7 Reasons Why Buying An Email List Is A Bad Idea

Momina Asif
Momina Asif

Last updated on

April 10, 2023

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to grow your business, generate sales, and increase revenue. It’s one of the best strategies to reach your audience and nurture leads until they are ready to make a purchase.

A lot of marketers find themselves at a point where they need people they can email - quickly and cheaply. When looking to buy an email list, the only thing marketers are looking for is new contacts to email to support their sales team. But acting on this moment of desperation and purchasing an email list can cause more harm than good.

You will get thousands of email contacts for a meager price but your email marketing campaigns and program will seriously suffer. In this article, I talk about why buying email lists is a really bad idea. I will also give you a list of effective ways to build your email marketing list, so you don’t have to buy one.

How can you acquire email lists?

Before discussing why buying an email list is nothing short of a catastrophe to your entire marketing efforts, let’s discuss the three ways you can acquire an email list.

1. Buying an email list

The process of buying an email list is simple enough. You work with an email list provider, decide your preferred demographics and psychographic information and purchase a list of names and email addresses based on that data.

One example of this is that you purchase a list of 100,000 names and email addresses of people living in New York with young kids. It all depends on your target audience.

2. Renting an email list

Instead of buying an email list, you can work with an email list provider but never actually own the list. In this process, you identify a segment of your target audience to email but you never get to see the email addresses of the people you are emailing. If you opt for this method, you must work with the email list provider to send out your email.

In terms of efficacy, both buying and renting an email isn’t an effective way to increase your business through email marketing.

3. Create an opt-in email list

In this process, someone voluntarily gives you their email address and other information and consents to you sending them emails. They can also pick certain types of email content they wish to receive, like promotional emails, discount emails, or getting an email only when a new blog is published.

Opt-in email addresses are a result of your audience trusting you to share their contact information with you and consenting to be contacted through email.

There is an extremely important thing to remember when it comes to opt-in email lists. You might have heard an email list provider say, “This email list I am providing you is totally opt-in”. What this means is that the people on the list opted-in to emails from someone at some point in the time. What it doesn’t mean is that the email recipients opted in to receive any kind of email communications from “your” business. This distinction is extremely important to remember.

7 reasons why you shouldn’t buy an email list

1. Violation of rules of consent under GDPR

According to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a European data privacy act that went into effect in May 2018, most email marketers are legally obliged to allow recipients to opt-out of emails they no longer wish to receive. Your email contacts must be able to do this directly in the email message. GDPR doubles down on the opt-in side of the email communication and purchased email lists are not compliant.

You don’t have to be based in Europe to fall under GDPR’s jurisdiction. If your recipients live in Europe, they are protected by the GDPR. With the GDPR governing all email communications across Europe, just adding an “unsubscribe” button to your email template doesn’t cut it. You must have explicit consent from your contacts to send them emails. What this means is that your contacts must click to opt-in to email subscriptions. When you purchase or rent an email list, people on the list haven’t been given this option - making you non-compliant with GDPR.

2. Reputable email marketing services don't allow purchased email lists

If you are using an email marketing software or intend to use one, you will find that reputable companies will insist to use opt-in email lists. Your mind might just ask you to use a non-reputable email marketing software. But there is a drawback to that.

Email service providers on shared IP addresses that don’t require you to use opt-in email lists provide poor deliverability. Why is that so? Because one business’s ill-gotten email addresses list affects the deliverability of the other customers on that shared IP address. And that will stop your emails to land in your email lists’ inboxes.

3. Relevant email address lists aren't for sale

It’s very difficult to come across a high-quality email list that’s for purchase. If an email list is for sale, it means that the email addresses on it have already been considered non-responsive or unqualified for marketing outreach.

Most often than not, bought email addresses have likely been spammed to the ends of the earth. Because if that weren’t the case, these email addresses would still be in the hands of the company.

4. People on a purchased or rented list don't know your business

Rented or purchased email lists are sometimes scraped from other websites, which is just a dirty way to acquire email marketing contacts. But even if we assume that those email addresses weren’t earned legitimately by people opting-in for those emails, they have opted to receive emails from, say the email list provider, but not your company. As mentioned above, this is a huge distinction that is important to remember.

The recipients from the purchased email list don’t have any prior relationship with your business. This makes them mark your email as “spam” when your email arrives in your inbox.

