Why Not to Buy an Email List and What to Do Instead

Hand opening spam can for why not buy email lists

How many times have you received an email you didn’t want? 

You didn’t even remember signing up for it! 

Wasn’t that annoying? 

We know it was!

So — what did you do? Flag it as spam? Hit unsubscribe, at least! 

Well, that’s what it would be like for your recipients if you ever decided to send them unsolicited emails. And that’s what it will be like for them if you ever decide to buy email list and use it for marketing purposes. 

Still, there are more downsides to buying an email list than the optics. It’s the recipients’ reactions that can get you and your business in serious trouble because sending unsolicited promotional emails is not only frowned upon, it’s heavily regulated and even banned in some jurisdictions. 

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to purchase an email list, let us run you through the process of what it takes to buy an email list and what consequences it can have, and you’ll be able to ultimately decide whether buying an email list is a good idea.

If You Googled “How to Buy an Email List” — Read This!

We get it — having a readymade list of email addresses you can use immediately is tempting. It can spare so much time and effort than going through subscriber acquisition processes, promotions, and similar. And email lists for purchase are right there — a couple of clicks away! And if you’re on the edge, tempted to make that final click, please don’t! 

Let us explain. 

Whatever the email list seller tells you, whatever their argument might be, the first thing to know is that the owners of the addresses on those lists DID NOT agree to receive promotional messages from you. They may have clicked on something, somewhere, agreeing to receive who-knows-what, but NEVER did they want or plan to get emails about your business. 

Even if their address is not stolen, sending emails to people who don’t even know you exist makes you a spammer. You are likely violating several regulations (GDPR, for example) and can get banned by ISPs or email services. If you are looking to develop a business and not make a quick buck and disappear, such a practice can seriously hurt you and destroy your sender reputation as well as your brand name. 

Still, data selling is a thing, and some companies specialize in selling email addresses, such as Lead Forensics or UpLead. Looking up their pages and offers, you’ll find a lot of convincing data and claims that their techniques and tools work, and you should see success if you subscribe. If you look deeper, you’ll find that all their email address acquisition methods are shady at best since there is no way to transparently obtain an address if a person doesn’t give it out willingly. 

Remember, at Campaign Refinery, we work with large senders and see millions of emails go out every month, and we can tell you — no technique will be successful if your email list is not verified and clean. 

Is it legal to buy an email list?

Technically, it’s legal. No legal act prohibits email list trading in the US, so that’s not a concern. However, if you live in Europe or the UK, you should look into your local regulations because there are laws that forbid transactions involving personal data, such as email addresses, to third parties. 

But even after you purchase an email list in the US, you have to abide by the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. This regulation prevents senders from spamming contacts that unsubscribe from their list and enforces transparency putting a stop to suspicious email practices. Email list sellers are thus at risk because if they ever sell a list to a known spammer, they could also be accused and suffer the consequences (penalties of up to $50,120 per email/instance, to be precise. Multiply that times how many emails you sent and the numbers get big, quickly.).

Finally, laws regarding marketing and promotion differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (more on that later). If you’re dead set on using a purchased email list for marketing, you need to ensure you’re not violating any of them. VPN won’t help. 

How much does an email list sell for?

This is a stretchy subject, as it generally depends on the type and quality of the email list you wish to buy. Looking at the prices of the leading email list vendors, they range from  $195.00 for 1000 emails, then scaling by reducing the price as the list grows, or you could go for a credit system that costs up to $3,590 annually.

At Campaign Refinery, we feel this would be a waste of money, and you’d be better off investing in a healthy email marketing practice. 

Is it a good or a bad idea to buy email lists?

All of us at Campaign Refinery think it’s a bad idea

We understand the temptation and the seeming ease it promises. Everyone wants to succeed fast.

But buying an email list will:

  1. Damage your sender reputation by causing overflowing unsubscribes and spam flags,
  2. Damage your brand name as you’ll become a known spammer,
  3. Cost you money and, more importantly, your precious time,
  4. Destroy your long-term business reputation.

We know how much effort and thinking goes into email marketing, and we still believe all that sweat and tears are worth it! With Campaign Refinery, you can use cutting-edge tools to design and revive your email campaigns, build a proper email list and maintain it and implement the latest techniques to keep your subscribers engaged and happy. And we’ll support you every step of the way. 

Check out our plans and apply to become a customer here.

Promises Email List Vendors Make — Should You Believe Them? 

Email list vendors are clever. They know email, and they will use actual, verified data and spin it to their advantage. Think — cunning politicians campaigning for your vote. They will mention the exceptionally high ROI of email marketing and say it’s a numbers game; they’ll claim that the more people you get to, the higher chance you’ll sell more; they will use words such as “opt-in,” “verified,” “quick” and “affordable.” 

But they will never mention the fine print — unverified email lists do not work and can do real damage. 

