distribution list to streamline internal communications and enhance customer interactions. We'll also guide you through creating these distribution lists on Gmail and Outlook.

Table of contents

What is an email distribution list?

An email distribution list is your shortcut for sending emails to a group of people without having to type in everyone's address each time. Think of it like a group chat for email. You can set one up in your email client, name it whatever you want, for instance, ‘City Council,’ and send your email to that individual address whenever you need to send something to all the council members.

It's also worth mentioning that throwing emails into the 'To' section doesn’t make it a distribution list. You’ve got to set it up as an actual list in your email tool. Also, these distribution lists differ from the subscriber lists you might use in email marketing. They’re great for internal communications or regular updates to a specific group, but they're not a substitute for the more dynamic subscriber lists where people can opt in or out.

So, you might have email distribution lists for:

  • Executive leadership teams
  • Health and safety boards
  • Recreation and social clubs
  • Role-specific groups (e.g., all marketers)
  • The whole company

Now that you understand the concept of the email distribution list, here’s a guide to building one.

How to use distribution lists effectively

So why are distribution lists even necessary? Well, here are a few uses.

  • Connecting with teams: Email distribution lists are a staple in the business world. They make it super easy to send relevant information to different departments or internal groups without the hassle of adding a single email address every time.
  • Customer communications: Have you noticed those "" email addresses? They are often set up as distribution lists so that any queries sent there get forwarded to a whole team, ensuring nothing slips through the cracks.
  • Reaching beyond the company: These contact lists aren’t just for internal emails. For instance, a marketing agency could use a distribution list to loop in everyone involved in a website project—from the designers to the client.
  • For personal uses: Email distribution lists have personal uses, too. They're perfect for organizing family events or keeping in touch with a group of friends. Imagine planning a surprise birthday party without having to message everyone separately. That’s where a distribution list comes in handy!

How to create a distribution list in Outlook

Setting up a distribution list in Microsoft Outlook is straightforward. Let's walk through the steps:

Step 1: Launch Microsoft Outlook and click the “Home” tab.

Step 2: Click the “Address Book” button at the top-right corner.

outlook st 1.jpg

Step 3: Select “File” and “New Entry” once the Address Book opens.

outlook st 2.jpg Step 4: Choose “New Contact Group” and confirm with “OK”.

outlook st 3.jpg

Step 5: Name your list and then hit “Select Members”.

outlook st 4.jpg Step 6: You can add members by manually picking from your contacts or entering their email addresses.

Step 7: After adding all members, click “OK” and “Save & Close”.

outlook st 5.jpg

When you’re ready to send an email using your new contact group:

  • Open a new email message in Outlook.
  • In the recipient field, start typing the list’s name or email, followed by a semicolon (;).
  • As you type, Outlook will suggest matches. Select your list when it appears.
  • Write your email and send it off.

If you need to update or remove members, tweak the list’s properties directly in the Address Book. This process keeps your communication smooth and organized.

How to create a distribution list in Gmail

To set up a distribution list in Gmail, follow these steps:

Step 1: Sign into your Gmail account.

Step 2: Navigate to the app menu and choose 'Contacts'.

gmail st2.jpg Step 3: Once in Contacts, click on 'Create label'.

Step 4: Give your new label a name.

gmail st3.jpg Step 5: Return to your Contacts list and select the contacts you wish to include in your new contact group.

Step 6: Click 'Manage labels', choose your new label, and then select 'Apply' to add the contacts.

gmail st4.jpg

If you have many contacts, the search bar at the top of the Contacts page can help you quickly find specific groups of people. For instance, you can filter contacts by typing a common domain name, such as your company's, to isolate work-related contacts efficiently.

Why an email distribution list isn’t the best choice for your marketing campaign

While using an email distribution list is useful, it has its limitations. Using email distribution lists isn’t the best choice for email marketing campaigns. Here's why:

1. Measuring results isn’t possible

Email marketing thrives on analytics metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and bounce rates. Using a simple distribution list doesn’t allow you to track the performance of your emails. So, you won't know who's engaging with your content or how to improve your email campaigns.

2. Automation is not possible

Automated email sequences are a cornerstone of effective email marketing. Think about a welcome series or a drip campaign that nurtures leads over time. With a distribution list, you're stuck sending emails manually. This takes longer and doesn't allow send time optimization that sends emails at the right time.

3. Segmentation gets tricky

Imagine you have customers in different industries, such as tech, retail, and healthcare. Each group has distinct needs and interests. While you can technically create separate lists for each sector, what happens when roles within those industries vary? Suddenly, you're juggling dozens of lists, and it's a recipe for confusion. There’s also no scope for segmenting them based on different attributes or dynamic segmentation unless you create separate lists manually for each criteria set.

4. Customers can reply to all

Email distribution lists are great for internal team email accounts where "reply all" makes sense but not for customer-facing messages. If a customer hits "reply all," they could unintentionally send their response to hundreds of strangers, breaching privacy and possibly causing a major headache for you.

5. Compliance issues

GDPR and other laws demand strict adherence to consent and privacy standards. In most regions, adding people to an email list without explicit consent is restricted. Marketing platforms are designed to handle these requirements smoothly, ensuring compliance and avoiding fines.


That wraps up our overview guide email distribution lists. If you've ever felt bogged down by sending the same email to multiple people, these lists are your ticket to simplicity. We've walked through setting them up in Outlook and Gmail so you can set up your distribution lists according to your requirements and start sending emails to them. Give it a go, set up your first list, and watch how it changes your email game.


It's best practice, and often legally required, to have consent before adding anyone to an email distribution list. Always ensure you have permission to maintain trust and comply with privacy laws.

In Outlook and Gmail, you can remove someone by opening your distribution list, selecting their name, and choosing the remove or delete option. It keeps your lists current and respects user preferences.

A distribution list is a saved group of contacts the sender can email repeatedly without re-entering their addresses, while a group email is a single email sent to a group of recipients manually added each time.

Typically, recipients cannot see the names or the list of email addresses of other members in the distribution list, which helps to protect privacy and prevents any misuse of the contact data.

What should you do next?

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