Why You Should Never Buy an Email List! Build One Yourself Instead.


Believe it or not, people still ask me the following question: where can I buy a good quality email list? The short answer is very simple: please don’t! You shouldn’t ever purchase an email list. But explaining why takes time. That’s why I’ve collected a few facts to prove that there is no such thing as a good quality mailing list available for purchase. Prepare yourself for a longer read and allow me to explain why growing your own email list is the only way towards successful email marketing.


Email address vs. subscriber

If you want to drive conversion, you need a lot more than a database of email addresses. You need an engaged audience. You need subscribers – people who are genuinely interested in your brand, its products, and services. People who want to find out what’s inside the emails that land in their inbox.

Subscribers are your prospects and customers. They are at the heart of your business. Your revenue depends on the ability to solve customers’ problems, so the more you know them the more likely it is that you’ll be able to satisfy their needs and wants.

How can you run an effective marketing campaign without knowing anything about your target audience? How can you optimize your marketing efforts if you don’t know the recipient? You can’t, and that’s exactly what happens when you use a purchased database of email addresses.

If you put customers first, make list building a crucial element of your email marketing strategy. You will be able to attract and build rapport with the the right people – your target audience. You can even make the subscription rate one of your crucial KPIs, telling you if people are actually interested in your products or services.

Believe it or not, people still ask me the following question: where can I buy a good quality email list? The short answer is very simple: please don’t! You shouldn’t ever purchase an email list. But explaining why takes time. That’s why I’ve collected a few facts to prove that there is no such thing as a good quality mailing list available for purchase. Prepare yourself for a longer read and allow me to explain why growing your own email list is the only way towards successful email marketing.


The sign-up form on the Blue Bottle Coffee website is designed with their target audience in mind.


So the first questions you should ask yourself is: do I need email addresses or subscribers? Buying a list of email addresses sounds easy but even if it’s segmented by category or industry, you cannot be sure if the data is accurate. Building a list of subscribers takes time and effort but it’s the only way to go, just take a look at this comparison:

Email addressSubscriber
  • you don’t know how it was collected
  • you have no idea who the owner is (you don’t even know if it’s a real person)
  • the owner doesn’t know your brand
  • you don’t know if the owner represents your target audience
  • expressed interest in your brand by subscribing
  • most likely represents your target audience
  • prospect or a customer – should be at the core of your business



Permission: single opt-in vs. double opt-in

One of the fundamental characteristics of a high-quality email list is permission. If you want to build long term relationships with subscribers and successfully turn them into customers, you need to make sure that they want to receive your emails in the first place. If not, it will be unlikely that they open or click the links in your messages.

Imagine a huge database of email addresses of people who haven’t heard of your company and didn’t give consent to receive your marketing messages. What happens when they see your email in their inbox? If you’re lucky they will delete your message without opening it, it might get much worse if they decide to mark it as spam.

So how to make sure that the people on your list want to receive your emails? Simply by allowing them to sign up themselves. Permission is the ultimate guardian of quality.

There are many ways of collecting email addresses. The most popular is via an online web form but you can also ask customers to join your mailing list in a brick-and-mortar shop, at an event, through API, etc.

There are two ways to subscribe: single opt-in and double opt-in. Single opt-in requires filling out a sign-up form. Double opt-in requires filling out a sign-up form and clicking a confirmation link in a follow-up email.

You need to decide for yourself which sign-up method to use. If you’re not sure which way to go, read this in-depth article. However, if you want to build a high quality email list, I strongly recommend using double opt-in:

 Single opt-in Double opt-in
  • one step process
  • you can get fake email addresses
  • you can get incorrect email addresses
  • two step process
  • confirmation protects you from fake or incorrect email addresses


Pinterest requires double opt-in and sends a confirmation email.


Targeting and personalization

A good email marketing strategy goes beyond a single campaign. It’s designed to build knowledge about subscribers so that each following campaign fits them better and brings better results. Your goal is to build trust and slowly collect meaningful data so that you start recognizing patterns in subscriber behavior, and optimize your campaigns.

Email address alone is not enough to run relevant email marketing campaigns. You need to know a great deal about your subscribers in order to send messages related to their needs and preferences.

Discovering meaningful information along the subscription process is called progressive profiling. You can learn how to collect valuable data from your subscribers and align email marketing communication with their needs from this ebook.

Depending on the industry, you’ll need different information to start with. eCommerce businesses often ask for an email address and sex in their web forms. This way they can target male and female subscribers with a completely different offer from the very beginning.


A customer loyalty program might be a great way to get to know customers better.


You can design your emails in a way that helps customers find the right products and at the same time allows you to segment your list properly.


