Never buy an email list; Seriously. Never!

Ryan Phelan · May 23, 2017 · Short URL:

Here's why you just can't buy an email list

After 17 years in email marketing, I've seen marketers make every mistake possible, from sending messages riddled with typos, to mailing the unsubscribe file instead of the active list, to promoting a free product and then charging $200 for it on the landing page.

I've also fielded thousands of questions from marketers over the years to help them avoid making mistakes like these. The one I hear most often is "Why can't I just buy an email list?"

Start-ups execs ask me this question often. I just talked with a start-up owner in Denver who said, "I'll just go buy an email list, because that's the easiest way to get started."

That tells you why you shouldn't buy email lists.

You think all you need to do to make your first million is to buy 10,000 email address for a dollar and send out a message? You'll just sit back, rack up the sales and then go on CNBC and reminisce about all the hard work you did, right?

Right. And I have this great bridge in Brooklyn that can be yours for a low, low price.

Buying a list is lazy and risky

Sure, it's easy to buy a list. But it's lazy, and it exposes you to all kinds of risks that an entrepreneur with a little patience would never entertainer.

1. ISPs will freeze you out.

The chance that your email will get blocked by the ISPs (Google, Yahoo, AOL, etc.) rises exponentially when you buy a list. That's because the ISPs mandate that the email you send must be permission-based. that is, that your subscriber has opted in to receive your messages.

CAN-SPAM, which regulates commercial email in the United States, allows opt-out messaging in some circumstances, but the ISPs are the real law of the land on filtering decisions. Almost everywhere else in the world, opt-in rules.

What will happen when you email the 10,000 addresses on that purchased list? First, you'll probably find out how many of those addresses are out of date, phony or otherwise invalid. I'm predicting double digits.

Next, a good chunk of recipients will say "Huh??" and click the spam button. Because your email is spam! Spam isn't just emails that come from shadowy Nigerian princes giving away fortunes. By industry definition, it's any email from a sender who didn't have permission to send to that address.

If you're emailing to a consumer audience, getting locked out of the major consumer ISPs is like death. How's that $2 (or $200 or $2,000) investment looking now?

2. Corporate servers will block your messages.

"Aha!" you say. "But I send to businesses, not consumers, so what do I care what Google does?"

You'll still feel the hit because many businesspeople guard their corporate addresses closely. Don't assume that you're getting their much-desired business email addresses. Adestra's 2017 Consumer Digital Usage and Adoption Report found consumers have 3.2 personal email addresses and 1.8 business addresses on average. Which one do you think is on that list?

Then, if you thought the ISPs were tough on spam, you're in for a rude shock with corporate email servers.

Where 1 spam complaint in 1,000 might be enough to trigger blocks on AOL or Yahoo, the threshold on a corporate server could be much lower.

So, think about this: You've sent 10,000 emails in your local area. If enough of those people say your email is spam, and if enough of them are at the companies you want to reach, you're in effect locked out of those targets.

You're risking your livelihood. Your prospecting could be shut down instantly because you took the easy, lazy route.

3. You're spamming, no matter how you try to justify it.

I have listened to people go on and on, claiming they made money sending to purchased lists. They couldn't possibly be spammers because they know everyone on the list will be interested in their emails and will leap to buy their products, and everyone will live happily ever after.

No. They're spammers, and so are you if you follow suit. You're spamming because you're emailing people who have never shown any interest in your company or your products.

If you decide you absolutely must buy a list, do me a favor. Give your email address to the guy you just bought your list from so he can add it to the pile. If you're not willing to do that, then don't buy the list.

Still thinking about buying a list?

Most start-ups walk a fine line between success and failure. Every decision must be a winner.

Yes, you might send out 10,000 emails and get a couple of sales. But those sales are fraught with high risk. What does it cost you in the long run? You made a few sales, but how many companies have blocked you permanently? How many of those 10,000 emails belong to people who will purchase not just once but two, three or more times?

You'll never know how many people you've annoyed with your emails. And, after 17 years in the email industry, I'm not going to invest my time and energy counseling any company willing to buy a list and go down that route.

To borrow from Nike: Just don't do it.

(Image source: vertical response)

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