Thinking of Buying an Email List?

Thinking of Buying an Email List?
Dear Email Marketers,

You do know this is a bad idea, right? What? You don’t?

Maybe you’re new to the email marketing community. Or maybe you’ve been chatting with the Wrong Sort of Marketers.

And maybe you believe the promise that these leads specifically requested information just like yours.

News flash: they didn’t.

It’s time to set the story straight. Here’s what’s really going on.

Think about it – have you ever requested that your email address be spread far and wide so you could get a slammed with a ton of new, random email offers?

Yeah. Neither has anyone else. And yet list vendors have huge databases of names and email addresses. So the question is…

Where Do Those Addresses Come From?

Basically, any address left lying around the web can end up in those databases.

Vendors scrape them off old lists. They pick them off web sites. They collect contact lists from conferences. They advertise free products, then stockpile the information that respondents provide.

Which means the people you’re emailing may not be remotely interested in your topic. And even if the vendor did use legitimate subscription tactics, none of these people expect to hear from you.

Some of you are nodding – you see the problem.

Others are rolling their eyes, thinking,”Yes, but I need customers,” your fingers itching to toggle back over to that list supply site.

Well, keep those fingers steady for one more minute. The problem won’t just be your recipients’ – it’ll be yours, too.

If You Buy That List

Sending to a bulk list might not mean a one-way ticket to the spam house – the first time, at least. But it will at a minimum mean a lot of unpleasantness. Here’s why:

  1. The addresses on those lists get sold to all kinds of marketers. So they get all kinds of mail. So, they lodge all kinds of spam complaints. If ISPs like Gmail and Hotmail notice, they might put you on a blacklist, blocking your emails from all their users in the future.
  2. Because of the way these lists are compiled, many of the addresses you receive will be misspelled, abandoned or non-existent. When a big chunk of your emails goes to such addresses, ISPs, again, might notice. Again, they might block all future emails from you. List merchants know this. It’s such a sure thing, they even offer a refund of credit for those addresses up-front.
  3. And if you’re sending through an email service provider and you get blocked, other messages they send from the same IP address could also be blocked. So you’ll actually find that no reputable ESP will let you import a purchased list anyway.
  4. Finally, let’s talk sales. Aren’t they the ultimate purpose of your emails? Unprepared recipients aren’t likely to think, “Oh gosh, I was just hoping for yet another offer from a company I don’t know! Let me click over to their site and buy something!”
    If you were hoping to sell to this list, you might want to adjust your expectations.

So yes, perhaps you’ll have a very large list for a few minutes. But after the bounces, spam complaints and lack of response, you’re likely to find yourself worse off than when you started.

Plus, you’ll be associated with spam. Is that how you want to spend your marketing budget?

A Better Plan

Okay, you’re saying. I get your point. But I still need to make sales, and I need people to sell to.

We get that. So we’ve written up lots of ideas for building your list. They’re simple, they’re above-board, and they work.

In the words of our Import Specialist, Chase Kramer, “What’s really important isn’t sending to a bunch of people that aren’t all that interested and hoping for a few sales. It’s positioning yourself so that a month from now, a year from now, two years from now and beyond, the sales are coming to you.”

And beyond the sales, you’ll find you have something immeasurably valuable: a list of people who are truly interested in what you have to offer – your own village of customers.


Amanda & the AWeber Team



  1. Judy

    1/27/2011 2:39 pm

    I downloaded the guide, however, it led me to believe it would have tips on obtaining emails if not purchasing lists. This informaiton was not in the guide. Do you suggest cold calling businesses and hoping someone will give you the correct information?

  2. Maria Pavel

    1/27/2011 7:33 pm

    In my opinion, the best way to build an email list is to offer free SEO/marketing pdf courses through subscription with e-mail. This way you will get targeted people with real e-mail addresses. Try to attract people in different ways to subscribe to the newsletter, to receive free e-courses, to join a contest with the e-mail address, anything that can bring you some correct e-mail addresses, and even targeted people. Thanks for sharing this great article, I’ve learned a few useful things from it (the rest I knew).

  3. Yee Shun-Jian

    1/28/2011 1:14 am

    That’s so true… And I believe the point of this article is not only to discourage business owners from buying lists… It’s also to highlight the fact that the more targeted your list… The higher your response and conversion rates will be.

    So maybe it’s time to consider segmenting your lists so they are more targeted. I believe a lot of us have more general lists (myself included) that can be better targeted through getting subscribers in those list to opt in to more targeted lists…

    For example if you have a list targeting Internet marketers (pretty general), you may want to segment those subscribers into people who are interested in a) copywriting b) list building c) affiliate marketing etc. You get the picture =)

  4. Carly Hughes

    1/28/2011 4:02 am

    The list was really useful as we are rolling out an email marketing service now. I think its much better to build up an email database in the ways suggested to avoid bad publicity and negative responses.

  5. Amanda Gagnon

    1/28/2011 9:13 am

    Maria ~ Those can certainly be good techniques, as long as people understand you’ll be sending them emails in the future.

    Carly ~ Exactly!

    Yee ~ Once you’ve got the addresses, carefully reasoned segmenting is definitely important.

    Judy ~ I’m sorry; which guide? We’ve got a few posts that could help on list growth basics, optimizing your web form and taking advantage of smartphone technology to get readers.

  6. Heather Porter

    1/29/2011 12:57 am

    Well said. I have been doing a lot of research on this lately and the newest trend is actually grooming a small quality list, not only with email lists but also via social media followers.

    The “get rich quick success overnight” tactics are slowly dying down online as a generation of internet marketers has now come and gone. And the legends – the Frank Kerns, The James Shramkos and the Ryan Deisses of the world are leading the way by offering pure honest-to-goodness quality updates to clients who are hungry for what they have.

