We’ve all heard it’s bad to buy a list. That’s nothing new. But why? If it’s so bad, why do so many companies sell them?
It isn’t just because there’s some sort of moral compass marketers insist on following. There are proven consequences to buying email marketing lists — and they generally don’t turn out in your favor.
So, we’ve put together seven reasons it’s bad to buy a list, along with some alternatives that are well worth the effort.
Reasons to Steer Clear of Purchased Lists
In the B2B industry, it’s not unreasonable think of list-buying as an easy way to grow your list. Or, for small businesses who are just getting started, it’s a quick and easy market to tap into. Plus, tons of companies make it easy to buy a list – that’s why so many marketers have done it in the past.
While plenty of companies will tout the benefits of list buying – they won’t be too forthcoming about the fact that buying third-party lists has some definite downsides that can have negative impacts on your business – and the downsides may not be worth the satisfaction of having a bigger list.
Here are some of the consequences that go along with buying lists.
1. It’s Against the Law
This one is pretty straightforward. It’s illegal to sell and buy email lists, and it can actually result in thousands of dollars in fines or lawsuits thanks to the CAN SPAM Act.
This act creates rules for commercial emails, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and also describes the tough penalties that can occur if you break these rules. Email violations can be subject to more than $40,000 in penalties – likely much more than you paid for said list. Hardly worth it.
Technically, it’s legal to rent email lists, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. What Robly deems as bad lists includes both rented and bought lists, as do the majority of other reputable email service providers.
2. Addresses are Invalid or Stale
The people selling email lists aren’t necessarily reputable companies, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the lists you can buy from them might not be healthy. Even if the company says the lists have been verified, there’s no guarantee that’s the truth.
That could leave you with a list of inactive, invalid, or stale email addresses — basically a waste of money. The information could also be out of date, incomplete, or just plain junk. There’s really no way to know until you hit send.
Not only does that mean your email won’t be making its way to real inboxes, but it will also result in higher bounce rates.
3. Spam Complaints Will Spike
Anytime people receive something they don’t want, expect to hear about it in one way or another.
It’s extremely likely that you will see an increase in spam complaints if you send to a purchased list. At best, someone will trash it immediately without opening. A year ago, people received an average of 88 emails per day. Do you really think they want something they never opted in to receive? (Hint: the answer is no.)
The other problem is that the contacts aren’t familiar with you or your company. Imagine someone showing up at your front door, pretending like they know you, and trying to get you to do something (follow a CTA, sign up, read content, etc.).
That’s the type of first impression that gets someone to click the This is Spam button immediately. Email marketing should follow the same common courtesy that normal human relationships do.
We know the best email campaigns target contacts based on their preferences, habits, and/or other data — but even if someone sells you a list that claims to cover these bases, it’s irrelevant if you have no prior relationship with anyone on the list.
4. Your Sending Reputation Will Suffer
Consumers aren’t the only ones who won’t put up with receiving unsolicited emails. Email service providers (ESPs) like Robly keep an eye on your sending stats in order to prevent campaigns from sending to purchased lists.
It isn’t an uncommon practice for ESPs to assign senders with a poor reputation (think: high bounce rates, spam complaint rates, low open and click rates) to an IP address reserved for these types of senders. If you’re sending to a bought list, chances are you’re on one of these IPs – and that won’t change unless your sending habits change.
When you’re on an IP with a poor sending reputation, your emails are more likely to go straight to spam folders and skip inboxes altogether.
5. Compliance Delays
Another way ESPs take steps to limit the use of purchased lists is by halting your campaign send if the bounce or spam rates are too high. This means that only a small percentage of your total send will even get out of the gates – and there’s no guarantee that the rest will ever get out.
At Robly, your account gets held up if your spam complaints are greater than 1 in 1,000 or your bounce rate is too high (this rate varies based on the total size of your list, but in general should never go over 15%).
6. Engagement Will Suffer
We all want to see our email metrics, like open and click-through rates, continue to improve, with the not-so-good rates like spam and bounce getting smaller. But with purchased lists, the exact opposite is going to happen. And poor engagement ultimately means a poor ROI.
It can be hard enough to get real subscribers to engage with your emails, but multiply that hurdle by a thousand when you send something to a list you bought. Why would someone open something they didn’t ask for and isn’t tailored to them?
7. Contacts Are Already Annoyed
Do you think you’re the only one who was given the purchased list? Chances are, other companies have also bought the same list and emailed the contacts. (Pro tip: Great lists aren’t going to be for sale.)
