It’s never a good idea to buy email lists

Growing any business takes a lot of pretty unglamorous hard work – and it’s perhaps understandable that people are often tempted to take shortcuts.

One such shortcut might be to purchase or rent an email list. To many marketers, this can seem like an enticing proposition. After all, why invest time, and hard work into slowly and gradually working on your list – when you could simply splash out a one-off fee and score hundreds, if not thousands, of new potential leads, in one go?

Email marketing typically has a fantastic ROI – so the more emails you send, the more success you’ll have, right?

It’s a solid theory, but in real life, it doesn’t work – and it’s going to cause you some pretty serious problems. Let’s look at why.

Service provider problems

Probably the most obvious – and damaging – consequence of purchasing email lists, is that it’s going to land you in trouble with your email service provider. If you’re using a reputable ESP like Instiller to roll out your campaigns, it’s more than likely that you’re going to be prohibited from using purchased, loaned, rented or third-party provider email lists.

The long and short of it is that, before you send an email to any recipient, they should have given you explicit permission to do so. ‘Unsolicited email’ is a fancy way of saying ‘spam’ and the majority of providers are going to insist that you only send mail to contacts you’ve generated organically.

Failure to follow these guidelines can result in action from your ESP, so tread carefully!

List quality

Another significant problem is that you don’t really know anything about the contacts in any list you buy. Are they interested in your product? Do they represent the right demographic? Are they even real people?

A quick search on any email marketing forum will no doubt yield several horror stories from businesses who have bought lists, which they’ve subsequently found to include data that’s either incomplete, out-of-date, or irrelevant to their product and service. You may feel great having an email list of 50,000 names – but you need to put this into its right context. If those people aren’t interested in what you have to say, then how much are they really worth to you?

It’s worth noting that you’re probably going to get a range of assurances around list quality from the person trying to sell it to you. Ultimately, however, you need to remember that this whole practice is a little bit unscrupulous – you should be very careful indeed about whether you can really trust them.

Brand perception

Hands up who loves receiving unsolicited emails from brands they’ve never previously interacted with? Nope, didn’t think so!

There are few things that are as damaging to a brand’s reputation as cold calls and unwanted email. However high quality your content may be, you have to remember that the recipient didn’t ask to receive it, so the chances of them rubbing their hands together with glee upon receiving it are slim to none. This is particularly the case if you’re communicating as if you already know a disturbing amount of information about the recipient, such as their name, job title or general interests.

Spam email has been compared to a stranger striking up a conversation with you on the street, but it’s probably worse than that. It’s more akin to that person knocking on your door at home for a chat. It simply isn’t welcome, and people are generally going to react pretty badly to it. They’ll delete your email, mark it as spam, and maybe even tell a friend how annoying they found it, all of which can have severe consequences going forward.


Reputation isn’t just about what the man on the street makes of you. It’s also at the very heart of deliverability. Since your emails can end up in one of three places – the inbox, the spam folder or flat-out rejected by the email service provider – this is a huge deal. There are a number of components to deliverability, including the volume of your email that’s marked as junk or spam, and how many of your emails ‘bounce.’ It goes without saying, then, that emailing unsolicited content to a seriously un-targeted list is going to raise some red flags, and create some pretty insurmountable problems with deliverability of your future campaigns.

List hygiene

When your list is overflowing with low-quality, purchased contacts, this can severely diminish the value of your genuine contacts who’ve opted into your communications. Separating the wheat from the chaff can become a difficult, if not impossible, task.

Closing thoughts

Once upon a time, in the era of network TV, radio and billboard advertising, ‘reach’ was perhaps the only barometer brands had to gauge the success of their campaigns. Getting your message to thousands of people – regardless of who those people were – was (justifiably) heralded as a successful campaign.

The rise of digital marketing has changed much of this. The overall size of your audience is largely irrelevant unless it’s accompanied by an element of careful targeting. Everything from paid ads to social media and, of course, email marketing, has been transformed by the ability to target the right users, with the right messaging, at the right time. Users expect to receive communications and see ads that are relevant to them.

The shady practices of buying email lists, social followers and more, are pretty much a legacy of the ‘old’ way of thinking, and are steadily becoming less popular.

There’s nothing wrong with a large email list, per se, but it should be a list that you’ve built sensibly, with hard work and smart thinking. For ethical and sustainable list-building tips that really work, check out our completely free e-book ‘12 Ways to Grow Your Email List.’

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