Resources Hub » Blog » Why You Shouldn’t Buy Email Marketing Lists (and What to Do Instead)

While buying email marketing lists might be a cheap and easy way to build a list of subscribers, it’s not a good way to improve engagement, deliverability, or reputation. Buying lists can damage your reputation and leave a long-lasting effect on your marketing efforts.

It’s much better to take time to build organic email lists of subscribers who want to hear from you. If your subscribers opt in through their own volition, they’ll be more likely to open and engage with your emails. In turn, this will dramatically improve your overall email marketing.

In this post, we will discuss why buying email marketing lists is bad for your business, and how you can grow lists organically so that you can improve your overall engagement and build relationships with high quality subscribers.

How buying an email list works

When buying an email list, you purchase a list of names and email addresses from a provider for your target market. The lists are based on job titles, industries, and other demographics that claim to be relevant to your business. While there are countless vendors promising deliverability and accurate data, buying email lists has a ton of repercussions.

Purchased email lists contain email addresses of users who didn’t actually subscribe to your emails. Sending emails to these subscribers can be seen as an invasion of their inboxes, and chances are they won’t be engaged by your content.

Many of these lists also contain old email addresses which are inactive and result in larger bounce rates. While the companies selling lists may promise to provide you with high quality data, the data is usually irrelevant to your business.

Legal implications and GDPR restrictions

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European data privacy act that was passed in May 2018. GDPR heavily monitors email opt-in features. As long as you have customers or subscribers living in Europe (and you probably do), you must comply with GDPR policies.

Before the GDPR was created, most email marketers needed to include an opt-out option in each email, so users could easily unsubscribe from any email list. Once GDPR was passed, it placed heavier restrictions on this norm. GDPR requires that each subscriber must explicitly opt-in to receive any email, as well. This means that the GDPR does not allow marketers to use purchased email lists since those subscribers didn’t formally opt-in to receive their emails.

If companies breach the new GDPR regulations, they may be faced with substantial fines. Learn more about GDPR here.

Why are bought lists bad for deliverability and sender reputation?

Marketers want all of their emails to be delivered to the right people at the right time, but using purchased lists can threaten their hard work.

High deliverability rates and a positive sender reputation are important when it comes to email marketing. Deliverability is the rate in which your emails land in someone’s inbox, as opposed to their spam folder. Sender reputation is measured by your overall deliverability rate and user engagement.

Quality Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo!, track user activity. They pay attention if a user opens, clicks, engages with, or reports an email as spam. They want to make sure that their users only receive high quality content from email marketers.

If there is high engagement, the ISP will automatically make sure similar emails will arrive to the recipient’s inbox. If there is low engagement, the ISP will make sure the email skips the recipient’s inbox and will land in their spam folder.

The more an email is marked as spam or is bounced, the lower email deliverability rates will be. This will in turn, hurt sender reputation, which will cause emails to arrive to spam boxes, even if your recipient didn’t mark your emails as spam.

Since most purchased lists contain old email addresses that aren’t active, the majority of your emails will bounce. A bounce rate of less than 2% is optimal when it comes to deliverability and sender reputation. If a recipient does receive your unwarranted email, there is also a good chance that they will either mark your email as spam, or not engage with it at all, which will also damage your deliverability.

Most importantly, Email Service Providers (ESPs) won’t allow you to use a purchased email list. An ESP like Campaign Monitor will ask up front if your email list is opted in, meaning that your list of subscribers opted in to receive your emails. If an ESP uses purchased lists, their sending reputation would dramatically decrease, therefore, they keep an eye on the quality of all lists their clients use when sending email campaigns.

Once you have a low deliverability rate and sender reputation with ISPs and ESPs, it can be hard to build your reputation back up.

How is your Sender Score calculated?

A Sender Score is a score given to your IP address in relation to your email deliverability and engagement rate. Similar to a credit score, it’s important to maintain a high sender score to make sure your emails land in your subscribers’ inboxes. A Sender Score is a number between 1 and 100 that defines your sender reputation. Measuring your Sender Score will reveal how ISPs view your IP address.

