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Should You Buy Mail Lists? The Definitive Answer

Jan 17, 2023

While email marketing is arguably the most effective digital marketing strategy, building an email list can be daunting. It may seem like a good way to get in front of your potential customers but remember that these are people who never heard of your brand before.

But what if you could build a mailing list with little work? This is where acquiring an email list from a third party comes in. Marketers have found that it is not worth buying an email list, and we will be looking at why this is the case and what you can do instead. 

Here is why this is not a good way to get in front of your desired target audience.

How to build an email list in three ways

There are three main ways of acquiring an email list. 

The first one is building the email list from scratch. Here, you do the hard work of building landing pages, getting website visitors, and converting those visitors by ensuring they provide their contact information, such as their names and email addresses. This is the best way to get quality email lists and to warrant good results in the long run.

The second option is buying an email list. Here, you work with a provider who gives you an email list based on specific criteria. For example, they might sell you an email address consisting of people under the age of 25 living in London.

Third, you can rent an email list. You work with a provider who gives you access to a segment of their email list without you seeing the email addresses. You have to work with them once you draft your email so they can send it out to the identified group or segment for you.

When working with a provider to buy or rent an email list, they may tell you that the list is opt-in. This means the people on the list signed up to be emailed for various email marketing campaigns. What they do not tell you is that these people did not opt-in to be emailed by your business and countless others who have access to the same lists.

This is the reason for many of the issues you will face when you buy or rent an email list. Simply put, this is not the target audience that signed up to get content from you and your email campaigns.

Why you should not buy mail lists

There are many reasons why purchased email lists are not a great foundation for your email marketing campaigns. From hitting spam traps to violating laws such as the CAN-SPAM Act, there are many things that are against this method of list building.

zones where it is legal to buy email lists


But let us go into more detail.

Buying email lists violates GDPR consent rules

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe takes privacy very seriously and mandates that all markets only send emails to people who have opted in. These are people who do not mind the business having their contact and email information because they gave it to the business. They gave their email consent to you so you can reach out to them.

ten key GDPR requirements


These regulations also mandate that you make it easy for people to opt out of receiving emails from you or your business. It can be challenging to do this, especially if you have rented the email list where you do not have total control over what the provider does with it.

Even if you do email verification with a service such as Bouncer, you will be still going against GDPR because these people never submitted their emails on their own. In short, you have an email database of people who have no clue who you are and what you sell.

People do not know you when you buy an email list

The email addresses on lists that are sold or rented out are often scrapped from the internet. Putting all other concerns aside, this is a dirty and unethical way to procure people’s personal details.

Let’s say the list of email addresses was acquired legitimately. It might sound great if an email list provider assures you that all the people to whom the email addresses belong opted in. But they opted in to receive emails from another company which means they do not know you or your business.

When these people receive your emails, there is a very high probability that your email will be marked as spam. They do not remember you or your business, so you cannot blame them for doing this. This is why a sizable number of emails marked as spam are marketing emails.

The high number of spam reports brings us to the next problem.

You harm your email deliverability rates and IP reputation

There are organizations whose sole purpose is to combat email spam. They set up planted email addresses, known as honeypots, all over the internet. If you harvest and email these addresses, you are labelled a spammer, and your server’s IP address is logged.

There are also email spam traps. These emails are either old or no longer valid but still receive much traffic. If you email these addresses, you generate what is known as a hard bounce. The email addresses will not let you know that the email you sent has bounced but will instead log your details and put you on a list of spammers.

Next, your ability to deliver emails using the same IP address diminishes as more service providers mark you as spam and stop your emails from getting delivered. This can hurt your marketing effort significantly because you might not know where your emails are being delivered unless you have the tools to do so and can check regularly.

All this happens because you do not know whether all the email addresses on the list you have bought are clean. You end up risking your email deliverability and your IP address’ reputation. Even in cases where you stop using these lists and use opt-in strategies, it might take years to improve your sender score, a score that indicates the reputation of your email server’s IP address.

You harm your business

People have become very sensitive to messaging and how businesses approach them. No one wants to work with a company that keeps sending them unsolicited emails. Although you might think doing this will net you some customers or start some dialogue, you will do more harm than you think.

