The Three Problems with Buying an Email List

Three Problems with Buying an Email List-01

This post was written for AWeber by Christopher Riegger, an expert on list building and growth for small businesses. Check out his writing at Growth Fruit.

I know the feeling. You’ve got something of value to offer. Maybe it’s a new product that’s fresh from production and ready to be shipped. Or maybe you’ve finally decided to launch the consulting business you’ve always been thinking about. Regardless, you have a beautiful, problem-solving widget and you’re only lacking one small ingredient to catapult you to success…an audience.

You’ve talked to a few companies that swear up and down that if you buy an email list from them, you’ll acquire only bona fide, opt-in email addresses.

If you find yourself in this situation, there’s only one thing to do. DON’T BUY THE EMAIL LIST.

Purchasing an email list is one of the more damaging things you can do to your business and brand. Here are three reasons why.

Reason #1 – Low open and response rates will yield crappy results and hurt your reputation.

Let’s just be honest for a moment. Marketing a product or service online is (at least in part) a numbers game. You will (or at least should) always be thinking about your funnel. Let’s say the goal of you buying an email list is to drive clicks to your website so more people buy your widgets. Here’s what your funnel might look like: Emails Sent > Email Accepted (Didn’t Bounce) > Emails Opened > Emails Clicked > Purchases Made.

With every step of that funnel, you will lose people. For instance, if 30% of people open your email (a very healthy open rate), then you’ve just lost 70% of potential buyers in your funnel. Make sense?

The problem with buying an email list, is that the people you are sending to don’t know you at all. And because they didn’t choose to hear from you, your message is just plain “not relevant.”
The result is that your open rate will be terrible (probably around 5%) and your click rate, as a result, will suffer tremendously. Simply put – Buying an email list hurts your sales funnel.

In addition, the people who do see or open the email you send will automatically be skeptical about who you are and what you’re selling. Heck, selling is hard enough. Can you imagine selling to someone who is already programmed to not like you? Talk about getting off on the wrong foot!

Reason #2 -Reputable email marketing services won’t let you use purchased lists.

My friends over at AWeber put it best. Here’s what they have to say:

“Attracting subscribers is a deliberate process. The only thing you’re really buying when you buy an email list is a massive headache – you end up having to deal with the damage that a purchased email list does to your email deliverability and your reputation as someone doing business online.”

To clarify, reputable email marketing platforms like AWeber care a great deal about their deliverability (basically the percentage of mail they send that hits inboxes). It’s their livelihood. So they won’t take a customer that is sending to a purchased email list. Your only alternative will be to use a smaller, less reputable email marketing service that has poor deliverability. Remember that funnel I mentioned above? Yeah. It looks even worse now.

Reason #3 – You’re doing it wrong.

Successful businesses are built on strong brands. Just scan down this list of 2014 NPS leaders and you’ll see amazing brands like Apple, Amazon, USAA, Zappos, and Southwest. (Don’t know what NPS is? Just read this.)

So what are strong brands built on? Exceptional products that people love to use, relentless execution, and incredible customer service. That’s the formula. Offer a product or service that solves a real problem, build and deliver it with precision and quality, and look for every opportunity to delight your customer.

Buying an email list is doing things backwards. You’re basically just purchasing a list of would-be customers and trying to cram your own widgets down their throats. It’s just wrong.

Convincing someone to opt in to receiving emails from you means earning their trust, and the only way to do that is by solving their problems, providing value, and treating them with respect. That takes time and hustle. For more on that, check out this essay by Paul Graham on doing things that don’t scale. It’s fantastic.

So Now What?

So if you shouldn’t buy an email list, now what do you do? Is there no way to accelerate building an email list? Of course there is! While building your own, organic, opt-in email list takes time, you can use a number of tactics to accelerate those efforts. Check out this article to learn three strategies for building your email list. Happy sending!


  1. Desai

    2/9/2016 3:28 am

    Well I consider that buying an email list is now a good idea because of various problems like it will be surely untargeted list which will consume resources. Really nice post Brandon!

  2. dhanush

    2/13/2016 11:35 pm

    yes I agree low response rates will really hurt us
    but sometimes it makes us think that we need to do a lot more

  3. atakan

    2/20/2016 2:34 am

    The mailing list has recently done more harm than good.