To breakdown the seeming pros of buying email lists, you might encounter the following: 

  • Seemingly affordable: it’s money wasted. Can you afford to waste money?
  • Seemingly fast: It takes 5 minutes to purchase a list and forever to undo the damage.
  • Seemingly effortless: With just a couple of clicks, you can fall down the hole and hurt your business.
  • False opt-ins: Even if the contacts on the lists opted-in to receive emails, they NEVER opted-in for a myriad of emails from specific companies, including yours.
  • The false promise of conversions: You’re selling to an audience you don’t know. They will never convert as the ones who are interested in your products. 
  • The false promise of quality: they will say the addresses are real and active, but none of that counts because they are not your real subscribers. 

Remember that reaching more random inboxes does not equal getting more subscribers. That’s why Campaign Refinery specializes in improving the email deliverability of our clients through our advanced email list cleaning service. Our customers have seen increases in deliverability by 30% and more while sending to verified subscribers. 

Biggest Reasons Why You Should Never Buy a Readymade Email List

If we still haven’t convinced you not to buy an email list, look at the detailed list of the biggest reasons not to do it. There are just too many adverse effects it can have on your business; all backed with data and experience. 

Losing Customers and Loyalty   

Customer loyalty is a thing you earn by being transparent and by sending emails to people who want them. If you decide to disperse your promos to random people, you will not get many customers, let alone inspire loyalty. If you focus on these tactics, you could lose your customer loyalty because when it comes to niches – the internet is a small place, and word travels fast. 

Sometimes, you may reach an inbox of an interested person, but the fact they never applied for your message may come across as arrogant, so they could consciously decide not to click and opt out. Probably even flag you. This way, you’re missing out on potential future customers.

No Quality Customers  

Say you want to reach new customers. What is your offer? Who guarantees the email addresses on the purchased list are from people interested in such an offer, even if the list is “100% opted-in”?

A readymade email list can lead to poor acquisition because all the best email addresses are not for sale. Nowadays, People are cautious with their privacy and won’t give out their emails to just anyone. And if you’re selling sports gear for gyms, why would you want to engage with a grandma from Michigan who loves cats? No reason, exactly.

Those addresses come from random lists, unrelated third parties, or spying techniques that can only get you role (admin, office) addresses or poorly checked work emails. We clean those at Campaign Refinery. 

Legal Repercussions

Yes, you could annoy people, but you could also end up in court if you opt to use a purchased email list!

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a data privacy regulation in force in Europe, forbids email sending to addresses that opted out and enforced the rule that you must have clear consent given by the subscriber to send them messages. 

This disables people from using purchased email lists in Europe completely since you must have a compliant list. This includes US senders if their recipients are in Europe – all senders distributing email in the EU fall under this act. 

In the US, there is the CAN-SPAM Act we mentioned, a regulation forcing commercial email senders to be transparent about their identity and intentions while allowing the recipients to opt out quickly and immediately. Although not as strict as GDPR, CAN-SPAM Act limits the usage of pre-bought email lists to one time only since many will either flag or unsubscribe. And if you don’t abide, you can get fined.

In Canada, there is the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL). This regulation is in force since 2014, prohibiting spamming in Canada and also sending spam to Canadian citizens. According to CASL, fines for individuals can be as much as 1 million dollars per violation and can climb up as much as 10 million for companies, and that is per violation. No need to calculate; just don’t spam Canadians.

In California, special acts went into effect in 2018 and 2020, respectively, protecting consumers from getting emails they don’t want. The acts are California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA). CCPA created new privacy rights for Californians and new data protection obligations for businesses, while CPRA includes additional privacy protection clauses. Moving forward, it will be no surprise to see similar acts in force on a national level.

Predating all of these modern legislations, as a pioneer in protecting people from unwanted email, there was California’s “Anti-Spam” Law from 2004, which banned “most unsolicited commercial email advertisements in total.” The law holds both advertisers and spammers liable and the penalties are quite high: they can go up to 1 million dollars per breach!

What’s interesting for email service providers, there is a stipulation saying:

The new law also grants California electronic mail service providers (including ISPs) the right to bring their own civil actions, including liquidated damages of up to twenty-five thousand dollars per day against advertisers that violate the provider’s policies of unsolicited electronic mail advertisements.

Knowing the legal repercussions you could have with your unwilling subscribers and also with your email service providers, we’d advise you to steer clear of spamming. As a general rule.

Damages to Sender Reputation              

Let’s face it, using a purchased email list is sneaky. And if you think you won’t get caught, then you should know that you will likely fall into what is called — a spam trap. 

There are organizations dedicated to fighting spam. They do it by planting email addresses into lists and tracking sender activity to flag them as appropriate. They also set traps by turning off hard bounces from disabled or old addresses as they track senders reaching out to them. This happens when you use pre-made email address lists that are not verified. 

Oh, the vendor says the addresses are verified. Do you trust them? In reality, there’s no way for you to know if and when they verified the list, which still consists of random recipients. 

Getting a spam flag will ultimately damage your sender reputation and your IP address, and it will affect your deliverability. To us, it seems like too big of a risk

Experts Advise Against Email List Buying  

You will not find a reputable expert or an email service provider anywhere to say that purchasing an email list for marketing is a good idea. They will all advise against it, stating the same reasons we are listing here

If you’re building an email marketing operation, it’s wise to listen to experts and people with experience. If you choose not to and tinker just to see what happens, make sure you use the sender address and domains you don’t care about, and be aware some money will go down the drain. 

