If you want to run a direct mail campaign, you can buy a mailing list. There are reputable sources for addresses and phone numbers of local homeowners and businesses. These lists are relatively current and you can target down to a single postal route. But that strategy won’t work for email. Here’s why you shouldn’t buy email addresses.

The Lists are Typically Low Quality

Purchased email lists are collected from a variety of sources and are not routinely cleaned. And people change their email address when they move, change jobs, or simply switch systems. Odds are you have had a few different email addresses over the years, (think juno, aol, Hotmail, msn, comcast, sbc, or yahoo).  You may not have closed the account, so junk email continues to accumulate in the account, but those email addresses have no value to a marketer.

We also see lots of typos such as gaml or .cm. These addresses will bounce, but if no one bothers to report it back to the list owner, they continue to get sold, over and over again.

Purchased Lists are NOT Permission-Based

Just like happiness, you can’t buy a quality permission-based email list. Why not? The key phrase is permission-based. Even if the names on the list are relatively new, those people don’t know you. They haven’t given their permission to receive content from you. Consumers are often more protective of their email inboxes than their mailboxes. They do not appreciate it when people pop up uninvited. When you do, you run the following risks:

  • Low open rates. The vast majority of people on these purchased lists have been there awhile so they get lots of unsolicited emails. To protect their inbox they have filters set so your email goes directly to a junk folder. While permission-based lists may enjoy a 20 – 30% open rate, we typically see open rates as low as 5% on purchased lists.
  • High opt-out rates and SPAM complaints. Since these people didn’t sign up for your list, you are likely to see a large number of these people opting out or worse filing a spam complaint. Most reputable email service providers will only allow 1 complaint per 1000 emails. With a bad list, you will probably see significantly more. If that happens, your provider will probably require you to remove all the addresses, preventing you from using the email list more than once.
  • You might have to pay a fine. When you buy email addresses from a less than reputable company it is possible they used harvesting techniques which are in violation of the federal CAN-SPAM Act. Even though you didn’t directly collect the email addresses, you could be held responsible for paying the fines.

Your Service Provider May Not Let You Use the List

We ran into this issue with a client recently. They had acquired a list which we divided into 8 smaller lists of 1,000 names each. We loaded one of the lists to Constant Contact. It was immediately flagged as a purchased list. Their system found hundreds of names which had been used by other clients in email campaigns with high bounce, opt-out, and spam complaints.  To protect the integrity of their delivery system, they would not allow us to use the list.

Following their direction, we cleaned up the list and tried to load the more scaled-down version with Mail Chimp and got the same response. They would not allow us to use the purchased list so my client had nothing usable.

Don’t Buy Email Addresses

No matter how big the promise or how good the claim, a purchased email list will not jump start your marketing. Use the money you would have spent to run ads on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google to drive traffic to a conversion page on your website. Offer something of value and you are likely to collect email addresses of people who really want to hear from you.

Looking for more ideas on how to grow a permission-based list so you don’t have to buy email addresses? Check out our guide filled with 50 Ways to Grow Your List

Download the 50 Ways to Grow Your Email List whitepaper