Should You Buy An Email List?


Sales. You can’t get enough of them. In season or off season you need to be driving sales. Marketers know that an email list can be a wildly effective way to drive actions for current, past and potential customers. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of shortcuts to building an email list unless you go down the path of purchasing one. The question is, if you do buy a list, what will you be getting?

Potential legal problems

Major email platforms like Mailchimp flatly state that you are not to use purchased list when mailing through their system. Why? The CAN-SPAM Act. Unsolicited emails have to jump through a few hoops before they’re technically legal. Not only that, if you’re using your own servers to send these unsolicited emails, after enough complaints your IP address can get blocked and then you’ll start getting blocked for standard emails. “Sorry you didn’t get that email mom, my IP is blocked!”

Low brand exposure

One of the beautiful things about building your own email list is that the people you’re emailing have likely opted in to be contacted. They know you from a prior purchase, or they signed up for a newsletter or downloaded something off of your site and in doing so gave you explicit permission to remarket to them. That’s great, and certainly increases your chances of conversion when your email shows up in their inbox. It’s the digital equivalent of telling the kid selling candy bars next door to come back tomorrow because you don’t have any money on you at the moment. Even if you’re just shooing him away, the next time he comes back you know what he’s selling and you’re not going to get as upset as you would if some random stranger landed on your door and tried to sell you a vacuum. A purchased list, even a well-manicured one, will never convert as well as a smartly built organic list.


In a roundabout way sales is always about numbers, and in email it’s no different. The reason many people still take the route of buying a list is strictly because of numbers. The number of days is the primary concern. The number of days to make a profit, to build a list, to get critical mass for enough conversions. The truth is, building a good list takes a lot of time and not everyone has it. So they look to purchase lists. It can be expensive, especially if you want to hit an aggressive sales goal because your conversion numbers will be low. That said, if you work with a list provider who has really done their homework, and you have the right product, you CAN make it work if you can achieve enough critical mass. In this case, it’s just about having the money to throw out a wide enough net.

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There are plenty of horror stories on the web about buying poorly put together lists, so no one will kid you about that. Should you go this route, though, definitely do your homework. Ask specific questions on how the list was collected, if they will manage and send the campaign themselves (insulating you from some risk), ask to see their reporting and talk to past clients who’ve used similar lists. If you’re going to spend the money, you’re going to want to know this much at the very least.

That said, most reputable marketing professionals won’t touch a purchased email list these days, so proceed with extreme caution.

Christopher Dowd is a marketing ninja for Ritter’s Communications in Miami, Florida who enjoys spending time at the beach when he’s not inventing new ways to rule the marketing world.