59% of B2B marketers say that email is the most effective marketing channel for their organization. In retail, a stunning 88% of professionals say that email is their main retention driver. Whether you feel the same or not, one thing is certain: no matter what other digital marketing channels you choose, you can’t afford to ignore email.

And why shouldn’t email be popular?

For end users, it’s minimally intrusive, they can choose whether to open your email or not and they can click delete without any remorse. For marketers, an email newsletter service is pretty easy to setup. Then all you have to do is write great email copy and pray for high open and click-through rates.

Speaking of click-through rates, this is what you can expect from yours depending on your industry:

email listImage via Statista

An open rate of 20% sounds pretty good, right? But what if you only have five subscribers to your list, out of which three are friends or family?

In this case, it may be pretty tempting to buy an email list.

After all, they are reasonably cheap, you can find them easily and the seller promise they will deliver actual results.

Sounds like a fair deal, right?


Here are the eight most compelling reasons why you shouldn’t buy an email list.

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Buy an Email List

First off, let me be honest.

I was where you are. I once had five subscribers to my email list for Idunn. But I never considered buying a list.

I also had to convince quite a few of our clients that it was a bad idea. Here are some of the arguments I used:

  1. It’s Illegal

The CAN-SPAM act does allow you to email people that haven’t opted in your list. However, it’s among the few exceptions to the rule. Similar acts in other countries specifically forbid you from sending any correspondence to people who haven’t specifically given you consent.

And yes, there are hefty fines for this.

I know what you’re thinking:

“If I’m buying an US list, I should be safe.”

Well, you should, but you won’t be.

Which takes us to the second reason why you shouldn’t buy an email list.

  1. You Can’t Trust the Quality of a Bought Email List

The seller will pinky swear that the list is made of US residents, all with a strong interest in finance, real estate, pet grooming or (almost) any field.

But can you really check that out?

The answer is no.

Among the 5,000 or 10,000 email addresses you can expect to find a lot of invalid ones – yes, people change jobs and email providers –, plus an even bigger number of irrelevant ones.

If you’re lucky, 10% of the addresses on that list will be useful. Not leads, mind you, just people who might have a slight interest in your field of activity.

  1. You Will Be a Spammer

Be honest: do you like to receive unsolicited email?

I know, I know, your products are really useful – you can’t be a spammer. I have bad news for you: every spammer (except for Nigerian princes who want to make you rich overnight) thinks they have something valuable to offer.

Otherwise, they wouldn’t go through the hassle of buying a list, writing compelling copy and a catchy headline. They expect to make sales because they think people want their product, whether it’s Cialis or professional consulting services.

When someone subscribes to a newsletter or creates an account, they typically don’t bother to read the terms and condition. So they don’t know that they agreed for their email address to be shared with “other companies and partners”.

Still, they may remember that they never opted to receive your emails. And they may mark you as spam. Which leads to…

  1. You’ll Be Blacklisted by Email Service Providers

When you buy an email list, you run a very high risk of being marked as spam by most of your recipients. If this happens too often, your service provider will take action.

This is an excerpt from Mail Chimp’s policy – every service has a similar one.

MailChimp does not tolerate bought email lists

What does this mean?

Not only will you be refused service by your current provider, but those of recipients will also blacklist not just your address, but your entire domain. Shortly, all your emails will reach nothing else but the recipients’ spam/junk folders.

  1. You Won’t Be the Only One Using that Specific List

Not by a long shot.

You didn’t really think that you were the only one to buy that list, did you?

Now imagine how fed up with unsolicited emails the people on that list already are. If they haven’t switched providers or installed a strong anti-spam filter, they are most likely clicking delete without even reading the subject line.

  1. Your Conversion Rate Will Be Well Below Average

I remember discussing this with one of our clients – a startup without an email list of their own. Their argument for buying an email list was something like this:

“My industry average open rate is 20%. Let’s say the list is poor and I only get a 15% open rate. I’m fine with that. It will bring some traffic to my website. And if 1% of those people buy something, it will all be worth it.”

The trouble with this argument is that it’s flawed from the beginning. 20% is an average for a list that you have worked on. That you built from scratch and populated with people who know your brand and want to hear more from you.

When you buy an email list, the best you can hope for is a 5% open list. As for sales – well, that’s all about luck, really. All I can say is that my client made exactly one sale (worth a little over $100, much less than the cost of the list) after sending five emails.

After the next five he quit altogether and we started building his email list together. The right way.

  1. Your Reputation Will Suffer

No, your buying an email list won’t be on the first page of The New Yorker. It probably won’t even appear in Google search results associated with your name.

But making fun of spammers has become a trend. Just check out this TED Talk about it — it got more than 14 million views within a year!

And, even if your recipients won’t make an entire speech out of it, remember that a few tweets can do irreparable damage to your brand, as well.

  1. You’ll Waste Your Time and Money

Don’t just think about the price of the list. Add the costs for the email service, the time you need to prepare the copy for those (soon to be ignored) emails and the amount of money you’re paying the person who does all that.

What’s your total?

It can be as little as $200 or as much as $3000 – either way, prepare to say goodbye to this money and to any ROI you may have expected.


Bottom line

Instead of buying an email list, start building one yourself. Yes, it will take longer — you may have to spend more than a year to get to 5,000 subscribers. But they will be subscribers you can actually turn into customers, not people who will simply be annoyed by your emails.

Stay tuned, the blog post about creative ways to build your email list is coming soon.



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