Methods of Acquiring an Email List

Before we get into the pitfalls of purchasing an email list, let’s review (for those who are new to the game) three of the most common ways marketers acquire contact lists to email:

  1. Buy a list. You work with a list provider to find and purchase a list of names and email addresses based on demographic and/or psychographic information. For example, you might purchase a list of 5,000 names and email addresses of people with children who live in a certain city.
  2. Rent a list. Also working with a list provider, you identify a segment of people to email — but you never actually own the list. As such, you can’t see the email addresses of the people you’re emailing, so you must work with the provider to send out your email.
  3. Generate an opt-in list. Someone voluntarily gives you their email address either online or in person (at a trade show, for instance) so you can send them emails. They may pick certain types of email content they wish to receive, like requesting email alerts when new blog posts are published. Opt-in email addresses are the result of earning the interest and trust of your contact because he or she thinks you have something valuable and helpful to say.

When it comes to rented or purchased lists, you may come across vendors or marketers who say, “this email list is totally opt-in!” This means that the people on the list opted in to an email communication from someone at some point in time — like the list provider, for example. What it doesn’t mean, however, is that they opted in to receive email communications from your business. This is a critical distinction, and the next section of this post will go into more detail on why this type of “opt-in email list” (should be read with air quotes) is not a good idea for your email marketing program.

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Email Lists

Reputable email marketing vendors don’t let you use purchased lists.

If you’re using email marketing software now or plan to in the future, you’ll find that reputable companies will insist that you use opt-in email lists. You might be saying, “I’ll just use a non-reputable email marketing vendor.” Wrong again. Using ESPs that don’t require their customers to use opt-in email lists suffer poor deliverability if they’re using a shared IP address. In other words, one customer’s ill-gotten email list can poison the deliverability of the other customers on that shared IP address. You’re going to want to hitch your wagon to the light side of the email marketing force if you want your emails to actually get into inboxes.

There’s no such thing as a good email list that’s for sale.

Unless you’re in the process of acquiring an entire company, you’re not going to come across a high quality email list you can purchase. It being for sale at all means that the email addresses on it have already been ripped to shreds by all the other people who have purchased that list, and emailed the people on it. Any email addresses that once had value have since been spammed to the ends of the earth!

If someone actually had a good email list, they’d keep it to themselves because they don’t want to see the value of those email addresses diminished by letting other people get their hands on it. Think about it — would you sell or share with another business the email addresses of those who have voluntarily opted in to receive email from you? I didn’t think so.

Your email deliverability and IP reputation will be harmed.

Did you know that there are organizations dedicated to combating email SPAM? Thank goodness, right? They set up a little thing called a honeypot, which is a planted email address that, when harvested and emailed, identifies the sender as a spammer. Similarly, things called SPAM traps can be created to identify spammy activity; they are set up when an email address yields a hard bounce because it is old or no longer valid but still receives consistent traffic. Fishy, eh? As a result, the email turns into a SPAM trap that stops returning the hard bounce notice, and instead accepts the message and reports the sender as a spammer.

If you purchase a list, you have no way of confirming how often those email addresses have been emailed, whether the email addresses on that list have been scrubbed for hard bounces to prevent identifying you as a spammer, or from where those email addresses originated. Are you really willing to risk not only your email deliverability, but also the reputation of your IP address and your company?