Buying Email Lists: Is It Worth Doing if You Value Your Business?

Seeing email marketers with lists made up of hundreds of thousands of names can be very impressive. You might decide that taking a shortcut and purchasing one such list is the right path to go down.

However, be aware that there are numerous risks to this approach. Many email service providers (ESPs) will not allow this practice.

In addition, if you send an unsolicited commercial email to a list that does not contain recipients who opted in or expressly requested it, you might also be going against the CAN-SPAM Act, which can lead to serious problems sooner rather than later.

With that in mind, are there any situations where it might be acceptable to buy an email list?

This blog post will cover the issues surrounding email list acquisition and discuss some of their possible implications. I’ll also give you the steps required to build an engaged email list from scratch.

What Is An Email List?

An email list consists of email addresses that have been collected by a business or organization under the assumption that product information, newsletters, etc, will be sent to the people on this list.

The list will usually have been compiled through "opt-in" requests, where consumers indicate a desire to be included in a list of email addresses.


Image Credit: http://optinmonster.com

If people on a list have opted in to receive emails, that means they have given their consent to receive email messages from the list owner.

As such, buying a list that does not have a straightforward "opt-in" process is risky at best, while at worst, it is illegal.

Why You Shouldn't Buy An Email List

Let's go over the reasons why you should not buy an email list. As you read through the below, keep an open mind and consider the pro of buying an email list (which is usually based on the quickness of having people to contact) and the cons of each point.

The Contacts Won't Be Qualified For Your Offers

When you buy email lists, people on it generally aren't "qualified" contacts. That means the new list owner does not know anything about the people on it and has no information that can help target their offers to their needs.

Often these lists come from other companies that have purchased lists in bulk and then segmented the emails based on primary demographic data. Chances are high that many of those addresses don't fit your customer profile.

The question is, “Do you want to get better results from your marketing emails?”. If so, you should send emails only to people who have chosen to hear from you. This way, you will contact the right customers, have fewer spam complaints, and have high deliverability.

The Contacts Won't Be Qualified For Your Offers

When you buy email lists, people on it generally aren't "qualified" contacts. That means the new list owner does not know anything about the people on it and has no information that can help target their offers to their needs.

Often these lists come from other companies that have purchased lists in bulk and then segmented the emails based on primary demographic data. Chances are high that many of those addresses don't fit your customer profile.

The question is, “Do you want to get better results from your marketing emails?”. If so, you should send emails only to people who have chosen to hear from you. This way, you will contact the right customers, have fewer spam complaints, and have high deliverability.

The Chances Of Having Your Emails Listed As Spam Increases

If you buy an email list, you will be sending bulk mail to people who didn't request it – and that's the surest way of having your email listed as spam.


Image Credit: http://popupsmart.com

The more people that mark your messages as spam, the higher the chances your IP address could get blacklisted by major email clients such as Gmail or Yahoo. Mail. Even worse, if they mark several messages from your company as spam, it could lead to being completely blocked from sending any future emails at all.

That is why you have to avoid purchasing lists. It's a good idea to have an explicit opt-in process so people can "opt in" and get on your list. This also helps to end up in the inbox and not in the spam folder and spam reports.

Engagement Will Be Tough To Increase

Since the contacts you buy weren't looking for information from your business specifically, chances are that they will not engage with your emails at all. If nobody opted in to receive commercial offers from you or your partner companies, then almost certainly, these recipients will ignore your promotional emails and mark them as spam.

Remember that one of the main reasons people subscribe to opt-in email lists is that they want to hear about specific topics and offers. If they didn’t care about the emails they were receiving before, there's no real reason for them to change their mind just because you've bought a list.

You'll Be Breaking International GDPR Laws

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the strictest privacy and email compliance acts in Europe. It's designed to protect all EU citizens from spam and unsolicited emails, and it requires businesses to get express consent from their contacts.


Image Credit: http://theconversation.com

Since buying lists goes against what email marketing laws stand for, you're violating this legislation if your company operates in the European Economic Area (EEA). This means fines up to €20 million or 4% of your global annual turnover could be imposed on you by authorities. Not only will such action cost you money, but it can also damage your online reputation, so play it safe and avoid any activities that might get you into hot water.

You Could Get In Trouble With Your Email Software Provider

If you're using email marketing software to mail a list that you bought, your ESP will probably not be OK with it. Usually, their terms of services forbid such activity, and that's why it may be a good idea to look into these conditions before deciding to purchase email lists.

Even if your ESP doesn't ban list buying explicitly, they still want you to have permission from the contacts on the list you want to send emails to - otherwise, they might refuse delivery if they catch wind of what you’re doing. Many email marketing services are increasingly cracking down on this type of activity as well, so it's very likely that you'll get your IP address banned on multiple ESPs as well.

Buying An Email List Can Have A Harmful Effect On Your Business

To sum it all up, the truth is that people don't appreciate being spammed, which is why they are very likely to mark your message as spam or unsubscribe.

The implications on your email marketing software and strategy can be disastrous and cost you a lot of money, as well as make your business look like a scam.

You don't want to be delisted or even blocked by any major ISP out there - so don't do anything that would give this impression. Once an email service provider marks your IP as a spam source, you won't be able to use it anymore, and your messages will never reach their destination.

Undesirable results are also possible if people on the list you bought are already unhappy with how the previous company operated. Think about it - why would anyone want to sell a good list if it produced quality open rates in the past?

Now that we've spoken about why not to buy lists, let's look at what's involved in building your high-quality email list.

Steps To Building Your Own Email List

Follow these steps to build your own email list successfully.

