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The Worst Way to Grow your Email List — And What You Should Do Instead

Questionable car salesman sneaking up between cars with a SALE sign.

“Double your list overnight!”

“Automatically add 1,500 subscribers to your email list in a matter of minutes!”

“Tired of waiting for subscribers to come along?? We have just what you’ve been waiting for!”

Flashy taglines like these are great at offering the elusive promise of growing your email list in enormous ways, but they’re also promoting one of the quickest ways to turn your email marketing journey into an out of control dumpster fire —

Buying an email list.

Cue the dramatic “dun dun dunnnnnn….” sound effect here.

It can be extremely tempting to buy an email list as opposed to growing your list with new subscribers through more organic methods. Especially if you have a new product coming out or want to approach a new, potential advertiser — the sense of urgency to get as many subscribers as possible, in as little time as possible, is intense.

Who wouldn’t want to double their list overnight or add an extra 1,500 subscribers to their list? Or maybe buying a list seems like the quickest, shortest route to achieving your goals. Time is short, the stakes are high, and there are plenty of “services” out there to sell you a bona fide list of “quality” and “qualified” email addresses.

Gif Source: Tenor

Whatever your motivation may be, we understand the temptation, but this is one email marketing trend we will never encourage. There are legitimate reasons, even some legal with hefty fines, as to why buying an email list is the worst possible thing you could do for your email marketing.

If you’ve ever felt the allure of a sensational pitch pulling you to the dark side of email list selling, renting, or trading, you’ll want to pay close attention to the four reasons NOT to buy a list mentioned below.

And don’t worry, you’re not getting left out in the cold here. We’ll also fill you in on what you can do to grow your email list the right way. But first…

Four reasons buying an email list is bad news.

  1. General Data Protection Regulation a.k.a. GDPR

    The regulation released by the EU in 2016, GDPR is all about consent. Consent to be emailed, consent to gather information, consent for cookies. You must have a subscriber’s consent!

    With GDPR every single European subscriber on your list has to have given clear, explicit consent to be emailed by you. And you as a list owner have to be able to produce an audit trail showing that proof of consent. When you buy an email list, the people on that list have not given you their consent to be emailed.

    No matter how you try to frame it, or what checkboxes were included on the signup page, consent is not transferred with the sale.

    And you guessed it, this is the legal reason that comes along with hefty fines. Depending on how badly you break GDPR laws, fines can be up to 20 million euros, or in the case of an undertaking, up to 4% of total global turnover of the preceding fiscal year, whichever is higher (source).

    Don’t forget the very important CAN-SPAM and CASL acronyms. These laws also focus on anti-spam and bulk mailing, in the United States and Canada, respectively.

  2. You run the risk of tanking your deliverability.

    A lot of different factors go into deliverability, which is the likelihood of your emails making it to a subscriber’s mailbox. Things like your sending track record, your email service provider’s reputation, and the quality of mailing lists all impact the probability of successfully getting emails to your subscribers.

    When you buy — or rent, or borrow — an email list, you don’t know the quality of the list. It could be filled with old, outdated email addresses, or emails that can be found in internal spam checks and honeypots.

    What is a honeypot? A honeypot is a trap. They’re known bad email addresses that signal a list was not built organically or that the list owner did not follow best practices.

    When deliverability is a priority, like it is here at FeedBlitz, there are multiple internal checks on every import and every mailing list is checked in an ongoing process.

    And sophisticated ESPs, again, like FeedBlitz, can even detect when the same list has been imported to more than one account. Think of it like a plagiarism checker — if the same bad list pops up more than once, our system stops the process before the email reaches your inbox letting you know the import failed. List sellers don’t stop selling a list after the first purchase.

    Even if your ESP does not stop your import, there are still consequences. Services like Gmail track which IP addresses are sending to bad email addresses. Over time, your emails won’t make it to the legitimate subscribers, either.

  3. The good emails — the ones you want — aren’t for sale.

    Good emails are those who are going to open, click and share your mailings. And if you’re selling a product, you know this type of engagement leads to sales. Purchased lists usually contain a broad range of addresses in a general market. When you build your list, you want an audience tailored specifically to what you are selling.

    Old, unused addresses will bounce out of your list, cause a high unsubscribe rate, or worst of all, they may just sit on your list for months (or years!) and never open a single email, while costing you money. These addresses come on lists with taglines like “1,500 doctors to add to your list!” or “From Pediatricians to Oncologists — this list has you covered!” If you’re selling orthopedic shoe inserts, you don’t want to pay for access to an optometrist who will never prescribe your product.

