Buying Email Lists in 2022: Is It Worth It?

Purchasing email list

Email marketing’s average expected ROI is $36 for every $1 you spend on it, and it is the most direct and effective way of connecting with your leads, nurturing them, and turning them into customers. With this sort of statistics out there, buying email lists might seem like a great idea — that is, until you actually try it and find yourself facing the issues that such an approach brings.

In this article, we will talk about why purchasing email lists might not be the best choice, and what you can do instead to build lists of your own

What does purchasing email lists imply?

Buying an email list is different from building it yourself — a bought list is ready to use from the get-go. It may come as a file with email addresses, or it might look like access to the database where you can filter, form, and download the list of emails yourself. 

The main point, however, is, that the owners of the addresses inside did not agree to receive marketing messages specifically from you. This makes a huge difference in the world of GDPR, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and email services like Gmail, and the ongoing fight against spam.

How to buy email lists in 2022

A number of services are open about dealing with data like email addresses. Among them are UpLead, Hunter, and Lead Forensics. Such software can be a starting point if you wonder where to buy email lists.

The ways they work differ from one to another. Some specialize in selling emails, while others are more multipurpose tools. 

For example, UpLead claims to have a database that lets their users apply filters based on their audience’s characteristics. They could then download the resulting list and use it somewhere else.

Whereas Lead Forensics works by tracking your website’s visitors’ IP and then matching it against their database to find associated emails and phones. Although the tool can’t find exactly which individual browsed the website, it can detect their corporate IP and provide a company email. These emails may then be used for bulk email campaigns — which counts as email list purchasing. 

However, there are many people who want to know how to buy email lists for marketing in 2022, and much less those who are ready to work on cold outreach. These services are definitely not the only options though — you could also find a private vendor, make a deal with other businesses in your niche, or have someone scrape one for you from the internet.

Pro tip 

There is another way to use Lead Forensics — as a lead generation tool. Unlike buying email lists, this method is completely legal and might be quite effective — although it does take more work. 

This is how.

With a bit more research into the company via LinkedIn or their website, you’d find people who are likely to be decision-makers there. You could then reach out individually to them to introduce your business, using the company’s visit to your website as a pretext. 

This creates a better starting point than cold outreach, but it does not count as spam – because you are reaching out to specific people individually, in the company where someone showed interest in your business by browsing your website.

Is it even legal?

At this point, you might be wondering: “Is it legal to buy email lists”? The answer depends on what country your prospective contacts are from. 

The United States, Canada, and Europe each have specific laws that affect how businesses should handle people’s private data, including their emails. 

CAN-SPAM 

Commercial email handling in the US is regulated by the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Buying email contacts itself is not illegal, according to the document. 

What is prohibited is sending bulk unsolicited emails. And in the case of buying an email list, you are likely to do just that.

CCPA

In addition to the CAN-SPAM Act, CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), active since January 2020, demands that businesses comply with California residents’ requests to “access, delete, and opt-out of sharing or selling their information”.

Still, the USA privacy regulations are much looser than the EU’s, with their GDPR law. 

GDPR

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a data privacy law that went into effect in the European Union in 2016. It introduced a unified standard that handles data generated by users inside the EU. It also applies to foreign companies if they collect information about EU citizens. 

Email marketing was one of the things that got significantly impacted by it. GDPR gives users the right to agree to their data’s collection, understand how it is used, and request to delete it. In practice, it promoted double opt-ins, easy unsubscribing, and prohibited the “required” subscription that used to come along with a purchase in an online shop and other things.

Under the GDPR, companies can not send marketing emails without active, specific consent from the recipient. The GDPR stipulates that 

  1. a person either must specifically give consent to receive emails or 
  2. they should be an existing customer, in order for the organization to have the legal right to send marketing emails to them. 
  3. Also, there should be a valid email address available to people, so that they can unsubscribe at any time. 

Looking at these restrictions, buying email address lists meets neither the first nor the second condition when it comes to the EU’s area. The people on the list you bought never agreed to receive emails specifically from you. They also are not your existing customers. This is why purchased email lists go directly against both conditions of GDPR.

