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7 Reasons Why You Should Never Buy an Email List (And How to Build Yours for Free)

7 Reasons Why You Should Never Buy an Email List (And How to Build Yours for Free)

If you’re a smart marketer, you probably know right now about the importance of starting with email marketing for your business. But if you’re part of a small business or startups, you’re also probably doing a million different things at the same time.

You’re trying to feed your sales funnel, increasing brand awareness, driving engagement on your social media content, and on top of that, you’re also trying to create as much valuable content as possible.

At the end of the day, trying to grow your email list might be something that is left behind, getting not as much attention as it should be. And maybe you’re tempted of responding to one of those emails from companies that promise you to grow your email list within days or even minutes. After all, it is as easy as taking out your credit card and entering the details.

But like most things in life, taking the easy route rarely is right for you in the long-term. Or quoting the wise words of “The Father of Advertising”:

So why would buying email list be such a bad idea? What could it do to your sender reputation? And even better, how can you start building your lists even while you’re sleeping?

This post got you covered.

Let’s start with identifying which types of methods there are to acquire a list of email addresses.

Method #1 You can buy an email list.

If you look online (or maybe you’ve already seen them in your inbox as well), you can find hundreds of websites and companies selling you their email lists. When you want to work with a company like this for a certain amount of money you can purchase a list of any size. These lists mostly include the subscriber’s names, email addresses and you can have them targeted to a specific demographic or psychographic information.

For example, if you’re selling household products, you could get a list of parents in the age group 25-40 who are used to buying products online.

Method #2 You can rent an email list.

Sometimes these brokers are a bit more protective about their lists, and while they offer you that the list they have for you includes your ideal target audience, you won’t get to see the list itself.

You can identify a segment of people that you want to target, you deliver the email you want to send to them to the broker, and they will take care of the sending and the reporting after the send to show how successful the campaign was.

Method #3 You can organically build an opt-in email list.

The last way is the way we think is the only way to develop a healthy email marketing program. It’s the way where you build your list over time. Sure it is not as instant as the previous two methods, but think about it; someone gives their email address voluntarily to you so you can send them emails.

They may be a bit picky which type of content they want to receive, maybe they only want to be kept informed about the latest content you post on your blog, or maybe they want to be kept in the loop about company news. Either way, these email addresses are the result of earning the interest, earning the trust of your subscribers because they think you’ve got something valuable to say to them.

Why You shouldn’t buy email lists

Now that you know what different options there are to acquire a list of email addresses let’s look into why the first two of them are a terrible option for your business. And why should only stick with the last method, of building your opt-in email list?

Reason #1 There is no guarantee about the quality of the list

Email marketing is different to just advertising. It is a personal medium with which you go straight to the inbox of your list subscribers. If you’re going to send out an email to people, you want to be sure that those people are interested in you and your industry. Even if your broker tells you that they collected the email addresses from let’s say competing for business, there is no way for you to know and verify this.

As a result, there may be lots of different things wrong with a list like this:

  • It may have missing or incomplete data (for example, incorrect names attached to the email addresses, or the addresses from the wrong industry)
  • Out-of-date information (on average an email list decays 2.1% per month or 22.5% per year, so lots of email addresses might no longer exist)
  • It might be that these email addresses are illegally gathered, which put you even at a higher risk
  • It might be full of fake customers

You can send your marketing message to hundreds of thousands of different email addresses, but will that matter if the addresses are fake, or incomplete, or not in the correct demographic as promised?

Even if they opted in during an industry related event, or on an industry-related website, doesn’t mean they want to hear from you.

When you’re gathering email addresses and building email lists yourself, there might still be some of these issues, but at least you will have higher control over it and know that these people are real.

Reason #2 Other companies will be sending to the same people.

If you can buy the email addresses of people, don’t you think others can do the same? Don’t you think others can buy the same list as you? And what happens when they sent out an email just before you?

What are the changes that the people you hope to delight with your great offering already had another “too good to miss” opportunity just before you? Things like this make people annoyed, and when they are annoyed it is not a good thing, and they might even end up marking you as spam or putting a filter in place so that they will never receive another email from you again.

