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The perils of purchasing lists

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Purchasing lists is an old, tired habit of marketers who are out of touch with their market. This practice is fading away as internet users are either providing a 'spam email address' so that those who buy these lists get an email address which is highly unmanaged and emails are rarely read, or are quickly unsubscribing or reporting emails as spam. While unsubscribing is a harmless activity, it ultimately hurts your brand. When a user sees an unsolicited email in their inbox, their first reaction is generally annoyance. Why? Because just like the obnoxious telemarketer who calls during dinner to see if you're happy with your current cable provider, these emails take up unnecessary virtual space and the recipient's valuable time. This annoyance is passed along to their network about 'how irritating Company X is because they keep spamming my inbox.'

A user reporting an email as spam is actually a harmful activity - harmful to your email sender score.

What is a sender score, you ask? It 'is an indication of the trustworthiness of an email sender's IP address and is used by email providers and filters to determine additional email filtering criteria. Just like a credit score is used by financial institutions to decide the terms of a loan, email providers use the Sender Score to determine the terms for filtering your emails' (source: When users are marking your emails as spam, they're flagging your email's sending IP as a potential spammer. When your score dips below a certain threshold, you are at a high risk of getting your emails filtered out of the general inbox and thus into spam or even quarantine.

So what activities can hurt my sender score?

  • Emails bouncing due to being send to an inactive or invalid email address.
  • Emails bouncing due to hitting a spam filter.
  • Recipients marking your emails as spam.

Purchased lists are full of bad email addresses; why waste the money to send to these recipients who will never even know your email was trying to make it into their inbox, or waste the money to just have your sender score go down and maintain a low engagement rate? Note that unsubscribing does not hurt your sender score, but it means you can no longer market to them via email.

Ok, so I won't purchase lists because I want to make sure my emails actually get to the inbox of those who want to receive my emails, but what happens if I continue to send emails to someone who unsubscribes? Violations of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 dictate that if you do not honor the request to no longer market to someone who has unsubscribed within 10 days of that unsubscribe request, you are liable for a maximum $16,000 fine! That's a lot of money for just one email. Is it worth it to continue emailing someone who has explicitly requested to not be marketed to? Only if you think 16K is chump change.

Instead of purchasing lists and going through the headache of buying these lists only to receive a high unsubscribe/bounce rate, a low engagement rate, and potentially getting your emails quickly dumped into junk, putting together an effective marketing plan that encourages your visitors to engage with you is a more effective way go gather good, valid email addresses. It is always a good practice to state in your privacy policy, and link to it on all landing pages containing a form, that you will never sell or share your visitors' email addresses. Gaining your visitors' trust allows both parties to engage in a mutually beneficial relationship: you get their contact information and other information that helps you best target your marketing to them and in return your visitors get the knowledge and resources they need to better their life, do their job, or whatever else brought them to your website.

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