Buyer Beware: Purchasing E-mail Lists Ain’t What It Used to BeIf you’ve ever used an online dating site, you understand the term “buyer beware.” You come across a profile that matches everything you want in a prospective mate: Attractive, smart and not living in his or her parents’ basement. But a match who sounds great on paper — er, make that screen — is rarely great in real life. That attractive, smart person you fell for turns out to be ugly, dumb and, yes, still living in the basement. You’ve been sold a false bill of goods, and you want your money back.
Buying e-mail lists is a lot like online dating. You don’t get to see what you’re purchasing in advance. You can’t be sure if you’re dealing with someone who’s legit. And you often see a disappointing return on investment.
In years past, marketers were all too eager to turn over money in return for these lists. But that’s changed recently. Read on to find out why purchasing e-mail lists is a no-win tactic.
The Easy Way Out
There are three basic ways for marketers to get addresses for an e-mail list:
- Rent them. You work with a third-party provider to send the e-mail but you never actually see the addresses you purchase.
- Buy them. You go through a third-party seller who forks over X number of addresses for X amount of money.
- Opt-in. You ask people to voluntarily give you their e-mail addresses and build your list off of those.
Years ago, this was a more accepted practice. Companies often pursued lists from businesses with similar interests and thus there was a chance people on the list would be interested in what was being sold. But with the rise in e-mail marketing and search engine optimization, more third parties got involved and began hawking lists to a broader base of clients. The quality of purchased lists has declined.
At the same time, as e-mail service providers (ESPs) have become more sophisticated, they’ve also discovered how to sniff out spammers and those sending out e-mails based on rented or bought lists. Most ESPs have banned spam and purchased e-mail lists, for reasons we’ll delve into below.
By purchasing an e-mail list, you’re taking a gamble that the list you get is actually legit. But in reality, the e-mail addresses you’re sending to are likely to be of low quality. You’ll get a large number of bounce-backs, and because you’re sending to people who did not opt in to your list, you’ll also send to a lot of recipients who won’t bother to click on the message. Your open rates will be low. You may be routed to the spam folder.
This leads to the problem alluded to above: It reflects poorly on your ESP, and ESPs do not like that. When you send out undeliverable or low-quality e-mails, it damages the reputation of your ESP. Other customers will start to have trouble getting their e-mails out, too.
Preserving Your Sender Score
In order for your e-mails to be delivered properly, you need to maintain a favorable Sender Score. This is the rating for your outgoing mail server IP address that essentially ranks how trustworthy your company’s e-mails are. If you’re getting flagged by spam filters or sending a lot of e-mails that bounce back — and you will be when you purchase an e-mail list, as those are two of the natural byproducts — then your score goes down.
When your score goes down, there’s less chance that your emails will be delivered correctly. Mail servers monitor Sender Scores, and according to one report, 83 percent of undelivered e-mails are because of a low Sender Score. So when you purchase e-mail lists, you’re risking the delivery of future e-mails.
All Email Lists Up For Sale Are Flawed
Let’s think back to our online dating analogy: If someone was really good looking, smart and successful, would they be trying to find a mate on Match.com? It’s the same thing with e-mail lists. The truth is, none of the ones for sale are any good. They’re never unique. That means that the people on those lists have already received countless numbers of e-mails from other companies for products and services they never opted-in for.
And that means they’re less likely to read the 100th appeal that lands in their inbox, which might just be your e-mail. You’re taking the lazy way out by not trying to find a legit e-mail list on your own.
Spam Is Lame
When you send unsolicited e-mail to someone, you’re spamming them. And that’s what a purchased e-mail list is: Your always targeting people who did not opt-in to your list. “But my product is really great,” you may argue. “People will want to read about it.”
Wrong. Even if you offer them a tree that grows money, you aren’t going to get a lot of interest because people simply don’t like receiving unsolicited e-mail. Consumers have learned to ignore spam over the years. And you will be ignored, too, if you use purchased e-mail addresses.
Finding a Better Approach
This may leave you wondering what you should be doing instead of buying e-mail lists. After all, you need someone to send your pitches to. Rest assured, there are plenty of legitimate ways to build an e-mail list, including:
- Adding opt-in options to forms on your website.
- Offer incentives such as eBooks or podcasts for anyone who signs up for your e-mail list.
- Sponsor contests that require signing up for the e-mail list to win.
- Get people’s e-mail addresses at offline functions like trade shows or in your bricks and mortar store.