Under GDPR law, EU’s data protection authorities can impose fines of up to €20 million (roughly $20,372,000) or 4% of worldwide turnover for the preceding financial year – whichever is higher.

With the United States’ CAN-SPAM and CCPA, it might look like there is room for maneuver, but ultimately, you’d be playing a game of high risk and questionable return.

The following part will talk about what else (in addition to law) makes purchasing an email list a doubtful way of doing business.

Why you should avoid buying an email list

It might be tempting and time-saving in the short term. It’s not too expensive and looks like a quick way to get sales. However, there are quite a few problems with buying email lists.

The email addresses in the list may be old and inactive
According to Kinsta, the normal average unsubscribe rate ranges from 0.1% to 0.48%. People change companies and internet providers, forget passwords or just abandon their email addresses altogether and create new ones instead. 

Even when building your email database legitimately, this reason regularly robs you of some of your subscribers. This is why email marketers worth their salt constantly clean their lists and “hunt” for new subscribers. 

The purchased lists are likely to be full of old and invalid emails. 

The low quality of the emails in the lists
Bad quality lists all have these things in common:

  • Low open rates
  • Low click-through rates
  • High unsubscribe numbers
  • High bounce rates

All of that happens because people on a purchased or rented list don’t actually know you, they did not agree to receive marketing emails from you, and they do not expect to get them from you. 

The sellers of email lists may get them by parsing websites or social media like Instagram and LinkedIn. They also could have collected them properly with opt-in where people consented to receive marketing emails from third-party businesses. 

It leads to situations when people see an email that they don’t remember asking for which makes them want to mark it as spam or delete it right away. And this takes us to the next point.

You’ll harm your email deliverability and IP reputation
Email deliverability is a metric that refers to emails that landed in the inbox (i.e., all emails minus bounces and spam). 

Your IP reputation as a sender can be compared to a credit score. A good reputation means the email campaigns you send are delivered to your recipients’ inboxes, while a bad IP reputation may cause your emails to go to a spam folder instead of an inbox.

When buying email marketing lists, there is no way to confirm how often those email addresses were emailed, what sort of companies with what kind of offers emailed them, and whether the list was cleaned from inactive emails. 

Some of the emails there might be turned into spam traps or honeypots (both are methods used by organizations combating email spam). Many people will also mark your email as spam, worsening your IP reputation. You could get marked as a spammer by an email service as soon as you send the first campaign. 

You can’t use them with email marketing services
Reputable email marketing services like Selzy need to maintain a high email deliverability rate and good IP reputation to keep being chosen by their clients. They are under the same reputation risks as any other sender and have their policies in regard to spam.

Selzy’s anti spam policy

Opt-in email marketing: Alternative list-building methods to try out

If this got you thinking about how to actually build your own subscribers’ list, here are a few effective methods to lean on. Unlike buying targeted email lists, these methods will not violate a law, won’t harm your email deliverability and IP reputation, and won’t get you into hot waters.

Looking for methods to grow your subscribers’ pool? Check out how to build an email list on our blog.

Add an opt-in at the end of your blog posts
They’ve read till the end of the post, and then …what? Go back to search? Hope they’ll see another article on your blog and move there? 

Instead of leaving it up to chance, aim to convert your readers into subscribers by putting an opt-in at the end of your posts. It can be a newsletter subscription form, or a lead magnet – as long as it is relevant.

An opt-in at the end of your blog posts
Add an opt-in at the end of your blog posts. Like in the article you are reading right now

Turn your popular posts into lead magnets
The overall goal of a lead magnet is to entice and motivate people to sign up for the offer. And you can create them quickly by using your high-traffic blog posts. 

Depending on what the posts are about, you could try creating:

  • A comprehensive checklist
  • An infographic
  • A guide post could be made into a downloadable PDF file

If you have a series of posts around the same topic, you might try making it into an e-book.

Alternatively, you could make some of your most valuable posts available only through a subscription.

Backlinko uses gated content for some of the posts
Some of Backlinko's blog posts are locked. The visitors see the title and the intro, but the rest of it is only available after they enter their email address. Source: Backlinko

Add a subscription pop-up to all the pages with traffic 
Add a newsletter subscription pop-up that would appear after a visitor spent some time on your site. 