5. Your email deliverability and IP reputation will be harmed

I am sure you know that there are organizations dedicated to combating spam. What they do is, they set up a honeypot, which is a planted email address. When this email address is harvested and emailed, it identifies the sender as a spammer. Similar to this, things called spam traps can be created to identify spam emails. Spam traps are set up when an email address yields a hard bounce because either it’s old or it’s no longer valid, but still receives consistent traffic. As a result, email addresses turn into a spam trap and stops returning the hard bounce notice. Instead, they accept the message and report the sender as a spammer.

When you purchase or rent a list, there is no way of confirming how often the email addresses on it have been emailed or whether they have been scrubbed for hard bounces to prevent identifying you as a spammer. So the question then becomes, are you really willing to risk not only your email deliverability but also the reputation of your IP address and your company? I think not.

6. You can come across as annoying

No one likes it when they get an email in their inbox from a company they have never heard of. I bet that’s not the kind of company they want to buy from or work for.

If someone hasn’t asked to hear from you yet, it doesn’t mean that don’t want to hear from you sooner or later. It’s your job as a marketer to provide them with reasons - helpful content or valuable offers - that will compel them to sign up for email communications. If you force your email content on anyone too early, you risk preemptively losing their trust and their future business.

7. Your email service provider can penalize you

Buying an email list doesn’t just damage your brand reputation and deliverability. It puts your email account at risk as well. Email clients like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo! don’t want to be associated with accounts that recipients repeatedly flag as spam. Some email service providers like AWeber go as far as immediately closing your account if they suspect you of sending unwanted emails.

How to build your opt-in email list

Now that we have covered the numerous reasons why you should never buy an email list, let’s move on to steps for building an opt-in email list.

Building your own list of email contacts who have opted-in to receive email communications from you isn’t just compliant with GDPR, it also protects your brand reputation and presents you with opportunities to grow this list and build genuine relationships with new customers. Let’s go over some of the basic ways of building an opt-in email list.

1. Create gated assets

Gated content like webinars, ebooks, checklists, templates, etc. is all effective long-form premium content assets. People find content like this valuable enough to give over their email addresses. Add as many gated assets as you can behind landing pages. A large number of gated content will make it easier for you to attract more people and potential customers.

2. Create useful tools

If creating content isn’t something you have a lot of experience with, don’t fret. You can create useful tools that help your target audience. These tools should be valuable enough that they will trade you their email addresses for a free demo of the product you built.

One example of this is HubSpot’s Marketing Grader, which is free to use but asks you to add your email address to use.

3. Promote gated assets on your marketing channels

Now that you have created gated content that can capture email addresses, create marketing campaigns around them. You can use social media, PPC, and blogs to market your gated content and tools.

The best option is to use your blog to advertise your gated content. Blog about the subject matter related to your gated content you have created, add CTAs that lead the audience to the landing page of the gated content.

4. Run creative email marketing campaigns

People forward helpful emails to colleagues, friends, and family and that helps expand your database. Make it easy for your recipients to forward or share your email content ahead. Include CTAs in your emails that make sharing an obvious choice for recipients. Run re-engagement campaigns on contacts that have gone quite stale.

5. Place opt-in forms on your website

You shouldn’t just stop at lead magnets and gated content. Another way to increase your email list is to add opt-in forms at various points across your website. You can add forms at the end of each article you publish, at the home page, and at the contact page. There are different types of opt-in forms you can use like

  • Exit Popup
  • Embed Form
  • Topbar
  • Scrollbox
  • Fullscreen Cover
  • Sidebar Widget

It might look enticing and easy to buy or rent an email list. It’s a quick and easy way to bypass the time-consuming and tedious process of amassing subscribers on your own. But as I have mentioned above, the negative consequences of buying an email list surpass everything. It can harm your brand’s reputation, create issues with your email service provider and potentially land you in hot legal waters. So, start building your email list the right way and get your customers to sign-up for email communications from your brand.

Author Bio

Momina Asif

Content marketer by day and book nerd by night, Momina works at Mailmunch as a Marketing Communications Specialist. Momina eats, sleeps, and breathes content marketing. Her expertise ranges from ideation to production to distribution of content, thanks to 4+ years of experience in the B2B content marketing sphere.


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