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Nothing is more important to your email marketing than your list of subscribers. The success of your campaigns, not to mention your business, depends on an interested and engaged list. You may be tempted to hurry along your list building efforts by purchasing an email list, but giving in to that moment of temptation can lead to poor email results and possibly damage your mailing reputation for a long time.

In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the reasons that a purchased email list is a big don’t for email marketing.

Email service providers won’t allow purchased lists

First, as long as you’re using a reputable email service provider to send your email campaigns, you won’t be allowed to use a purchased list. At all. Most ask up front that the email list is opted in, meaning those on the list opted in to specifically receive emails from your company, and some will ask list members to re-opt in as well (double opt-in). Add to this that ESPs monitor everything in their system and will know if you’re trying to send to a questionable list. This allows them to have a good sending reputation and to get the emails they send on behalf of their customers delivered. If something causes a problem, impacting their business and customers, they’ll be sure to find the culprit and bar them from their system.

Bad addresses, bad delivery rate

Addresses on a purchased list are likely to be poor quality. At the very least the addresses will be old and unlikely to be used much, if at all. You’ll see higher bounce rates because of this and more likely to see higher complaints as well. The overall campaign stats will be underwhelming if much of the list is undeliverable. One other thing that can happen with old addresses is that they become spam traps or honeypots. These are email addresses used specifically to find people using questionable lists and will cause serious damage to your sending reputation resulting in fewer emails getting to the inbox. If you hit a spam trap used by a domain like Yahoo! or Gmail, or an anti-spam company like Spamhaus, you’ll find yourself blacklisted or blocked from sending.

Free guide: Get the guide to email list building in the new era of email marketing

Too many bounces

If you decide to ignore all the warnings about how bad sending to a purchased list really is, you’ll still have problems beyond dealing with your ESP. Since most of the addresses will most likely be older, they probably aren’t active and anything sent to them will bounce. Typically, a bounce rate below 2% is optimal, and if it goes over 5% there’s a definite problem with the list. If there are some active email accounts on this type of list they’ll be more likely to delete the email, since they don’t know who sent it or why. Or worse, the email will be marked as spam and you’ll be on your way to a bad sending reputation. The ESP you’re using will also note the poor response to your email campaign and start asking you some tough questions about how your list was built. You’ll find fewer people actually interacting with your email with a purchased list, no matter how large it seems.

Invading the inboxes of strangers

Remember you’re sending email campaigns to people. You design your email to make it easy for a person to read and add calls-to-action to encourage your readers to click. You know that there is a person at the other end of that email address. If people didn’t ask to hear from you and suddenly receive an unexpected email in their inbox from a sender they don’t recognize it’s nearly guaranteed that they will delete it and report it as spam. Forcing your way into someone’s inbox without permission is like showing up to a dinner party hosted by someone you don’t know, uninvited. It’s not a great way to start a relationship with a customer or client. Most people are savvy about their email address and will know if they signed up for your email list or not. And besides, there are also anti-spam laws around the world to take into consideration. If you can’t see a problem with sending unwanted emails, remember that most of the spam laws bar purchased lists from being mailed to.

“Everyone buys lists”

Sometimes an email marketer will be following the rules about email lists and not doing anything questionable when in walks the boss demanding to see a bigger, better, and more active email list. She’s heard that the big competitor down the street has a huge list and all they did was buy it. Why didn’t you?  “Everyone buys lists, no one really cares where the addresses came from!“ While this certainly does happen, everyone doesn’t buy lists and those that do can run into some serious problems, as we’ve seen. A large list doesn’t mean a high-performing one. You want the people on your list to open your email and take an action. A smaller list of engaged readers will benefit your business far more than a large list of uninterested ones. The best approach is to grow your list organically, get your readers to opt-in, and send interesting and targeted emails.

Growing an email list

There are many ways to grow an opted in email list, it all depends on what type of business you have. An easy one to get started with is a sign up form on your website (there are heaps of sign up form options in our App Store). You can customize how the form looks and what data you collect. You can also use it on your blog, if that’s a good channel for your business. If you do in-person events or have a brick-and-mortar store you can have people sign-up in person or using the Enlist app. For even more ideas check out our free Email List Building guide.

Wrap up

There are a number of crucial reasons to invest time into growing your email list instead of buying one, as we’ve covered here. Buying a list may seem like a quick fix, but in the long run it will lose money and damage or ruin your sending reputation. If you want your email to get to the inbox so it can be read, make sure your email lists are opted-in and have been grown the right way. The time spent building a good email list will pay off when you have a high-performing list of people who can’t wait to read your emails.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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