    And they have done this by offering a cool free thing via an initial opt-in form and then leading their client through a journey of value with emails sending tools, tips, freebies and well placed unassuming sales. Thank you!

  7. Chris Kent

    1/29/2011 5:02 pm

    Solo ads and ad swaps are two ways of effectively buying a list.

    I think it could be done well and ethically but would cost at least $1 per lead, if not more and most serious list builders would rather build their own list.

    I think that’s the real reason that you cannot buy a quality list. Because there is no opportunity to make money as a middleman.

  8. ES

    1/30/2011 4:48 am

    Can you come up with an article on email software/products to stay away from? Thanks!

  9. SWC

    1/30/2011 11:49 am

    Email lists to me only work on customers who are interested in products you sale. We all receive emails everyday from people with products or information which we are not interested in. I never read or open any of these emails with due to fear of a virus or something worse.

    Most of my time is spent really getting to know my customers and then ask them if they are interested in joining my email list. Or marketing my email subscription online. In both cases, it has been very successful.

    Many businesses have forgotten is good old customer service. Without our customers, we are nothing.

  10. Vee Sweeney

    1/30/2011 5:01 pm

    To me, the act of buying lists and then blasting out an email to everyone on that list is mass marketing and as the article notes, can be construed as spam as well.

    It might only take a few minutes to import a list and send a mass email but it’s not a good practice if the company wants conversions. Sure, it might get the name of the company or product out there (at least for a few seconds before the email owner deletes it or moves it to spam) but an email does not lead to sales.

    What leads to sales is the email recipient being interested and having a need for the product or service that is being offered. Without that interest and need it doesn’t even matter if the email owner opens the email and reads the whole thing…it will still end up deleted.

  11. Dennis Marshall

    1/31/2011 2:05 am

    Never thought about buying a list but this is a valid point. Its a shame that many don’t respect those “email privacy” stamps. I’d never sell my list and take email marketing very seriously.

  12. Jim Cockrum

    1/31/2011 2:34 am

    Remind me again…how do we use our affiliate link when sharing great articles like this one? Is that possible?

    I know this is a support request, but I thought I’d drop it here because this is the type of article that should be spread EVERYWHERE and some readers may not know that they can use an affiliate link when sharing your great content!

  13. Tom Kucan

    1/31/2011 2:29 pm

    I really liked this article. It showed the value in a list, what happens when you use the various forms, and demonstrated resourcefulness in defining and building your own list of highly targeted potential consumers of your products.

    Thanks again

  14. Justin Premick

    2/1/2011 1:52 pm


    You can add affiliate tracking to a link to any blog post or other page by adding a question mark and then your affiliate ID.

    For example, if your affiliate ID is 99, then you would change this URL:


  15. JNFerree

    2/2/2011 1:35 pm

    Before I knew better, I bought a list from a list broker who “claimed” the names/emails came from legit sources. I should have known better, but I sent a small test campaign and it didn’t work out as planned – at all. I will never use list brokers again and hope you guys won’t either.

    My question is:

    I have a client who has a list 10,000 that they want to import into Aweber or brand X (but) they are not 100% certain where all of these emails came from. (ie) some were from biz card, trade show etc. Since Aweber uses double opt-in process, what is the best way to get these emails into Aweber and still comply with best practices in email marketing?

  16. Amanda Gagnon

    2/3/2011 10:33 am

    J ~ In order to import their list to AWeber, they’d need to be able to explain all the places their subscribers came from. If the addresses were collected a long time ago, it might be a bad idea to start emailing them now.

    Give our Customer Solutions Team a call (877-293-2371) ~ they’ll be happy to discuss the specifics of the situation with you!

  17. Dan

    2/6/2011 8:04 pm

    Some very good valid points. Building a list of email subscribers I suppose can be done in a variety of ways. Building a list of targeted email subscribers can really only be done one way.

  18. John Klein

    11/4/2011 4:51 am

    There are thousands of very legitimate email lists on the market; but the emails must be sent out by the OWNERS of the list, or THEIR email service.

    In order to have your message sent, you first have to send it to the list owner and get their approval of your message. They will make sure that your message is suitable for their elist subscribers.

    For example, if you are offering golf instruciton or merchandise, you can rent a list a ACTIVE SUBSCRIBER TO GOLFING MAGAZINE who have given permission to the magazine to send golf-related email offers.

    Email lists available include:
    AMA – American Medical Assocation – Lists of doctors by specialty.
    Police Officers – from The Law Enforcement Magazine
    TIME Magazinze Active Subscribers – 6.1 million eamil addresses available. . . slectable by age, estimated income and other demographic factors.
    Sports and Entertainment Enthusiasts – from
    — and thousands more.

    Anyone using these email marketing services, could have their message link to a Landing Page with an OptIn Form to subscribe to the Users email list.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. It’s a thriving legitamate way to markiet and reach new people hoping that they will then sign up for YOUR mailing list.

    This is totally different than buying or renting an email list and trying to send it out yourselv of through your AWeber service.


  19. Ramidiu

    7/11/2012 6:20 am

    No, I never think about this. I used to prefer ans also suggest my all clients to put subscription form to get customers contact details.

  20. Eliseo

    11/13/2012 5:30 pm

    With only discuss this issue if it is legal or not, is acceptable to purchase lists, or be alguirn user has not given permission for me is unethical, shame.
    While accepting notice some commentators above that using purchased lists may be legal, I personally think that it is not or should be. Primarily respect to the user and the “enter a house” without permission and a lack of ethics and moral education.