View online edition


E-mail Lists

Here are three good reasons not to purchase e-mail lists— and what to do instead.

by Rebecca Kowalewicz, VP Digital

With almost 4 billion e-mail users across the world, e-mail marketing is a tried and true way to reach your current customers, regardless of whether your company is B2C or B2B. But what about finding new customers? Many marketers turn to paying for lists of names and e-mail addresses collected by third-party companies that use what many would call questionable methods. E-mails may be obtained by these companies through things like those fun “quizzes” we take on Facebook, ads that we find interesting enough to click and that ask for an e-mail address, online and in-person surveys, trade show or festival attendee lists and even e-mail harvesting where bots crawl various websites collecting users’ e-mail addresses. Once collected, these third-party companies sell the lists to marketers.

It’s very likely that none of the people on these e-mail lists willingly provided their information to be bought and sold by the likes of marketers. Think about the last time you received an e-mail that you did not sign up for and your reaction when it popped into your inbox. It probably wasn’t a happy reaction, and at minimum, you were probably annoyed. Trying to reach new customers by annoying them is not the best way to grow sales, and that is only one of the reasons why you may not want to buy an e-mail list.

Here are some others:

1. It’s probably prohibited by your e-mail marketing service provider: Most reputable e-mail marketing service providers expressly prohibit the use of purchased e-mail lists. Check your provider’s terms of service before spending any money on an e-mail list.

2. It can hurt your e-mail deliverability score. One of the reasons why many e-mail marketing service providers do not permit users to import and send e-mails through purchased lists is a reason why you should not either: When your e-mail is marked as spam, it denigrates your overall e-mail reputation, meaning it is less likely that future e-mails will land solidly in the inboxes of people who opted in to receive your e-mails. Instead, it may go to their spam or junk folders. This is your e-mail deliverability score, or how likely it is your e-mail will make it into the inboxes of your intended recipients instead of their junk or spam folders. The scores are assigned based on the successful delivery of previous e-mails and take into consideration emails being marked as spam, rejected e-mail addresses, etc.

These lists also often contain outdated and inaccurate information, including e-mail addresses that are no longer in use or that do not exist. This may not only affect your open rate and the overall quality score of your e-mail, but your bounce rate as well. Your bounce rate is determined by the number of e-mails that are returned to the sender because an address is no longer valid. A high bounce rate can affect future e-mails and is one of the metrics factored into the score as mentioned above (rejected e-mail addresses).

You may spend a lot of money to buy an e-mail list that ends up damaging your chances of any future e-mails getting in front of paying and loyal customers just to try to get in front of new ones. If your e-mail marketing service provider has many clients doing the same thing, they too can be marked as sending out poor quality or spam e-mails, causing damage to all of their customer’s efforts, even the ones that are not using purchased e-mail lists.

3. It may violate the CAN-SPAM Act. The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 provides protection for e-mail users and guidelines for e-mail marketers in the United States and covers quite a bit of ground. While the CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t prohibit buying e-mail lists, it places strict regulations on unsolicited e-mails. Violations could cost you fines of more than $43,000 per offense.

Be mindful that if you are sending e-mails the same way in Canada or Europe, you may run into comparable issues with the CASL Act and the GDPR as well.

I also recommend never buying an e-mail list because many times those lists may contain spam trap e-mail addresses. These are e-mails that are used specifically to catch people who are not applying the best methods of e-mail marketing, such as utilizing purchased e-mail lists. When you send an e-mail to them, it tells blacklist providers to block e-mails coming from that sender.

What To Do Instead: So, what can you do to grow your e-mail list the right way? Start with your website. Have an easy-to-find and simple-to-fill-out form for people to opt into your mailing list. You can even put a link in your e-mail signature to that form. Ask users to sign up on that same form via your social media posts.

Send quality, engaging e-mails that people look forward to receiving, and be sure to add a “share” or “forward” button or link to your e-mail so that recipients can easily send it to friends and family.

Just remember that building a quality e-mail list can take time, especially if you are starting from scratch. But as with most things in life, it is quality over quantity. People who opt in to receiving your e-mails want to hear more from you, have a sense of brand loyalty, and they either are current customers or will be customers in the future. Don’t throw away your hard-earned connections by buying an e-mail list and potentially damaging a great line of marketing communication.

As originally published on Clearbridge Branding Agency is a digital marketing agency located in Glassboro. Visit

Digital Digest