Premium Email List Services Do Not Allow Purchased Email Lists

That’s right, and neither does Campaign Refinery. 

Note: Campaign Refinery strictly allows permission-based opt-in subscribers only. No cold or 3rd party data is permitted on the platform. Any use of this type of data will result in an immediate and permanent ban from the platform without refunds.

You will not find a reputable, successful email service provider able to handle large volumes of emails to allow the usage of purchased email lists anywhere. 

Now we hope you’re finally convinced not to buy an email list. And you may wonder – what do I do instead? The answer is simple – build your own the right way!

What is The Best Way to Build an Email List

The best foundation you can build for your business is the email list. It’s your pot of gold, your precious one, your asset to cherish and nurture. And the best way to acquire a healthy email list is to get real, organic subscribers who are genuinely interested in your products and services. 

The Opt-In Method

Getting people to opt in requires a lot of effort and promotion on different platforms. Even if you get them to reach the subscribe button, you have to make them enter their address and click on it. 

There are several proven ways to do that: 

  1. Lead Magnets: You can offer your prospects free gated digital products, such as webinars, pdf ebooks, video series, templates, guidebooks, presentations or similar. To download them, they would have to give you their email address. 
  2. Free tools for digital marketers: If your business has the option to produce simple digital tools to give out for free, such tools are also excellent means to motivate prospects to opt in. 
  3. Contests: Inspiring your prospects to take part in a contest is something that can both grow your list and bring in revenue.
  4. Free trials: You can offer a free trial for those who apply with proper information, meaning you are already getting interested prospects and all they need to do is convert. 
  5. Get Your Subscribers to Share Your Content: By placing smart CTAs and motivating your customers to share and forward your email content, you could reach more audiences and, subsequently, acquire more subscribers. 
  6. Offer Discounts to Newcomers: This technique is something eCommerce marketers use as it’s proven effective. New buyers and customers can get a discount by subscribing to your email. You can get them to do this through a pop-up on your website or via different promotions on social media, for example. 
  7. Promote Your Brand: Building brand awareness is essential in acquiring new customers. You have to invest in marketing and targeted campaigns on various platforms to reach out to the broadest possible audience. As a result, your email list will grow as well. 

These best practices are widely known to email marketers, but it’s not a bad idea to repeat them to ourselves once in a while. Still, there is a trade secret professionals don’t share that often. 

Wanna hear it?

The Absolute Best Way To Acquire Customers for Your Email List – A Word of the Expert

To find out the absolute best way to build an email list, we asked our in-house expert and founder, Travis Ketchum, and he was happy to reveal his secret — the best way to acquire leads is to acquire customers!

We know it sounds simple enough, but it’s not easy. However — buyer leads are always more valuable than opt-in leads, according to our expert. They are the people who know your brand and already have a relationship with it; they are likely loyal and returning customers. Sending them targeted and nurturing campaigns is a thing of beauty and will greatly support your business. 

Still, getting opt-in leads is a lot easier than getting buyers right from the get-go, so planning to acquire both makes a good game plan. 

When you send a compelling offer to your customers and opt-ins, you are bound to get traffic. 

Here are several types of gated offers you can include, along with any of those mentioned in the previous paragraph, The Opt-In Method:

  • The low-ticket front-end offers for existing customers,
  • Book-a-call funnels for high ticket offers for larger prospects,
  • Quote Estimates.

The trick is that all of the offers depend on the traffic you drive to your website via affiliate links, SEO, media promotion, podcasts, public speaking, newsletter sponsorships, etc. Any legitimate way to get people to give you their email voluntarily is a good idea, and we are only mentioning the most common ones. You can release your inner creativity, but be aware of the dangers a purchased email list brings. 

And keep in mind that even a $1 buyer is far more valuable than a free opt-in, as our founder would say. 

Send Emails to a Verified Email List

Congratulations on reaching the end of our email-list tirade! 🙂

By this point, we hope you have a clear vision of why buying an email list is a bad idea and what the alternatives are. 

We know that building a verified email list requires a lot of time and effort, but it’s ultimately the best asset you can build if you’re planning on using email marketing. 

At Campaign Refinery, we’re dedicated to helping businesses send highly successful campaigns by cleaning their lists, making sure their reputation is excellent, and making the emailing process easy for them. 

But we also love to share our in-depth knowledge on the matter. 

This time, we’d like to invite you to apply for our brand-new mini-course on how to dramatically increase the number of people who read your lead magnets. 

By using this technique, we got 7.56x more people to click on our lead magnets!

We are offering you this online mini-course completely for FREE under one condition — you have to complete it to keep it! 

You will have a week — 7 days — to complete all 4 of the mini-trainings inside the course, and if you do, you can keep access to it FOREVER!

Like the offer?

Apply here to get the Lead Magnet Mini Course. 

Let us know when this knowledge changes the trajectory of your business; we’d love to hear about it! 

And stay away from email list vendors! 

You can thank us later. 😉 

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