Before Buying an Email List, Read This!
Perhaps you're a new company and don't have a customer base. Maybe you have a service you're sure that people will love... if only they heard about you. Whatever the reason, buying an email list seems like an easy, low cost way to grow your business. But, there are some serious consequences to purchasing. And there are real benefits to using an opt-in list!
What Is An Opt-In List?
You'll often see terms like opt-in, permission based, signups and subscribed. When used properly, they all mean that the email list is comprised of people who:
- Are recent customers of yours, or
- Agreed to receive email updates directly from you, or
- Subscribed or signed up through an online sign-up form on your business' website, landing page, or social profile.
What Is A Purchased Email List?
There are many vendors out there who sell lists or rent them (though renting means that the list seller maintains ownership and control of the email list). These are collections of email addresses that the vendors sell to any business or individual who can pay the fees. Your email list is considered to be a purchased or shared list if it’s provided to you by a third party, like an email list vendor or affiliate. There's a few ways that vendors build these non opt-in email lists.
One common method is something you've likely come across. Think about those flashing banner ads you see across the web. They say things like "Congratulations, you've won a free iPad". Or "You're our 1 millionth visitor, click to claim your prize!"
If you were to click on that banner, you'd wade through survey questions where they ask about age, income and collect other info relevant to placing you into categories that they can then offer as "targeted" options for marketers. They also collect your email address.
Another collection method happens when list vendors buy emails lists from industry trade shows (or other events) where people give their info during the registration process. This is not the same thing as folks who signed up with you, directly, at your trade show booth! This is where list vendors purchase the entire registration list, from the trade show, itself.
Online consumer surveys can often be a source of email addresses. The web surfer may be asked to fill out a survey and enter their email address to receive deals that they'll find interesting.
If you sign up for something and the terms include words like "Sign up to receive updates from us and our partners that we think you'll like," your email address is likely being collected for a shared or sold list. A subset of this method is called co-registration. This is where you sign up at a website, but that website also automatically, or nearly automatically, signs you up for other sites. They try to legitimize this by informing you of the additional subscriptions, or providing boxes to uncheck. This is a situation where it's not the subscriber’s intention to sign up for the material they will be receiving.
The least salubrious method of creating these lists is email harvesting. This is when the vendors use bots to crawl the web and collect email addresses from websites, forums and comment sections. Sometimes, low wage and long suffering people are paid to manually grab email addresses off websites. Not very nice!
Can I Buy An Opt-In List?
Opt-in email lists for sale are lists of contacts that have agreed to receive emails from third party senders.
No. There's no such thing as an opt-in list for sale!
The fact is, email clients like Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail don't consider purchased lists or lists given to you by a third party to be opt-in, at all. They call it unsolicited bulk/commercial email. If the people you're emailing did not directly sign up with you (and only you!) then it's considered unsolicited.
What's The Worst Than Can Happen?
Well, that's easy enough to answer. There's a big downside to purchasing an email list rather than growing it yourself. Here are 5 reasons it's not a good idea to buy an email list:
- Purchased lists harm your delivery to inboxes
Using a purchased list means you're not adhering to the ISP and email client guidelines. Furthermore, purchased lists often generate really high bounces, get flagged as spam by recipients and have low read rates.
All this means that you'll soon be noticed by ISP filters and instead of reaching potential customers, you'll be hanging out in the readers' spam folder.
But wait, there's more!
There are organizations called blocklists like Spamhaus as well as other filtering organizations like Cloudmark and Brightmail. Email clients like Yahoo and Gmail and Hotmail rely on them to help block spam (yay!). These blocklists leave spam traps or honeypots for shady list sellers to collect. Then, if one of those email addresses ends up in your purchased list, you're in big trouble! It's like having bad credit - it can take a long time and a lot of hard work to rebuild trust with blocklists and until you do, you'll have poor delivery results even if you've stopped using the purchased email list.
- Reputable email marketing services won’t let you use purchased lists
GoDaddy Email Marketing and other reputable email newsletter apps don't allow purchased email lists. This means that in order to send to those lists you bought, you'll need to use a “disreputable” service which is likely already on ISP and blocklist block lists.
You're known by the company you keep and sharing IP's with senders known for unsolicited mailings will get you bad results and a bad reputation.
- Low response rates because your recipients don't know you
When a company you've never heard of sends you a marketing email you probably flag them as spam or simply delete the email. Sending to a purchased email list won't engender trust nor will it won't create a relationship with the potential customer.
When you buy an email list you're not taking steps to create positive engagement with customers. Instead, you're hoping that the few results you may get will somehow outweigh the overall negative responses that unsolicited emails usually receive.
- Low response rates because the email addresses are poor quality
Many people use throwaway email addresses when pressured into giving their info. This is especially true for the methods that list sellers use to collect email addresses. When you buy an email list, you're really buying a large amount of defunct and unused email addresses.
List fatigue is also a concern. If you're buying a list from a trade show, keep in mind that the other vendors at the trade show, and even businesses elsewhere who bought the list, are also emailing these recipients. By the time you reach the recipients’ inboxes, those readers are going to be exhausted by the barrage of unsolicited commercial email they've been receiving.
- Lousy ROI (return on investment)
As a business you should maximize any investments you make, including the investment in email marketing. Purchasing a list is a waste of money, damages your sender reputation and lowers the value of any legitimate email sending you may do. Seriously, it's not worth it!
So How to Build a Healthy, Effective Email List?
There's a few things you can do to grow your email list in a positive way without resorting to buying a list.
One of the most effective ways of growing your list is to use the signup forms on your website. Adding the Facebook signup form to your business page and also sharing the signup form link on other social networks like Twitter yield great results.
Tap into your existing customer base to grow your email list and offer special deals exclusively in your email newsletters. Ask customers to sign up each time they purchase something and offer incentives if they spread the word.
Stay active on social channels and make sure to share your newsletters wherever you can. This expands the reach of your newsletters and encourages sign-ups.
Don't give up! Growing a healthy email list takes time but the rewards are worth it!