Define Your Target Market

Before you begin your email marketing campaign, it's best to have a clear picture of whom you are targeting. Make sure you know what language they speak, where they live, what they do on the Internet, and so on.


Image Credit: http://oberlo.com

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to come up with the target audience that makes up your email list:

  • What are their fears?
  • What are their worries?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • What problem can you solve with the email list you want to build?
  • How much money can they spend on your products or services?
  • What are they interested in?
  • Where do they usually go online, and what do they look for there?
  • What stands between them and making a purchase now, right this moment with you

Only if you know your target market's problems, questions, and fears will you be able to create an irresistible offer. The questions above can give you the right answers to make accurate decisions.

Come Up With Something Valuable For Your Audience

When you collect email addresses, you need to stand out and give your subscribers a reason to sign up for your list. Give them something valuable in exchange for their email address - it can be an informative white paper, a discount coupon, a free online course, or the like. This step will bring you more subscribers than anything else - so make it count.

Based on the answers you got when identifying your target audience's problems and struggles, you should be able to come up with something that would solve their problem or make it more bearable.

Typically, the more value you add, the higher your open rates will be - so don't hold back.

Create A Shiny Offer In Exchange For An Email

Now that you know what you're going to give your future email subscribers, it's time to create your offer. Keep in mind that the more valuable it is, the better.

An offer will increase the perceived value of anything you decide to give away so don't be afraid to think big. What things can you bundle up together to not only deliver something of value but ensure that you’re overdelivering? Think of something that has a high perceived value, and then go for it.

Here are two examples of items that can make up your core offer.


In this situation, you might decide to give away anything (or even a combination) from the following list:

  • An informative white paper - something that will provide an in-depth look into a specific topic. It will be like the " Cliff Notes" of that particular subject, and it should be comprehensive, thorough, and easy to understand.
  • A discount coupon - you can offer your subscribers a 10% or even 20% off coupon for all future purchases they make on their way through checkout (remember to inform them about this when they subscribe). 
  • A special report - anything that isn't usually available online. As such, the contents of this type of report are generally unique (something that can only be found within its pages).
  • An eBook - this is like a white paper, but in a more extensive and downloadable format. eBooks are well-written and easy to understand. They might be a bit controversial, too (i.e., mentioning a few things that other people don't usually want you to know).
  • A checklist - something that contains valuable advice or instructions for your subscribers without being too time-consuming. People usually love lists because they save them time and effort when doing something complicated.
  • A video series - If you have the skills, a video series makes it possible to create valuable video content that includes different videos for different audiences/needs. You can then offer these videos as a resource in exchange for an email address.
  • A webinar - webinars are similar to video series, so they could be offered as a bonus in exchange for an email address. People love webinars because they include valuable information delivered by an expert - so they can learn new things and get motivated at the same time.


You can also offer your future email subscribers a tool to help them get something done. Usually, tools are downloadable and easy to use - making the entire process hassle-free for your audience.

  • A software download - you can create a downloadable piece of software that will solve a specific problem or offer additional functionality/bonuses in exchange for an email address. This is especially useful and can be easily outsourced if you need more leads but don't have the time (or skills) required to write another ebook or white paper about that subject.
  • A WordPress plugin - although this isn't really "software", they work in very similar ways, so it's possible to offer these as well. People love WordPress plugins because they come with loads of different features and can be installed with just one click.
  • A web application - if you have the skills (or resources to outsource), you can also create a web app that offers additional functionality. A web app might include extra features and buttons that link to other pages on your website.

Promote Your Offer

This is where most marketers start going downhill. Marketing your offer (even if it’s free) is key to getting the word out there. There are various ways to do this and they all depend on your business model. However, some of the more general ways to do this would be through social media, PPC ads, or getting shoutouts through the right influencers.


Image Credit: http://forbes.com

Just make sure that whatever method(s) you use are relevant and appropriate - otherwise, they'll appear out-of-place and might not work at all.

Also, don't forget to include a sharing button in the lead capture page as well as one of the deliverables itself. This is something that people that opt-in to your list, can easily do to let others know about your offer, which can help it get more exposure on various channels.

Test Different Versions Of Your Landing Page To Find Which One Converts best

There's no point in having a great lead generation offer if you end up with too few leads. You should test out different versions of your landing pages (or sales page) to find which one converts the best.

For example, it might make more sense to include some additional information on your landing page if you're getting fewer conversions than expected. If people like what they see and think it looks valuable, they will be more likely to sign up right away - especially since they won't have to wait for any deliverables before beginning their journey towards achieving whatever goal(s) you might have mentioned earlier on in the copy.

Understanding the data related to what works and what doesn't will also help you create a better offer and further improve your lead generation efforts with both seasons and new customers.

Email marketing metrics will also allow you to understand further what your email list likes and doesn't like as time goes by. This will also allow you to tweak elements on your initial opt-in page to find what your list resonates with the most and what can be changed to improve open rates.


The contact information your email subscribers provide you with is very valuable - especially if they're interested in what you have to say. There are many different ways to use the data you get from your list, including attracting more potential customers to your business.

However, ensuring that the information is obtained legally and ethically will prevent you from getting into trouble. You should ensure that people on your list know precisely what they're getting and that it meets their expectations. Making the most of the benefits that email marketing offers starts with building a list the proper way.

Don't just buy email lists - building your own targeted list will always be a more practical (and long-term) solution for your business.

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About the author 

Mike Vestil

Mike Vestil is an author, investor, and speaker known for building a business from zero to $1.5 million in 12 months while traveling the world.

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