When ISPs determine your score, they pay attention to a number of things including:

  • Spam complaints
  • Mailing to inactive email addresses
  • Email blacklists
  • Number of emails rejected and accepted by users

According to Sender Score, a free tool by Return Path, a great sender score is above 80, a good sender score is above 70 and a weak sender score is anything below 70. Scores are calculated based on a 30-day average and are compared with other IP addresses. Using purchased email lists will definitely decrease your Sender Score due to low engagement.

Growing your lists organically

So we’ve established that purchasing email lists can damage your deliverability and reputation in a number of ways, but you still want to make sure you have a quality list of subscribers to send your emails to.

Organic lists have the opposite effect—they can actually increase your deliverability and sender reputation. An organic list is an email list of opted in subscribers you build over time. These subscribers are people who want to hear from you, engage with your content, and possibly even convert into long-term customers.

We partnered with Ascend2 and surveyed 245 marketing influencers to research email list strategy. We found that 66% of small businesses want to increase list quality, viewing it as more important than increasing conversion rates and email list size.

Ascend2 – Email List Strategy


Let’s take a look at some ways you can organically build a high quality email list.

Get personal with your emails and sign-up forms

Email personalization is super important when it comes to engagement and building a high quality email list. People want to read content that is relevant to them. If you build segmented lists based on demographics like age, gender, job status, geographic location, and more, you can make sure that every email campaign is tailored to each subscriber.

For example, if you own a car business, and are having a sale in your Houston location for family-sized cars, you can build a list of subscribers between the ages of 27-55 who live in Houston and have mid-sized to large incomes. Since you personalized each email and targeted it to the right audience, you’re likely to have high email engagement rates.

The best way to collect the right data about your subscribers, is by having the right questions in your sign up form. Examine which data you need from your subscribers to send them relevant and personalized emails.

Topshop - Relevant and Personalized Emails


Take a look at TOPSHOP’s sign up form above. It’s short and sweet, but still gathers personal information that will help them segment their lists, like country, date of birth, and student status.

Once you have the right data and are ready to personalize your emails, you can use several different tactics. For example, you can use names in subject lines like the Converse email below:

Converse – Personalized Email Subject Lines

You can also include dynamic content that your subscriber will want to read. This can be especially useful when trying to re-engage a subscriber. Take a look at how St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital appeals to their subscribers:

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – Re-Engagement Email with Dynamic Content


Create awesome content

Having engaging content on a blog and social media channels is a great way to increase traffic to your site and brand awareness. If you have a blog, you can create an email list exclusively for your blog so your audience will continue consuming content they love. If you’re a B2B company, you can create an eBook or a comprehensive guide that your target audience would want to learn from.

The more valuable your content is, the more people will want to sign up for emails. Your content can be written posts, webinars, Instagram stories, or a Facebook Live video. Get creative with your content and appeal to your target audience.

Make sure that your content tells a great story and that a lot of research goes into it. The higher quality your content, the higher quality subscribers you will get.

Offer discounts people can’t resist

Sometimes, people need an incentive to sign up for an email list. If you offer discounts and to those who subscribe to your list, you will not only get more people to subscribe, you will also get subscribers who are genuinely interested in your product, services, and content.

For example, you could offer discounts for subscribers on their first purchase, free express shipping, or a free consultation session. These discounts and offers should be shared via social media channels and your website.

Take a look at the discount Chatbooks, an online photo book company, sends out to its email subscribers:


Make sure customers have plenty of opportunities to subscribe

There are several ways you can encourage people to subscribe to your email list. Here is a list of places you can add a subscribe option to:

  1. Subscribe landing page: Promote a subscribe landing page through ad placements and share on social media
  2. Facebook: Add a subscribe form to your Facebook page
  3. Popups: Design popups for your site and landing pages to prompt visitors to subscribe. Try AddThis.
  4. Slider: A slider is a small box that slides in to the bottom corner of your page. Check out Sleeknote.
  5. Sign-up and check out forms: Any time a customer purchases something from your site, ask them to subscribe. You can use various e-commerce integrations for this feature.

Huckberry is a great example of a retail company that uses pop ups to prompt people to subscribe before they purchase anything on their site.

Huckberry - Encourage Users to Subscribe to Email List

Wrap up

Bought email lists may seem like a quick fix to reach many people at once, but its consequences are pretty serious. While building an organic email list may take time and more effort, its benefits are definitely worth the high deliverability and sender reputation you will achieve. Being authentic and engaging is key when it comes to relating to your audience and subscribers.

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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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