Reason #3 You’ll come across as a spammer

People marking your emails as spam is one way that you can be flagged with different Internet Service Providers (ISP’s). Another one, often overlooked, is the fact that ISP’s recycle email addresses as spam traps. When these spam traps end up on purchased lists (and they will), you’re in even bigger trouble.

The idea here is that when an email address is dormant, the “owner” of the email address cannot signup for any emails. So that when a new sender is discovered sending an email to an address like this, the ISP knows that you’re a spammer. Resulting your domain ending up on email blacklists, or lists that contain spammers and that results in other ISP’s starting to block you as too.

You might be lucky though, and your list doesn’t contain any spam trap. There are other ways that ISP can still figure out that you’re a spammer, which will hurt your deliverability rate.


Well, big ISP’s like Gmail, Outlook and others are getting more advanced at tracking how people are reacting and interacting with email. If they see a large number of emails arriving at their customers from one specific email address, they look at:

  • How much time do their readers spend on viewing the email?
  • Do the readers on their network scroll down in the email?
  • Do the readers enable images (showing that they are interested to see the full content)

And similar type of behaviours. Things like this all help to build a “spam score” and ones you’re above a certain number, good luck trying to get into the inbox of your customers again.

Reason #4 Purchased lists may damage your brand reputation

Even if you’re friends with someone, as soon as they start sending you emails to buy viagra, you still don’t like it 😉 The same holds true for emails from your favourite brands to which you’re subscribed. Now imagine getting an unsolicited email from a company or brand they don’t recognise? Or worse, getting a (daily, weekly, or monthly) newsletter for which they haven’t signed up?

As soon as you start purchasing a mailing list, almost all of the folks on that list presumably don’t know who you are. As soon as they start receiving emails from you at one point, they will associate your company and brand with those negative feelings. Those feelings you have yourself when you open an unwanted spammy email.

As your brand grows more significant over time, an email like this can have a longer-term set of negative consequences. Reputation and trust take years to build, seconds to break, and forever to fix. Even if you get some high-quality list that is entirely on target, think about the possible negative response online.

With the rise of social media in the last decade, it is easier than ever for people to bad mouth your brand. Having your emails marked as spam is the least hurtful thing that can happen to your brand.

Reason #5 Bought customers have low open and conversion rates

Depending on which market segment you’re operating in, email open-rates can fluctuate anywhere between 18.05% and 36.59%. Those are open rates are for email lists that grew organically.

Now if we look at research done by MailChimp using data from their MailChimp’s anti-abuse system, graphs were created around key metrics and the correlation of public lists:

A Purchased List is a Dead List: MailChimp Study Shows Purchased Email Lists Aren’t Worth A Dime

A Purchased List is a Dead List: MailChimp Study Shows Purchased Email Lists Aren’t Worth A Dime

We can see that campaign performance versus the percentage of a mailing list that’s purchased or scraped; the open rates almost becomes non-existent. Next, to that, the unsubscribes increase and the overall click rates submarine.

The only thing that does go up? Complaints

Reason #6 Customers are not the only ones complaining; you’ll run into troubles with your Email Service Provider

All of the above reasons are reasons that help get rid of the trust an Email Service Provider (ESP) puts into the people who want to use their platform. And it is one of the reasons that most ESP’s want you to read through their terms and conditions and agree on the fact that you did not purchase the list.

Some even go as far as not allowing you to send any emails when you upload a big list for the first time asking you for ways to prove that all the email addresses you provided are required in an opt-in matter, that the members are legitimately interested in what you have to offer.

But even if your ESP is a bit more relaxed, breaking the agreement and sending large volumes of unsolicited email like this might result in your account getting closed, you get fined and legal action taken against you. After all, you’re hurting their business, their source of income when their servers are getting a bad reputation.

They want to stay off blacklists and keep their IP reputation solid.

Reason #7 Legal repercussions

If the first six items were not enough yet, what about legal implications? In 2003 the CAN-SPAM Act came into play in the United States, and while there might be a slim chance that the list you required is a correct list according to US law, if a lot of subscribers on that list are complaining, you might still face a legal battle trying to prove that you did nothing wrong.

