Why Buying or Renting an Email List is the Absolute Worst

The following guest post was written by Scott Cornell. Scott is the SVP of Strategy at Pierry Software. For over 25 years, Scott has helped major brands such as Home Depot, Walmart, Verizon Wireless and Tory Burch grow their revenue by leveraging big data, segmentation, relevant dynamic content and the latest digital marketing innovations. 

You’ve likely heard the stat—you can get up to $44 back for every $1 you invest in email  marketing. This stat is everywhere, but it rarely comes with a disclaimer saying “You can get nearly $44 for every $1 you invest in email marketing, but only if you do it the right way.” Of course strategies will vary from company to company, brand to brand, industry to industry, but if part of your investment in email marketing includes buying or renting a list, you will not see nearly the ROI that you hoped.

What Do You Mean You Can Buy or Rent an Email List?

If you’ve never heard of this practice, then good for you. That means you’ve never even given a thought to buying or renting an email list. And you’ve never had anyone suggest this as a good email marketing practice.

But if the day ever comes that it’s suggested you buy or rent an email list for your next send, here’s what you’re getting yourself into…

Buying an email lists means getting access to subscribers based on any demographic and psychographic information you’ve provided to an email list broker. It doesn’t mean these subscribers have heard of your brand, your products, or even have any interest in what you have to say.

When you rent a list, the email provider you’ve chosen will send emails out based again on the demographic information you provide, but, unlike buying a list, you never actually get to see the email addresses themselves.

Email lists generally cost anywhere between $100 to $150 per thousand email addresses. While it may seem like a quick fix to boost your subscriber numbers, the long term consequences make buying or renting an email list the absolute worst.

Quality Over Quantity Trumps Again

Of course we’d all love to have hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of subscribers, but your subscriber count doesn’t matter if engagement is low. Every email marketer’s goal should be quality over quantity.

Let’s say you have 60,000 subscribers and buy a list to boost your numbers to 100,000. Sure, this increase will look impressive. You have the potential of 100,000 people seeing your message. But if 40% of your list didn’t subscribe to your communications in the first place, there is a high chance that very few of them will ever engage. So really, you’re spending money to buy subscribers and then spending more money to send to those subscribers whose lead quality can’t be assessed and who, of those on your list, are least likely to ever open, click, or convert based on an email communication you’ve sent.

There goes your ROI.

Instead of focusing on list size, focus on those who have actively subscribed to your messages and metrics like open rates, click through rates, and deliverability. Deliverability ensures that your messages are landing in the inbox. Open rates show who is interested in your brand. And finally, click through rates show those who are truly engaged.

These metrics are much more insightful and powerful than your total number of sent messages.

But Honestly, How Bad Could it Get?

But I really want more subscribers … you moan. Here’s how bad it could get if you buy or rent those subscribers …

First, buying or renting a list puts your email reputation at risk. Why? The contents of these lists are often assembled as a result of questionable privacy policies and practices that don’t have the best interests of subscribers (or brands) in mind. In other words, you’re sending to a list of subscribers you don’t know and who you can’t be 100% sure knowingly opted-in to receive communications from you.

Second, these lists often contain a high number of stale and undeliverable addresses, resulting in high bounce rates on your end, which overtime can lead to big problems with deliverability. Those that don’t bounce can still harm your reputation by not engaging with your emails, which can be a flag for SPAM to many email service providers.

This, paired with the heightened risk for your messages to be marked as SPAM by those who don’t understand why they’re receiving an email from you in the first place, can further harm deliverability of your emails, and if left unchecked, lead to the blacklisting of your IP address.

The Right Way to Grow Your List

When it comes to email marketing, where should you be investing your dollars instead of a manufactured list? Towards methods that will organically grow your list and find new, interested subscribers. Here are a few ideas:

Add a lightbox to your website asking visitors to subscribe. Only ask once per visit, use a short form, and make sure it’s clear from the lightbox what a subscriber could get out of joining your email list. Read more tips here.

Promote your newsletter or email signup on Facebook. This can be done through either sponsored updates, boosted posts, or non-boosted posts on your feed. You can also pin a post featuring your email list sign-up at the top so it’s the first thing new visitors to your Facebook page see.

Add a Subscribe Now CTA on your Facebook Page. Many marketers don’t realize you can add a call to action right on your Facebook Page to “Sign Up” for your email list.

Use the Twitter Lead Generation card to generate new sign-ups. Social media advertisements traditional prove to have high engagement and generate a nice ROI. With the Twitter Lead Generation card, brands can collect new leads, including new email list subscribers in the form of a promoted post.

Ask users to opt-in to your newsletter during checkout. They’ve already invested in your brand, so why not ask them to opt-in and learn more about what your company has to offer? This can be especially helpful for e-commerce sites to generate repeat business.

Run a contest. It’s important to note that entry into a contest in itself doesn’t equate an opt-in. It simply means you can contact that user about that specific contest. However, if you run a contest where entry is contingent on signing up for your email address, those addresses can be added to your main list.

Include visible email sign-up forms or buttons on your website. Make sure an option to subscribe is visible no matter what page you’re on. This could include a “Subscribe Now” button in the header, footer or even the navigation bar. If you have a blog, you could include a small form on the side menu. Where ever it goes, make sure it’s readily visible.

Using these techniques may take slightly more time and resources than buying a list, but the benefits will include a list that has naturally grown and has high potential for engagement.

Resist the temptation of a quick win!

If it is too good to be true, then likely it is too good to be true.  Spend your resources on building your list legitimately, or soon you will be spending your valuable resources fighting to get your emails back into the inbox.