Editor's note: We're republishing this Insiders post from November due to the recent news that former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown rented his email list to a vendor that spammed his email subscribers. Given the not-so-great attention this move received, we figured this post should serve as a reminder of the risks involved with using third-party lists.
When you're faced with aggressive sales targets and dwindling lead generation performance, purchasing an email contact list can seem like a tempting quick fix to gain new contacts and disseminate your message.
In reality, however, this practice could be the death of your credibility. And even if you find some viable leads on those lists,
With that said, read these eight reasons below as to why you may want to rethink buying lists in the future - and how growing your lists with inbound methods is the best (and safest) way to grow your lead gen and sales.
1) Those people don't want to hear from you.
What's worse than an unsolicited cold call that interrupts your day? Two words: Unsolicited email (also known as spam). Blasting out hundreds or thousands of emails to people who didn't opt in can have a damaging effect on your brand and, just as bad, lower your Sender Score dramatically and even get you blacklisted. The majority of contacts on purchased email lists likely have no idea who you are, what your company does, or how you got their contact information - not the best way to make a first impression.
List providers will stretch the truth by telling you that these contacts have "opted in" to receive emails, but this is also typically not the case. Some of the contacts might have opted in to the email list provider's terms of service, and by doing so, unknowingly signed up to receive promotional emails from any customer of the email service provider. Other email addresses that are for sale through list providers have been collected by automated web crawlers that scrape tens of thousands of websites searching for contact information. Shady, right?
Attempting to start a business relationship by spamming someone is an uphill battle, to say the least.
2) List data isn't as accurate as providers say it is.
Email list providers promise reliable contact information and high deliverability. Unfortunately, this rarely occurs. The reality is that purchased lists are chock-full of bad data and out-of-date information - and, sometimes, even email addresses that aren't in use anymore. That means if you're emailing these addresses, you could get flagged as a spammer and blacklisted.
Also, as soon as contact information is uploaded to an email list service, the data begins to become outdated - for instance, contacts get a new role within their organizations or leave their companies, or businesses close shop or get acquired.
Any inaccuracies in your data will cause the recipient to immediately question your credibility. For example, if a contact record in your email list has the name of a holding company instead of the public company name, it'll be blatantly obvious that you sent out a mass email. The same applies for any custom field that you use - there will be problems.
Don't waste your time and money chasing poor-quality contacts or, even worse, contacts that don't exist. Instead, invest in marketing activities that establish your organization as an industry thought leader, build trust with your website visitors, and then convert website visitors into opt-in email subscribers.
3) You could end up falsely personalizing your emails.
With most email services, you have the ability to use custom fields like first name, last name, job title, or company name in your email campaigns. In cases in which you have an established relationship with the email recipients, it's appropriate to use some level of email personalization - but this practice can be dangerous when you're working with a purchased list.
When you buy an email list, you haven't earned the right to know these people's contact information or established any sort of relationship or sense of trust. Also, you need to take into account that, again, bad data could lead to inaccurate personalization. For instance, if you email a person thinking they still work for a certain company when, in fact, they left that job.
Tailored one-to-one marketing can be an amazingly productive thing - just be careful that you're not doing it prematurely. Receiving an unsolicited email is like starting a conversation with a stranger on the bus. How would you react if that stranger knew your name, what you do for a living, and your email address? Needless to say, you would be a bit wary of that person.
4) You are likely violating ESPs' terms of service.
Any reputable email service provider (ESP) will clearly outline these two items in their terms of service:
- You won't send spam!
- You won't use purchased, rented, or third-party lists of email addresses.
Why would an ESP care about the ethics of your email activity? When you send mass emails through an ESP, the email is routed through a common IP address associated with the ESP. If too many of the ESPs' customers are sending poor-quality emails, it can have a damaging effect on all of that service provider's customers' email deliverability.
So, if your ESP uses a shared IP address, which many do, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch.
5) Sending out emails to rented or purchased lists reduces deliverability.
As we've been talking about, deliverability can be affected greatly when using third-party lists. Now consider that, for many businesses, email is the primary - sometimes only - channel of communication with their customers, members, and partners. So what happens if your email doesn't end up in your intended recipient's inbox? They don't receive their invoice, their password reset notification, or your latest, greatest product announcement.
Email primarily ends up in one of three places: successfully delivered to the inbox, routed to the junk or spam folder, or caught by an ESP gateway, preventing it from being delivered at all. If your email is being blocked by an ESP, you won't receive a bounce notification or error message.
Email deliverability can become a major problem, yet most organizations don't think about it until they have a crisis on their hands. Deliverability all comes down to sending reputation. ESPs monitor your email activity for a number of signals that contribute to your sending reputation. These signals include, but are not limited to:
- Sending relevant, properly formatted emails
- Patterns in the volume of email you are sending
- Number of times your emails are marked as junk or spam
- Email bounce rates
If you purchase an email list and begin sending an unusually high volume of email, there is a good chance your activity might raise some red flags. If your sudden increase in email volume isn't enough to alert your ESP to your suspicious email behavior, the high bounce rates and number of unsubscribes could be the nail in your coffin. If your email activity causes your ISP to flag your account, it can have seriously damaging effects on future email deliverability - in fact, in some cases, it could completely block your ability to communicate via email.
6) It's so easy that anyone can do it.
Though you likely know this already, I'll say it anyway: You're not the first marketer to purchase an email list. It's more than likely that some of your competitors have blasted out promotional material to the exact same contacts over and over. Because of this, these contacts have completely tuned out unsolicited email. Valuable business relationships start by establishing trust, not by spamming people.