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How to Gain Subscribers Without Buying Email Lists

by Meghan Keaney Anderson  |  
February 28, 2013
  |  23,661 views

Buying email lists is evil. Don't be evil.

Few things are as antithetical to good inbound marketing as purchasing a list of strangers' email addresses and blasting them with your latest campaign. You may get a short-term win, but emailing to a purchased list can be detrimental in the long run.

Beyond that, it's bad practice in general and causes frustration for the recipients, who haven't opted in to hear from you.

There are also two significant business risks associated with emailing to a purchased list:

1. It will damage your sender score


A company's sender score, which is tracked by Return Path, rates the reputation of every outgoing mail server IP address on a scale of 0-100. A company's sender score is determined by an algorithm that takes into account the ratio of undeliverable emails and spam reports for a company's sends.

Purchased lists are naturally higher in hard bounces and spam reports, and they can wreak havoc on your sender score. If your sender score drops, it severely limits your ability to have your future emails—even good, non-spammy ones—end up in recipients' inboxes.

That is what one bad email list can do to your sender score.


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Meghan Keaney Anderson is a product marketing manager at HubSpot, a provider of inbound marketing software that includes lead nurturing, marketing automation, and email marketing tools.

Twitter: @meghkeaney
LinkedIn: Meghan Keaney Anderson

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  • by John H Thu Feb 28, 2013 via web

    There is a difference between buying an email list and sending it out cold through your own email server to people who don't know you and a sponsored email campaign where the list owner sends out an email on your behalf. I believe Marketingprofs does this with many of their sponsors correct? It also gives you implied endorsement from the list owner. The issue is reaching the right people and getting them to respond. If you have a blog with great content and nobody knows about it you still need to get people to visit the blog so they can engage with you, thus a sponsored email campaign can be a great alternative to buying a cold list and sending it out yourself.

  • by Tobias Schremmer Fri Mar 1, 2013 via web

    John, I was thinking this same thing when I read the article. Her points are valid and organic list growth is the ideal for sure. Yet a distinction between "purchasing a list of strangers' email addresses" and renting a 3rd party/outside list from a trusted partner/publisher should be made. And yes, MarketingProfs, like many publishers, does send vetted third party emails on behalf of advertising partners - just about everyone on our list sees those each week.

    There is also a distinction to be made between B2B and B2C. In the B2C world, deliverability concerns are magnified since the vast majority of a company's email database consists of email addresses from the big consumer ISP's (Yahoo, Gmail etc). In contrast, the email lists for B2B marketers are more dominated by corporate domains, which have their own spam-filtering rules, some of which are similar to consumer ISP's. I'm not a subject matter expert on deliverability but B2B v. B2C is another key distinction to consider when evaluating list growth options. There are reputable companies that "sell email data" - like NetProspex, ZoomInfo, Hoover's and Salesforce (Jigsaw) - that, when used intelligently, greatly help B2B marketers acquire valuable information, including email address, on their prospects.

  • by Mark M. Wed Mar 6, 2013 via web

    Thanks Meghan, great read. Content continues to be king.

  • by Sally Cummiford Sat Sep 14, 2013 via web

    I have never had much luck with buying an email list and sending it out cold.I really think those are very stale. I have had more luck with a sponsored email campaign where the owner sends out an email on my behalf. It does give you implied endorsement from the list owner. I do agree that an organic mail list would be ideal.

  • by T Samuel Mon Mar 17, 2014 via web

    This article is informative, and I can definitely see some validity. Where I'm at a loss is balancing ethics and business needs. If an email list is opt in and targeted, wouldn't it be more likely to be a useful tool? I'm having discussions with the VP of Marketing here, and we're grasping at straws.

  • by Colleen Wed May 14, 2014 via web

    Does anyone have a tool/platform recommendation to manage the actual subscribers? We use Marketo and are able to opt people in and out, but how do I design a way for leads to say, "I want X emails every X time frame regarding X topic."? Ideas welcome!

  • by Jimmy Mon Nov 16, 2015 via web

    For years we focused on the distribution and generating the traffic. The real secret is to have a powerful and compelling value proposition. Once you can prove that you can generate the leads, then you can automate things, like drip email follow-ups and lead scoring. Remember, you need to first think about "what's in it for them".

    You have to give prospects something interesting something to help them solve a problem. Think in terms of sales funnels and eventually building an automated system that produces leads and works for you.

  • by silvana delogu Thu Jun 16, 2016 via mobile

    please email me information.

  • by Terry Thu Apr 6, 2017 via web

    I'm the new guy on the block, what I want to do is build a strong private customer clientele mailing list how do I do it I'm a master barber and cut pretty good and have so for twenty years now.

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