Wisepops, a marketing platform that specializes in popups, suggests looking at how long people spend on your site on average (you can get this data from Google Analytics) — and then time your pop-up to appear when 50% to 60% of that time has passed. E.g., if the average time on site is 3 minutes, then the popup might appear at the 1.5-minute mark. 

Subscription popup on the elementor blog
The slick and simple (just one field to fill) popup on the elementor blog appears shortly after the visitor comes. Source: Elementor

Run subscriber acquisition campaigns
The simplest form of a subscriber acquisition campaign looks like this:

  • Create an opt-in page.
  • Drive traffic to it by advertising on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, or all of them in parallel.

However, while this method would bring you some subscriptions, it does not have the best conversion rate from visitors to subscribers. There is a slightly more complex model that gives a higher conversion rate – to use lead magnets for your acquisition campaigns.

  • Create a lead magnet or convert some of your popular posts into actionable checklists, guides, or e-books.
  • Create a dedicated landing page for each lead magnet.
  • Make sure to set up detailed tracking on the landing page. Some channels like Facebook or Google have their own tracking, but it’s best not to rely solely on their data. Besides, all of that tracking needs to be set up, too, prior to running the campaigns. 
  • Run an advertising campaign via one or multiple social networks/Google Ads.

SaaS-based businesses use this method a lot to generate trial subscriptions. It works for many other types of businesses as well – it just comes down to finding the sweet spot between your expenses and the profits it brings you. 

Pitch your newsletter on social media
If you have an account with a lot of followers, it’s a great place to look for new subscribers. Pitch your newsletter to people that already know and follow you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or elsewhere. Getting them to subscribe is much easier than doing the same with complete strangers.

Pro tip 

Pitch the newsletter after or at the end of a post that packs value. If your business uses Instagram, check out our guide on how to get emails from Instagram followers.

Exploding Topics starts from a value post and then moves on to offer a subscription (swipe to see the second post):

Exploding Topics’ value post
Exploding Topics pitches its newsletter after showing the value
Exploding Topics, a software that spots trending and upcoming topics, uses a “value first — subscription later” approach to pitching its newsletter. Source: Backlinko

Gamify the user’s experience
Gamification in marketing is all about making a game out of the activity you’re trying to engage people in – in this case, getting them to share their email. Elements of a game make people more involved since it satisfies a human wish for reward. 

Here are some of the ways to gamify your email list building.

  • Discount wheel pop-ups. Spin the wheel and win a prize — this is the idea behind a wheel popup. You can choose to offer discounts, coupons, or a free gift per wheel spin. 
  • Contests. This works by running contests that require people to leave their email before they can participate.
  • Tests and quizzes. They are most effective when the person is free to take the test/quiz for free but needs to leave their email address to receive the results.
Wheel pop-up example
Source: Wisepops

Key thoughts

Buying email lists for marketing may seem like a great shortcut on the surface, but once you dig deeper, you’ll discover that there are legal, monetary, and business-related consequences. 

The list may have old, inactive email addresses, and spam traps that will mark you as a spammer in the eyes of ISPs and email services. Reputable email marketing platforms won’t allow you to use purchased email lists, and you may violate CAN-SPAM, CCPA, and GDPR which may cause you to be fined by authorities. 

These are all good reasons to choose an alternative — email list-building methods that rely on opt-ins and get proper consent from your audience:

  • Add an opt-in at the end of the posts.
  • Turn your popular posts into lead magnets.
  • Add a subscription popup to all the pages with traffic.
  • Create a lead magnet and a landing page for it and run a subscriber acquisition campaign.
  • Pitch your newsletter on social media.

Marketers and entrepreneurs alike struggle with their email lists, especially if they are just starting to dig into the matter. In this article, we’ve listed some of the top tips on how to build an email list. (Spoiler: at the end of the article you can download our huge and detailed Foolproof Guide To Email List Building, which turned out to be the most thorough guide you’ve ever seen).

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Have you ever tried using bought email lists? What was the result?

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