    Good email owners guard their privacy and are often hesitant to submit their email address. It’s a privilege to have a list full of quality email addresses! They aren’t easily mined for bulk sale.

    Bad email addresses, well, they end up on spam trap lists right next to the honeypots.

  4. We, along with a majority of quality email service providers, don’t let you.

    This one doesn’t need an explanation. Purchased, rented, borrowed, or bartered email lists are not allowed. And if you try it here with FeedBlitz, we’ll find you. Thanks, but no thanks.

It’s all about quality, not quantity.

The allure of the quick-n-easy method of buying an email list feeds the mentality that more is better. The bigger your mailing list, the more people know about you or your product. But in reality, you’re casting a wide net to the masses with fingers crossed your fish might be in the pool.

You know quantity is not key to the success of your email marketing. It’s all about the quality and your bottom line. A small list filled with the right audience will get you closer to achieving your email marketing goals than a list of 25K random email addresses.

Start growing your email list the right way, with the right subscribers, with these suggestions:

  • Make sure your subscription process is on point.

    This starts by having the right subscription forms on your site, but it doesn’t stop there.

    Fine tune your subscription process to remind readers to check their emails right after they submit their address and customize the activation email to emphasize where to click.

  • Offer a clear and relevant incentive.

    Whether it is a free downloadable, checklist, coupon, discount, or webinar, offering an incentive (also known as a lead magnet) to join your email list, can increase the likelihood of a reader sharing their email address. To be effective, the offer should give access to an exclusive piece of information not readily available on your website or social media channels.

    For double or dual opt-in lists, the key to using a lead magnet effectively is to deliver the item only after the subscriber has confirmed their subscription. For single opt-in, you can deliver the incentive right away since confirmation is not necessary to join your list.

  • Write high value content. (Don’t waste the reader’s time.)

    Content written for your one reader, i.e. your ideal client persona, resonates on a more personal level than content written for the masses. It’s also more likely to be shared and have higher engagement, thus expanding your audience reach.

    Writing content that’s worth reading and sharing keeps your audience interested and engaged – the sweet spot to gain new email subscribers. Again, it’s a privilege to have someone join your email list, always treat it like so, and do your best not to waste their time.

  • Collaborate with other blogs, sites, or podcasts.

    Collaboration is one of the best, most relevant ways to expand your audience to similar trusting, like-minded readers. Guest posts, livestreams, podcast interviews and social media takeovers can all be productive forms of collaboration. And as a bonus, with a new audience, you can often recycle or repackage older content.

    Don’t know where to start? Do you know others in your field of expertise? Do you work with vendors or are you a supplier? Are you service provider whose services can benefit audiences of a related provider? These are questions to jumpstart ideas of who you can collaborate and partner with.

    For example, a nutritionist collaborating with a mindset coach, or a designer guest posting for a copywriter, and vice versa. These collaborations are speaking to similar branches of audiences, therefore expanding their own potential reach.

  • Leverage your entire network.

    Do all of your followers on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and any other social network know you have an email list?

    It’s simple, but we often forget to promote signing up to our email list on social channels. Having the signup link in your profile is great, but don’t leave it for your followers to find on their own. Try actively promoting email signups to your social audience. You’ve already caught their attention, now catch their email address.

Don’t forget to nurture and show love to your current subscribers.

Part of growing your list is keeping your current subscribers happy, reducing the number of unsubscribes. The turnover from new subscribers gained and current subscribers lost is known as your churn rate. It’s important to keep an eye on this number as you try new ways to grow your list. Your churn rate will tell you if you’re attracting the right audience and will keep you on track with your email marketing goals and focus.

Keep your subscribers happy by doing things such as

  • Setting clear expectations of what you’ll be sending.
  • Emailing consistently, ideally once a week.
  • Staying on brand with your content.
  • Always appreciating and acknowledging the privilege of having them as a subscriber.

To recap — buying an email list sounds like a great idea, but it’s the exact opposite. It’s quite possibly the worst thing you could do for your email marketing. Instead, fine-tune your subscription process, show love to your current subscribers, and get creative when it comes to promoting your list and collaborations. Stick with these and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy, engaged email list full of quality email addresses.

Ready to start growing your email list the right way? Learn more about our free trial and reach out to us on our Support Page to contact us via email, chat, or even over the phone. Live support is available Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM Eastern.