If your message does land in their inbox by some feat, do you think they’ll be happy to see yet another unsolicited email? That’s going to irritate them even more, and if they hadn’t already reported spam, this message might have just broken the camel’s back enough for the contact to file a complaint.
What to Do Instead
Sticking to the straight and narrow isn’t always the easiest option. But when it comes to email marketing lists, it’s the best and smartest approach.
Yes, it will take more time and effort to organically grow your lists. We understand both of those things are valuable. However, a solid list that with healthy engagement is worth more than any number of purchased contacts, as we covered in the last section.
Ready to take the leap and leave purchased lists in the past? Start incorporating these six email marketing techniques, and watch your metrics improve.
1. Use a Double Opt-In Signup Form
The furthest thing from purchasing an email list is having an opt-in feature with your signup. Take that a step further and offer a double-opt in to ensure they want to receive your messages and engage with your company.
Once they provide their email address, they’ll also need to respond to an email to confirm their subscription. This will also help improve open and click-through rates for future emails, while weeding out any invalid addresses from the start.
We also encourage users to make sure their unsubscribe CTA is clear and easy to find. That will help reduce spam complaints and also ensure you’re maintaining a healthy list.
2. Provide Good, Old Fashioned Value
Providing valuable content and resources is going to attract people and help grow your subscription list. That starts with your website and other online components to show people they’ll get something good in return for giving you their email address.
Include a CTA at the bottom of blog posts, for example, asking people to opt-in for more content on this topic. There can even be a pop-up form that shows up on the content pages or throughout the site encouraging people to subscribe if they like what they see.
Make sure to follow through with the promise of sending out campaigns that will benefit your contacts. That can be done by using data to see what would interest them, suggesting content that matches where they are in the buyer journey, and tailoring messages to their purchasing habits. The more you can target the message, the better it will be received.
3. Go Social
If people are already engaging with you on social media, help them take the next step and sign up for your email list.
Facebook allows you to add “sign up” buttons to your page, and that can take people to your site’s subscription page. Or, post the link and a good reason people should sign up as a post on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or whatever social site your audience uses. You can also add a CTA at the end of your YouTube videos about signing up.
Beyond just making it possible for people to sign up by following a social link, show them on your social pages why they should subscribe. Give them a taste of what they’re missing if they aren’t already on your list. For example, tease one of the stories in you latest newsletter, or share a photo you emailed out. If they want to see more, let them know they’ll have to sign up.
4. Offer an Incentive
This technique can be effective, when used correctly. We aren’t talking about getting people to sign up for a giveaway or contest. Instead, offer them something that will show they are interested in your company and the type of information you have to offer.
For example, put together a whitepaper that answers questions for someone in the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey. A person who is interested in that information is a great contact for your list because they’ve already shown they want to engage. So, ask them to sign up in return for the free content. This can be done with anything they’ll value, like webinars, ebooks, infographics, and more.
5. Give Contacts the Power
We all want to be in charge, and that’s especially true when it comes to what emails we receive. Some people might like getting a daily newsletter, while weekly is good enough for others. Allow contacts to choose things like the frequency of emails and topics they’ll receive.
That’s just another way to tailor the customer experience and show you care about what they want — both are great for customer retention. Make it clear from the start that if they sign up, you’re putting them in charge of what’s coming their way. Also, give them the option to change their preferences later on.
6. Make Shareable Content
Wouldn’t it be great if your current contacts pitched in and helped you grow your email list? We think that sounds pretty amazing, too. And that can happen if you send campaigns worth sharing.
Maybe it’s a goofy holiday message, a special deal for subscribers or a link to an in-depth article important to your contacts. Create an email campaign your contacts will like so much that they want to forward it to their friends and co-workers.
Word-of-mouth is one of the most effective marketing techniques because people trust other people. So when someone sees a person they trust values your emails, they might just sign up too.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Buy a List
Companies that have something valuable to offer their subscribers don’t have a reason to buy a list. So if you’re tempted to go to the dark side and buy a list, it’s time to take a look at the bigger picture and figure out what you’re missing.
Maybe your campaigns are focused on selling the contacts something, instead of giving them useful information they want to receive. Or the lists aren’t segmented enough, and the content is too vague, leaving the entire list unsatisfied.
There’s a deeper issue if you think you need to buy a list, and once you figure out what that is and fix it, you’re going to see improvement. Purchasing a list might seem like the easy way out, but that decision will come with consequences worth avoiding.
Have any more ideas on how to grow an opt-in email list? Share your tips in the comments!
Lauren Dowdle is an award-winning writer and magazine editor based in Nashville, Tenn. Her nearly decade-long writing career has covered everything from landscaping to marketing.