As a digital marketing agency that’s been in business for over 40 years, we have pretty much seen and heard it all. One question we get time and time again is from clients asking if they should purchase email lists. On the surface, purchasing a list might seem like a smart idea. For a small fee, you receive the contact information for hundreds or thousands of potential customers in your industry.
But are they all they’re cracked up to be? The short answer is no. The long answer is a little more detailed…
While there’s no doubt these addresses are genuine (fake emails would bounce back instantly), the methods used to gather them are suspect and should never be trusted. A common tactic is to scan and harvest addresses from websites. Or lure people with digital ads, online surveys, and sweepstakes offers (Enter your address to win a free prize!). Malware and data leaks are another popular source. In other words, even if the addresses being sold were obtained legally, they weren’t obtained with the knowledge or consent of their owners. And this opens you up to a number of pitfalls.
Data Privacy Laws
America, Canada, and Europe all have strict privacy laws. In the United States, citizens are protected by the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM). Companies who break it can be punished with a $43,000 fine.
Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) is even harsher. Organizations can be fined up to $10 million for each violation. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation imposes fines of up to $20 million or four percent of yearly revenue, whichever is greater. And companies operating outside Europe aren’t exempt from it. If you email someone in Europe, you fall under the scope of the law.
Penalties From Email Providers
Companies like Mailchimp and Constant Contact make their living sending marketing emails on behalf of other businesses. In order to protect their reputation, every customer is required to use opt-in lists as part of their terms of service. If they discover you’ve been sending unsolicited emails with a purchased list, your account will likely be suspended or canceled and nobody likes that.
Hurts Deliverability Score
Every Internet Service Provider (ISP) rates the organizations sending email over their network. If your score falls low enough, they could automatically direct your meals into recipients’ spam folders or block them entirely. Factors that affect your score:
- Flagged Emails. The biggest and most obvious warning sign. When users mark your emails as spam, your score drops precipitously.
- Unsubscribers. Though not as bad as being flagged, when users unsubscribe from your emails, it hurts your score as well.
- Engagement Rate. If users don’t open your emails or click on the links inside, then it’s a sign that what you’re sending is unwanted and irrelevant.
- Spam Traps. In order to identify spammers, ISPs sometimes seed lists with fake email addresses. If you’re caught emailing one, you’re automatically listed as a spammer.
- Blacklists. ISPs share information, so being listed as a spammer by one company also lowers your score with all the others.
Email is a powerful marketing tool. It promotes sales, drives revenue, boosts content, and maintains strong relationships with your customers. Of course, purchased lists don’t contain customers. They contain strangers, most, if not all, of whom have probably never heard of you. Their first encounter will be the emails you send them.
Businesses that intrude on our privacy are typically regarded as a bothersome nuisance, if not worse. It’s unlikely you’ll convert anyone by contacting them out of the blue. What’s more, their negative opinion will likely spread. Consumers share bad experiences far more often than good ones.
Your reputation is one of your most valuable assets. Once it slips, attracting new customers may prove even more difficult than it was before.
Email’s a powerful tool, which is why companies invest so much time and energy cultivating lists. Subscribers are incentivized through blogs, digital ad campaigns, social media posts, and special discounts. Obviously, no company is going to sell off such an expensive resource, not after they’ve spent so much money on it and certainly not as long as it’s bringing in revenue.
Therefore, any list for sale is almost guaranteed to be worthless. Either the people on it haven’t been vetted, haven’t proven to be loyal customers, or have blocked the company selling it to you. Either way, you’d be lucky to find one solid lead or earn back even a fraction of the money you spend on it.