And that is only in the US.

On the 25th of May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into play in Europe. And the GDPR is not only for companies with an office in Europe but any business operating on the European market.

Purchased lists may fail to comply with these new set of rules for any number of reasons, but by the most common one will be the failure to have a valid and up-to-date consent to the sharing of personal data with third parties.

This consent under the new GDPR ruling will need to be clear, affirmative, freely given, unambiguous and specific to the processing for which consent is sought. A silence, a pre-ticked checkbox will no longer be counted as a valid consent.

And if you look at the maximum fines associated with a breach of the rules (4% of annual group turnover or 20million euros, whichever is the higher). You’d better stay away from these lists altogether.

How to grow your opt-in email list

To sum it up, purchasing email lists is a bad practice. Don’t get stuck in the past and kill your company’s future. So if you can’t buy an email list and use that? What should you do instead?

Grow an email list yourself of course! If you’re just starting with your company, or are just starting to think about growing a list for your company (it is never too late to start), it might seem a bit overwhelming.

And where do you begin?

Attract potential subscribers with useful, engaging content

It all starts by creating useful and engaging content. After all, if you want people to sign up for your email list, you need some way of attracting them to you in the first place. You need to build trust; you need to show that you can deliver top quality content that will inspire your audience.

And the way to build that trust is by giving, giving, giving, giving, giving (valuable and engaging content) before you can ask for something in return (the email address of the reader). Or in the words of Gary Vaynerchuk; Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

Your audience is arriving at your site, first and foremost because they are looking for value, to learn something, and only then can you start asking for something in return.

Create lead magnets

After you build that trust with your visitors, it will become time to ask for something in return. You can use your existing content and expand upon them by creating webinars, ebooks, templates that are of interest to your audience.

Or maybe you can even create tools that are in line with your business or service that allows people to solve small problems they are facing.

Whatever you do, make them valuable enough for people to want to give you their email address in exchange for using them.

For example, we created a playbook around building your own social media strategy or a tool to help you insert stills of YouTube videos in your emails (because having an embedded video in your email increases Click-Through Rate by 55%) etc.

But also on social media, Facebook offers a great opportunity to generate leads using their lead ads for example. In the end, there are lots of different ways you can get creative and build powerful converting lead magnets for your business, the only thing stopping you is your imagination.

Place highly visible opt-in forms on your website

Of course, you should not stop at different lead magnets (with all their landing page). You should also include opt-in forms at the end of each article you publish; you can include side-scrolling opt-in forms, fullscreen welcome matswelcome bars floating on the top of your website, etc.

Just having a form sitting idle in your sidebar is not enough if you want to convert visitors into subscribers and eventually leads to your business.

Don’t forget to find a reputable Email Service Provider

And lastly, don’t forget to find a good reputable Email Service Provider. Delete all the lists you might have bought in the past, don’t try to save money by sending emails using your Outlook or Gmail, but invest in a good ESP to deliver your email for you.

There is a reason companies like Campaign Monitor, MailChimp, AWeber and others exist. Because they get your email delivered, and give you the insights you need to keep improving the quality of the relationships you have with your subscribers.

That’s it. If you want to grow your business. If you’re going to drive conversions, you need a lot more than just a list of email addresses. You want an engaged audience; you need people subscribed to your list that are genuinely interested in your brand. In your offering. People who are happy that they get an email from you in their inbox and can’t wait to get the next one.

Email subscribers are at the top of your funnel; they are the people that can turn into leads and eventually into customers. They are the foundation of your business, and the wellbeing of your company depends on how you treat them. Treat their inboxes with anything but respect, and you will get the same thing in return (and the other way around as well).

How can you run an effective (email) marketing campaign if you’re not sure about your audience and if they are even real? You can’t and that is exactly what will happen if you purchase a list of email addresses instead of earning them the hard way.

Have you ever thought about buying a list? And if you did, what were the results you had? Let us know your experiences in the comments so we can all learn from them.

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