If people do not want to hear from you, they will be less receptive to your messaging and report you for spam. Additionally, people will be turned off if you force your email content on them, even if they are an excellent fit for your products and services.

The result is that you end up losing their trust and future business pre-emptively.

Email marketing software will deny you access

Automation software such as email marketing tools helps make marketing easier and more streamlined. If you plan on using such a service, know that you will not be able to use your bought email list. The companies behind these tools and services only allow you to use opt-in email lists and provide tools to collect opt-in emails.

These services also use shared email servers with IP addresses serving multiple email clients. These services will not let your email address list poison the rest of the server. This is because a single bought list can cause that IP to be compromised, which affects everyone using that email server.

How to build an email list the right way

Instead of buying or renting an email list and facing the negatives we have discussed above, the best thing you can do is build the email list yourself. Doing this is a better option because you know the people you email will be interested in what you have to say, can be converted. After all, they are warm leads and are less likely to report your emails as spam.

So, how do you go about building an email list?

Choose an email marketing platform

Choosing the right email marketing platform will make your business look more legitimate and save you time and money. When picking one, the two things to consider are the price and the features. Typically, you pay more for services with lots of features, but some services have lots of features at an affordable price. The latter should be on your list, especially when starting.

Some features to look out for include:

  • Number of subscribers and number of emails you can send in a day
  • A/B testing features
  • Email builders
  • Landing page builders
  • Marketing automation
  • List management

Find the right lead magnet

The lead magnet is what people would “trade” for their email addresses. In short, it is what people receive when they give you their email addresses. Your lead magnet should be compelling, targeted and relevant enough for your audience. It should be something they want so much and that they provide so much value that their email address seems like a fair trade.

Typical lead magnets include eBooks, white papers, infographics, exclusive content access, coupons, and cheat sheets. Free sources and email series also work very well.

Determine how you will collect and generate eads

There are many ways to collect leads. Some popular options include dedicated landing pages, contact forms and pop-up forms. Pop-ups are popular and easy to implement, although you must be careful not to make them annoying for your visitors. This means keeping the user experience in mind when developing and deploying them.

Craft different calls to action

Apart from an obvious pop-up, people will not know you have a mailing list until you tell them about it. You do this strategically, placing calls to action around your website and landing pages. If your marketing strategy includes content marketing, then you already have different areas to place your calls to action.

Always try to provide value before and after asking people to take action, so they are compelled and have a reason to do so. It might seem like it would be easier to buy an email list, and in some ways, it is. However, the downsides far outweigh the benefits of doing so. Building an email list is a better option because you know everyone on the list wants to hear you, and you are, therefore, more likely to get the results you want.

Bouncer CTA

Wrapping up: should you buy mail lists? 

While buying lists of emails may sound like a solid email marketing strategy, we have hopefully shown you that it is far from it. You can get in trouble with email service providers, you can shoot your bounce rates through the roof, and in fact, lost more money in the process.

The better alternative to buying a list of emails is building one yourself from scratch. Even though it’s hard work, it is more rewarding and you’ll be sending marketing messages to people who actually want to read them. All of this results in a higher conversion rate and more revenue.

And if you want to make sure your earned (or bought) email lists are clean and filled with real emails only, make sure to verify them every now and then.

Sign up for Bouncer today and start validating your addresses for free!

Frequently asked questions

Is it legal to buy mail lists?

It is not illegal to purchase email lists and there are many providers offering lists up for sale. However, actually using those lists for your email marketing efforts can get you in trouble for going against GDPR and the CAN-SPAM act.

How much does it cost to buy mail lists?

It depends on the size of the list and its demographics. Email marketers value lists of consumers from specific areas, with specific email types and lists of people who are interested in a certain topic. For a list with 2,500-5,000 emails, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $400.

Is it ever a good idea to buy mail lists?

Even if you have the ideal target audience in your purchased email list, it is still a bad idea. The reason is simple – these people never opted in to receive any emails from you. So it’s not only illegal, but you can actually get resistance from those potential customers for sending them unwanted emails.

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