FAQs: The Real Scoop on Buying Email Lists7 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
How many email lists have you been invited to purchase this week? Chances are high that it’s more than a handful. It’s a tempting offer, isn’t it? Maybe a little too tempting? Consider these FAQs focused on third-party data before you act on the offer that sounds too good to be true. (Spoiler alert: It probably is too good to be true).
But first, let’s refresh on the 3 main categories of data.
- There’s first-party data, AKA the gold standard! This is the data you own, such as customer and prospect lists.
- Second-party data is someone else’s first-party data that you use. For example, when Clinician’s Brief sends an email from your brand to our email list, you are leveraging our first-party data, making it your second-party data.
- Third-party data is data you buy, such as email lists.
Related Content: Want to dig into data? Here’s a deeper dive into the 3 main categories.
1. Is purchasing an email list illegal in the US?
Technically it is legal to buy and rent third-party email lists in the US… for now, at least. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2023 defines laws related to the purchasing of email lists. Here are the main requirements of the law:
- Don’t use false or misleading information in the from, to, reply to, and subject line.
- Mark your message as advertising.
- Include a physical address so recipients know where your business is located. The email footer works well.
- Provide recipients a way to opt out of email moving forward. Then–honor opt-outs and wait for them to opt-in again.
- Even if you rely on an agency for email marketing, your company is ultimately responsible for what they do on your behalf. This makes it imperative that your agency is handling email data in alignment with your corporate policies.
2. Buying email lists is cheap. Why would I pass that up?
It’s true that buying an email list may be less expensive, but unfortunately, the quality of these lists is typically pretty poor. And is it worth it to house them in your database? Another downside: Maintaining large quantities of unqualified, poor-quality leads in your database can introduce internal confusion and challenge the organization of leads and contact follow-up.
3. Isn’t sending more emails better?
Fortunately, the “spray and pray” of yesteryear has been replaced with a more targeted approach. Messages today should be highly relevant and customized to recipients based on their behavior and demographic data. Purchased email lists typically have missing or inaccurate data, leading to irrelevant messages.
4. Isn’t purchasing email lists the best way for me to spread the word about my product?
First impressions are everything. And that’s true for your product too! As consumers become increasingly annoyed with unsolicited emails, you risk making the wrong first impression. Even if your first touch with them is an educational piece of content with a lot of value, be wary. Remember that they still didn’t ask for it (no matter how great), and you risk losing consumer trust right out of the gate.
5. If I avoid spam words, my open rates won’t be impacted by purchased email lists—right?
Ehhh, not really. Here’s what you need to know about purchased lists and spam:
- Purchased lists get very poor open rates. And it’s no surprise–you’re emailing someone out of the blue. Purchased lists can yield less than 3% open rates (compared to industry standards of 19%-25%).
- Spam words aren’t a thing anymore. Your deliverability is based on email domain sending authority, and spamming will negatively impact it, which means purchased email lists can hurt your long-term deliverability health and your ability to reach real, actively engaged leads.
- Spamming puts your email IP in jeopardy of being blacklisted, and that would be the end of the road for your marketing programs.
6. Can email-sending services restrict my email sending based on the quality of my list?
Yes. If you’ve ever tried to upload a large list to Mailchimp, you’ve probably experienced this firsthand. Individual email-sending services, such as Mailchimp, have their own set of usage requirements. Mailchimp specifically prohibits the use of purchased, rented, or third-party email lists. If their algorithm detects a suspicious list, they’ll suspend your account. Then you have two options: Re-opt everyone in (and lose a significant portion of your mailable database in the process), or find a new platform (and spend time setting it up). You may love AI because it’s helping you write your blog posts faster, but it’s also helping to identify fishy email lists.
In addition, red flags like high bounce rates or spam complaints result in account restriction. Mailchimp is one of many companies to enact these rules, so be aware of the usage terms of your email-sending service before you decide to go with a purchased list.
Warning! If you’re using your personal email to send emails to purchased lists, pull the emergency brake. Individual email clients like Gmail and Outlook can immediately shut down your account if they suspect you are sending unwanted content. 😬😬😬 Bummer.
7. If I don’t buy email lists, how do I get opt-ins?
There are many ways to get email opt-ins and grow your database without purchasing third-party data. Here are a few ideas to start:
- Leverage inbound marketing by creating valuable content that prospects really want. This could be an e-book, webinar, checklist, etc. You can gate these pieces and request an email opt-in in exchange for access to the content.
- Host a contest or quiz and require an email address to participate.
- Deploy messages through social media and media partners who have legal opt-ins, such as Clinician’s Brief.
8. I know we are talking about email, but what about purchasing Instagram followers?
Don’t do it! There are countless reasons why it’s a bad idea. Here are just a few:
- It’s easy to spot! If you’re buying Instagram followers because you want to be an influencer, don’t do it. Anyone can tell if you bought your followers with an easy look at your engagement metrics. Low engagement rates are a dead giveaway for a purchased audience. Keep in mind influencers generally get an engagement rate between 1%-5%.
- It doesn’t get you the audience you want. If you’re trying to use your current followers—or lookalike audiences of your current followers—for advertising campaigns, you’ll be spending money to deploy your message to an irrelevant audience.
- It’s not reliable. You don’t own your followers’ data. They can leave at any time, and you have no recourse. Additionally, Instagram actively identifies and removes fake followers and their engagement activity.
- It’s not human! Purchased followers are often bots. Not good.
9. If someone previously unsubscribed and you email them again because you got their email from a purchased list, are you responsible for that send?
Yes. If someone previously opted out of your emails, you can’t email them again unless they give you permission. Without an explicit opt-in, it is a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act. If you do decide to purchase an email list, you’ll need to suppress past opt-outs to stay in compliance with domestic regulations.
10. What about Canada and Europe?
Canada and Europe have very strict email regulations; breaches are taken seriously, and fines can be hefty. The Canada Anti Spam Law and ePrivacy directive and GDPR regulations require that individuals provide consent to receive email. If you’re purchasing an email list, you’re not complying with these laws.
11. Why should I care about what’s happening in Canada and Europe?
There are a couple different reasons to pay attention to the regulations in Canada and Europe.
- They have very strict laws around email, so if you’re sending emails to Canada or any country in Europe, you need to make sure you’re in compliance.
- These strict international regulations could be an indicator of things to come in the US. Knowing the fate of many companies in Canada and Europe who relied on third-party data and lost their databases overnight, many companies in the US have stopped purchasing email lists. Today, in order to safeguard their databases and in anticipation of similar changes to domestic email privacy laws, marketers play it safe, only adding opt-ins to their email lists.
The Clinician’s Brief team is here to help you develop the right marketing strategy to support the growth of your database. Contact us for a brainstorm!
- Email Lists: What’s Recommended…and What’s Legal? Wisepops. March 17, 2023.
- Why You Should Never Buy an Email List. Brevo. January 26, 2022.
- Why Buying Email Lists Is Always a Bad Idea (And How to Build Yours for Free). Hubspot. November 9, 2021.
- CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business. Federal Trade Commission.
- A Guide to GDPR Data Privacy Requirements. GDPR.EDU.
- Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation. Government of Canada.
Connect with Us
Want to schedule a planning meeting? Complete the form below to connect with an account manager.