Does buying email lists still work?

8 min read

email list in spam

An email list is a list of subscribers, who may or may not opted-in to receive emails from a certain sender.

The first thing email marketers will hear from list providers is that email lists could save them time growing their email database. Technically, that is correct. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Buying email lists does have hidden drawbacks. Read on if you want to know what they are.


Source: AppInstitute

Email lists may contain emails of users who never subscribed to your newsletter, therefore chances are they will not open your emails and will not engage with it. Email lists also contain old emails that can no longer be active, which will result in the increase of your bounce rate. Even if a company that is selling you email lists claims (and it certainly will) it contains only high-quality data, chances are that data is irrelevant to your business, meaning that recipients will not be interested in the content of your emails, which will be followed by an increased unsubscribe rate.

Using email lists could also lead to some serious legal implications. Email marketers could easily use email lists in the past if they wanted to. However, after the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, the European data privacy act) was passed in May 2018, the use of email lists was forbidden. According to the GDPR, not only your subscribers have to have an option to unsubscribe, but they must also have the right to opt-in to receive any emails from you. Having introduced the GDPR, Europe wanted to protect its users from receiving unwanted emails completely eradicating the use of email lists. So if you are planning on targeting users from Europe, you might want to forget about buying email lists, unless you do not fear the legal consequences this may bring.

Reputation, deliverability and user engagement

When it comes to your reputation, email deliverability and user engagement is what defines it. Deliverability rate is measured by the number of emails that landed in your subscribers’ inbox, as opposed to their spam folder. In this regard, email lists could be a pitfall on the way to successful email marketing. Whether you want it or not, the majority of purchased lists will contain old email addresses that aren’t active, which will result in your emails being bounced and your bounce rate climb. A bounce rate of no higher than 2%* is normal. If a recipient does receive an email from a sender they never subscribed to, expect that this recipient will most likely not engage with it. In the worst-case scenario, they will mark it as spam. These two at first sight insignificant factors in fact measure your business reputation, and jeopardizing it and neglecting all the efforts put into creating an email campaign would be irrational.

Sending emails to recipients who have little or if any interest in your content, can cause no less troubles than high bounce rates. Internet Service Providers (ISP) like Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo want to make sure their users receive relevant and high-quality content from email marketers. They track if their users open, engage with or report an email as spam. If there is high engagement, the ISP will automatically make sure similar emails will arrive at the recipient’s inbox. If there is low engagement, the ISP will make sure the email skips the recipient’s inbox and will land in their spam folder. The more sender’s emails are marked as spam or are bounced, the lower email deliverability rates will be, which will in turn damage the sender’s reputation and have his emails constantly marked as spam, even if the recipient didn’t mark them so.

Spam filter

Source: Easyspace

As you have already understood, email deliverability and engagement rate are the two factors that affect your sender score, and Internet Service Providers are the ones who determine that score. A number of things, such as spam complaints, mailing to inactive email addresses, email blacklists, the number of emails rejected and accepted by users, influence your sender score. Since low engagement is the first thing you will get from purchased email lists, you will most certainly see a significant sender score drop.

We have established that buying email lists is bad. But how to fill up an email database fast and with quality subscribers? As disappointing as it may sound, building an organic email list takes time and effort. In the end, your ultimate goal is to have your subscribers open and read your emails and ultimately become your loyal customers. That does take time and hard work, but the benefits of it your business will enjoy are definitely worth it.

If you still want to buy email list

While we recommend against buying email lists, you are probably still thinking about giving it a try just for the sake of curiosity, or because you need people who you can email and you need them fast. However, don’t jump the gun with sending your newsletter to your “fresh new subscribers” just yet. You might want to consider filtering it through an email validation software, like Mailcheck. Validating your email lists, purchased or organic, will make sure your email database is clean and contains only valid email addresses, which in turn will improve your deliverability and engagement rates, as well as your reputation, and will turn your subscribers into loyal customers.


Read more in other useful articles on our blog.

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