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Why buying email lists is bad for business...and what to do instead

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

If you are currently mulling over the idea of buying an email list to roll out a campaign or promote your products or services, put down that credit card immediately...

Cold emailing will cost you time, money, and your business reputation and can affect the effectiveness of your usual email campaigns.

Yes, there are companies out there who claim to have 'GDPR-compliant, fully cleaned, waiting-by-their-inbox-decision-maker' lists. It is tempting, I know...but buyer beware.

If this tactic was effective, everyone would be doing it and doing it all the time.

There is a better way.

Here are my five reasons why buying an email list is never a good idea...and what you can do instead:

1/Grey-area legalities:

Data protection is important. The legals on sending cold emails in the era of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) are a bit dodgy. The regs state you need to have a legitimate interest (for example, someone has previously bought from you and you want to contact them about an add-on) or have obtained explicit consent (they have opted in to receive comms from you).

You need to have - and may need to prove to the Information Commissioner's Office - you have a genuine reason for contacting them. List sellers may say that recipients are happy to be contacted by businesses LIKE yours, but if it came to a data audit, how would you prove they have opted in to receive comms SPECIFICALLY from your biz?

Consent is so important. Abuse it at your own risk.

2/Low pick-up rate:

The average response rate from a cold email is 1%. So for every 100 emails you send, only 1 of those will respond. And I bet that will no doubt be to complain about where you got their data.

The chance that the person will then go on to buy from you, repeat buy and become an advocate is even lower than that. A return on investment of 1%. Let that sink in. Is it even worth it?

3/Ruins your email sender rep:

When you send an email using software such as Mailchimp or Mailerlite, you will be set up with an email IP address. Essentially, this is like a postcode for your email work.

Did you know each mailout you do has an influence on the sender reputation of your IP?

You have probably been sending regular-ish enewsletters and other comms out to people who have already actively subscribed to your email list and things are ticking along nicely.

So, now it comes to sending out a campaign to your newly-purchased email list.

You send it out.

Half the data is old and bounces, people unsubscribe and report you, and your account gets blacklisted.

Alllll that hard work and effort, you have put into growing your organic email list has now been negatively affected and you run the chance of all your future emails - even to your non-bought list - being flagged as spam. Sad times.

4/Bad for your brand

Just think about all the cold emails your receive each week. They are usually from small, spammy, American companies. You'll never see the big, respected brands such as John Lewis or Apple sending out spam emails. They respect people's data. They follow the law. They have better marketing tactics up their sleeves.

Be more like them.

Out of all the cold emails you have been sent, have you ever bought from a completely unknown company? Have you ever made a repeat purchase, created an amazing business relationship, and become an advocate for that company?

Chances are, no. Great marketing builds trust and long-term relationships. Starting a relationship off where someone is wondering where you got their data is probably not the best footing.

5/Old hat

'Spray and pray' is a term used in marketing for sending out blanket comms. It is indiscriminate, ineffective, wasteful (of time and money), and lazy. The idea of spray and pray marketing is to send info out to as many people as possible (spray), and hope that it motivates some of them to buy your product or show interest in your service (pray). Spray and pray tactics like cold emailing and cold calling are just sooo 1990s. See below.

So we've established why you should never buy an email list, so what do you do instead?

The short answer is to grow an organic subscriber list.

Yes, it takes work. Yes, it takes time. But is it worth it? Absolutely.

Organic email marketing (sending emails to people who have actually genuinely and proactively opted-in on your website) gives a return on investment of 4,000%. So for every £1 spent, you will get back £40.

On average, for every 100 people receiving your email, 4% will actively click on links within it, and 30% will open and read it.

This is x4 and x30 more effective than cold email.

Cold emailing is part of outbound marketing - where you actively force your way into the path of potential customers. Examples include ads, cold calling, cold emailing and non-targeted spray and pray press releases. I am not a huge fan of these tactics - most have extremely low success rates and do more to damage your brand than help it. Outbound marketing is responsible for a measly 10% of all web clicks.

And then there's inbound marketing - ahhhh, beautiful inbound marketing. This is where you provide knowledge and position yourselves as the go-to-expert in your field and people will come to you. You get referred, people know about you before you even meet them. Inbound marketing takes creativity and effort but it builds momentum over time. It's responsible for a whopping 90% of all web clicks. Using email marketing the right way, by growing an organic subscriber list, is part of inbound marketing.

My top tips for awesome email marketing campaigns are to:

  • Make them regular

  • Make them good

  • Make people aware of it

So there you have it!

Growing your email list naturally using an inbound marketing strategy will have a x4-x30 better success rate than buying a bought list. It takes time and effort, but the rewards are greater brand respect, longer-lasting and stronger customer relationships, and better profits. Find out about my email marketing services here.


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