Reputation and deliverability

Another problem of a purchased list is that you don’t know how the addresses were collected. They might have been harvested or even made up of random letters and numbers. Such lists might be full of incorrect email addresses and spam traps that will damage your reputation and deliverability. You might even face a heavy fine or criminal penalties – including imprisonment.

Check the legislation, e.g. under the CAN-SPAM Act each separate email in violation of the law is subject to penalties of up to $16,000. The Canada Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is even more severe:

If you think that you can use a purchased email list, because your ESP (Email Service Provider) will deliver your messages to subscribers anyway, you’re wrong. It’s true that ESPs do a lot to maintain high deliverability and help you with your overall email marketing efforts (e.g. by keeping up with the technical requirements, automatically removing hard bounces, or handling unsubscribes).

But keeping the list clean, that is, removing incorrect email addresses or inactive subscribers, is your responsibility. Such addresses have a negative impact on your email marketing statistics (e.g. high bounce rate, low open and click-through rate) and might even lead to terminating your account.

At GetResponse we use Hydra, our in-house anti-abuse system that verifies imported email lists and helps to assess the risk related to our customers’ accounts. Its role is to help the good guys and get rid of the bad guys, so you’d better decide which side you’re on. To learn more about Hydra, read this article.

If you want to learn more about deliverability I recommend the series of blog posts on achieving the best deliverability possible.

If you need a longer read, check our Email Deliverability from A to Z ebook. You’ll learn more about reputation and what you can do in order to leave a good impression on both your subscribers and ISPs.


Quantity vs. quality

As a marketer I know that sometimes we can be tempted into believing that the more the better. If you catch yourself thinking that way, remember that it’s true only if quality is maintained.

Just as your subscribers don’t want to be flooded with poor quality leads, you don’t want to create and send campaigns to a long list of random email addresses. It costs time and money, and brings more harm than good. Let’s compare a purchased and organically grown email list:

Purchased email listNaturally grown email list
  • low engagement
  • low conversion rate
  • high spam complaints
  • destroys reputation as a sender and causes deliverability issues
  • no meaningful data about people on the list
  • your own medium to communicate with subscribers
  • high engagement
  • high conversion rate
  • reliable source of information about subscribers: prospects, and customers


Build your own list

A high-quality email list is one of your company’s biggest assets. It allows you to connect with your target audience and gradually turn prospects into customers–- and that’s exactly what marketing department is supposed to do.

So, if you ask me how to buy an email list, the answer is simple: please don’t! You can’t, there is no such thing as a good quality list available for purchase. You will waste money on a database of some uncertain email addresses that will harm your email marketing efforts.

But if you ask me how to build an email list, I’ll be more than happy to help. Here are a few blog posts to start with:

An infographic: Planting the Seeds to Grow Your Email Subscriber List

A guide : Lead Generation for Beginners

And the GetResponse List Building Program that will show you step by step how to build an eager audience of up to 10,000 subscribers.

Good luck with growing your email list! Feel free to ask any questions or leave a comment below.

  • be great to find a way with your system – to get new leads for my business.
    = R

  • Some very good points here Maciej. Email marketing often has a very strong ROI, but only if you are taking the time to target a relevant audience. If you are just randomly broadcasting across the web your emails, no matter how well put together, are going to come across as spam. It’s really worth taking the time to build your own lists and organise them correctly before you begin engaging.

  • @Matt: Matt, thanks for a comment. Organic list and adequate targeting are indeed the core to grow business. Also, current online environment provides so many legitimate ways to build an email list. I’d say: the sky’s the limit.

    @Rudi: Rudi, actually we offer a unique system to build a high-quality, permission-based email list. Here is a link to find out more: http://www.getresponse.com/features/getsubscribers.html.
    Please check also the video promo by clicking on ‘watch video’ button at the top.

  • Razvan

    ok… to generalize that… is… well… stupid.

    One of the best way to grow your business is to rent email targeted lists and put up a break-even marketing campaing for customer acuisition.

    if you mail to 1 milion prospects and get 10.000 new fresh customers that will buy from you like 5 times a year then you should definetly do that. And the figures that i stated here are low.

    Yeah.. is also stupid to buy lists from who knows what spammer. But to buy or rent lists from trusted companies that can deliver demografics and all sorts of infos for those prospects that’s WISE.

    Grow your business organically? Maybe you should reconsider what organically means

  • I think the temptation in buying mail lists comes from the time it takes to build a list and the misleading claims made about how quickly it can be done

    It’s no big secret that many big name people use co registration leads in their mix for fresh leads but buying from the databases that offer you the opportunity to e mail 2 or 3 million people a day for $20-$30 Dollars is just asking for trouble

  • Your advice not tobuy email list very true. I personaly do not believe in buying such lists as I do not know how the vendor obtained the addresses.

