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6 Reasons Why Email List Buying Is a Bad Investment

Travis Balinas
July 28, 2019

If you’re thinking about purchasing an email list, think again! Building a successful email list with long-term value is a quality-over-quantity proposition that takes patience and persistence.

Companies using email to nurture leads generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at 33 percent lower cost. And nurtured leads, on average, produce a 20 percent increase in sales opportunities compared to non-nurtured leads. (Hubspot)

Notice the pattern? When leads are nurtured and engaged, success rates improve. Email list buying doesn’t afford the same opportunity for engagement. So while thousands of new leads will certainly look good on paper, what are they really worth? Let’s discuss some of the pitfalls of email list buying.

1) Quality Is NOT Guaranteed

No reputable company sells a hard-earned, valued email list. If the list is for sale, the emails have been collected from a variety of sources and often by questionable means. For example, some companies use bots to harvest emails from websites, forums and comment sections around the web. As a result, a lot of the info is out of date, and many of the email addresses are rarely used or defunct.

If you’re lucky, you might find an industry-targeted “opt-in” list from a trade show or similar event. However, these lists aren’t targeted with any real accuracy, and just because the client opted into that particular list doesn’t mean she wants to hear from you.

2) Nobody Knows Who You Are

Email marketing provides a direct connection to your target audience, but if your audience isn’t interested because they don’t know who you are, what’s the point? Worse still, how are you going to provide this new audience with valuable content when you have no prior relationship and no idea what it is they actually want or need?

With email list buying, you force your way into unsuspecting inboxes, alienate prospective clients, and ruin your chances for future business. When 70 percent of customers always open emails from their favorite companies, doesn’t it make more sense to focus on staying top of mind with past clients who actually want to hear from you?

3) Recipients Are Nonresponsive

Average open rates are around 20 to 25 percent with opt-in lists. Email list buying doesn’t yield the same results. Recipients on bought lists may not be aware of your product or brand, so they have no desire to take action. Most recipients won’t open your email, much less click through to a landing page.

Bonus Tips:

  • Companies that use list segmentation saw 39 percent higher open rates and 28 percent lower unsubscribe rates. (Lyris Annual Email Optimizer Report)
  • The two biggest factors influencing open rates are the organization the email is from (64 percent) and the subject line (47 percent). (Chadwick Martin Bailey)
  • You just have 3-4 seconds to grab your reader’s attention and interest them enough to open and read your email. (Litmus)

Often, purchased lists are already exhausted from unsolicited commercial emails. While some recipients want nothing more than to unsubscribe, others will find your email annoying and mark it as spam. Is that really the first impression you want to make?

4) Spam Reports Affect Deliverability

Being reported as spam can directly impact future deliverability across the board — including delivery to past clients and loyal brand advocates. Even if you’re not being reported as a spammer, a high bounce rate due to defunct email addresses on a bad list can also put you in hot water. There are over 300 spam-filtering entities in existence, so do yourself a favor and stay CAN-SPAM compliant — and stay away from purchased email lists.

5) Reputable ESPs Won’t Work With Purchased Lists

Email list buying doesn’t sit well with most reputable email service providers, and many won’t allow you to use a purchased list. After all, one bad list can hurt deliverability for everyone on the IP.

Even if you find a less reputable vendor, you’ll likely be one of many sending out unsolicited emails, so it won’t take long for your deliverability to plummet. ISP filters will start sending your messages to spam folders automatically, and you could end up blacklisted. It could take years to rebuild your reputation.

6) It’s More of a Gamble Than an Investment

For every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is $44.25. Not a bad ROI, right? But with email list buying, you’re betting on a lame horse and hoping a few lucky strides and cut corners will get you back in the race. The odds are clearly against you.

Think about it. You’d never sell your homegrown email list. It means too much to you because of the connection you have with your past clients. It’s that connection — and only that connection — that makes an email list valuable.

Just Do It Yourself (or Get Help)

Email marketing helps your business thrive when recipients want to be part of the process. Ninety-five percent of those who opt into email messages from brands find these messages somewhat or very useful.

If you want new email sign-ups, you have to provide prospective customers with something of value in exchange. Create a variety of gated assets such as white papers, e-books and webinars — something worth signing up for — and create interesting calls-to-action and sign-up forms for your website and blog. Use social media to drive traffic to gated content.

Also Read: 10 Killer Secrets to Building an Email List

Focus your email marketing efforts on past customers to boost repeat and referral business. 85 percent of small businesses say that word-of-mouth referrals are the number one way new prospects find out about them. So give your past clients something to talk about.

Provide valuable, purpose-driven content that your past clients will want to share with their friends and family, and include CTAs that make sharing the obvious choice.


Email list buying may not be the get-rich-quick solution you were hoping for, but with a little time, patience and persistence, you can grow your business the right way — through top-of-mind awareness, repeat business and referrals — and amass a targeted list of responsive potential customers.

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