  • Guys, thank you for your comments.

    @Razvan: Please always keep in mind that people respond well to messages they asked for. Thus, it doesn’t really matter if you buy the list from trusted or spammy source, because it’s being sold again and again to various people and the quality of these lists is always very low.

    Razvan, I will always encourage people to grow email list organically as this is the core of permission-based email marketing and most importantly for marketers, the best way to achieve very high conversion rates.

    Renting email lists is a different topic, which shouldn’t be compared to buying an email list. By the way, we will consider writing another blog post regarding this issue and the differences.

    @Tony @Tian Chye Tan: Thank you for your comments. I hope it helps understand the huge differences in email marketing strategies and the way to do it right.

  • Ken

    Thanks for great information. I get so inundated with spam I would never think to abuse the trust of my organic list.

    By offering good newsletter or e-book to an opt-in list you can build an organic list that wants your information, and is more likely to buy from you.

  • Razvan

    Ok… let me put it to you this way.

    You have a product that can save people from death. ok? And your product really works on let’s say diabetes.

    And you’re telling me you shouldn’t rent an email list from a good medical publisher ’cause it’s not organically?

    Well maybe organically… one of youre relatives dies (wish it never happens), and after that you find on page 2 of google this remedy.

    How’s that feed? Good?

    If you’re product is really good. And it helps people. Why the heck shouldn;t i write a great sales copy and send it to those who need it?

  • Andy

    Razvan, renting email lists is a completely different topic, Maciej already mentioned it in his prior comment. If you do the list renting properly – it’s fine. But doing it right is not that easy. I’m ok with the list renting as long as:
    * the sender (list lender) has all the permissions to send commercial emails;
    * the content is relevant for the recipients;
    * sender allows to unsubscribe easily at any time;
    * The marketer (you) who rents the list from the sender doesn’t have an access to any single address from the list.

    When it comes to the list buying practice – it’s always wrong! And there are no exceptions here. Even if you sell product that solves global warming & world hunger problems, cures diabetes, MS and aids simultaneously – promoting this product with a bought list is not an answer.
    Trust me, If your product is great, people will find it and your email list will grow organically faster than you can even imagine. Moreover those lists will contain people who are really interested in your product.

  • I once bought an email list and the results do not like what I want.
    I am sure that the email I send will be considered spam by the recipient, now I prefer to use a gift or bonus to get email from visitor.

  • The Days of Batch and Blast Emails are over! But there are many creative (clever) ways to use a list provided you really know your list.

  • tsamuel

    I’ve had 50/50 luck with lists. I can say that not ALL lists are dangerous. But how do you know which ones are and are not?

  • KatarzynaPietka

    That’s it – you never know. This is why only organic lists are 100% safe and supported by GetResponse.

  • tsamuel

    After our last communication, we tried a couple of providers and I’ve had half success with buying email list. My
    marketing manager had me use jigsaw.com, which turned out ok. While we also did a list rental with FrescoData.com and got great
    results. The list rental was cost effective, and our ROI was the best its
    been in recent years. Building lists is time consuming and time is of the
    essence in this economy. You have to leverage everything appropriately to be
    successful. I liked the two companies we used, because the people on the
    lists were opt in and targeted based on our campaign – not just a bunch of
    randoms. Nevertheless, I wish to try GetResponse for our upcoming campaign.

  • Michal Leszczynski

    Thanks for your feedback tsamuel!

    It’s true, we have heard of such stories and brands that had good results with buying email lists. However, this is usually a small percentage of those who tried and the risks involved are simply too high.

    Here in GetResponse we work only with lists that have been built following permission based email marketing practices. These lists generally perform better as your audience has an actual relationship with you, which you need to shape and work on over time. Subscribers that know you, put more trust in you and typically are more inclined to do business.

    The bottom line is, that it is only fair to communicate with people that have given their permission to receive your messages :). This proves that you respect and value them, which is more important than ever before.

    As for partnering with other brands to promote your products and services to their databases to join your marketing power – it’s a great idea. Make sure to select the partner appropriately so that you match the brand image, culture, product and audiences to

    maximize the effectiveness of your campaigns. In fact, we’ve talked about this quite recently. Check out our other blog post on this topic – http://blog.getresponse.com/build-email-list-fast-pt-3-go-beyond-website.html.

    It may sound difficult to build an email list from scratch but I assure you, it’s worth the effort. Check out our blog and learning center if you ever need more inspiration regarding building an email list or promoting your offer. Or just contact our experts if you ever get stuck!

    Have a great week,

  • Tim

    I have an opt-in list of emails. We used MailboxValidator to screen the mailing list every year. I can say that there are 20% of emails have to be removed from the list. I can’t imagine if it is a purchased list. It should be easily trapped as spam.