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5 Dangers of Buying an Email List in 2020 + Alternative Strategies

Sarah Turner

Email marketing is one of the oldest forms of web promotion, and it’s still one of the most effective. email campaigns receive an impressive 30% success rate – coming in just behind SEO (32%) and Content Marketing (30%)/ For those who put more effort into their marketing, email can be as much as 55% effective, if software/machine learning inspires the content.

Considering this, if you haven’t invested in e-mail marketing, then it’s time to start! (Check out some of the best email marketing solutions here!) Overlooking this essential channel could significantly harm the growth or your site. However, this is not an invitation to hop online and find the cheapest email list you can. So many issues arise when purchasing recipients, and it will probably hurt your campaign more than it helps.

Who Buys Email Lists?

5 Dangers of Buying an Email List in 2020 + Alternative Strategies

There are many reasons why a website owner might opt to buy an email list. Most focus on the fact that it’s time-saving, easy and promises to skip a vast amount of work! For certain types of businesses, this makes it an attractive option.

  • New Businesses. If you’re just starting out then building a list from scratch may seem like an overwhelming concept. Instead of dedicating the time to curating an organic recipient group, it seems quicker and easier to purchase one.
  • Businesses Experiencing an Unexpected Dip in Traffic. Unpredicted drops are a part-and-parcel of running a website. It can be incredibly frustrating to try and diagnose the problem and come up with a fix to make up ground. In this situation, buying an email list for an emergency promotion campaign becomes an attractive option.
  • Those Who Aren’t Seeing the Progress You Want. If you’re putting a lot of time into growing your email list, but your efforts aren’t proving fruitful, it can be understandably frustrating. In these situations, some webmasters may give up their efforts and purchase one instead.

Though most website owners can empathize with these situations, it doesn’t justify the method at all. Buying an email list has far more drawbacks than it does benefits.

Danger #1: It’s Breaking the Law

Data protection is a hot topic now, and considerable legislation has been introduced to protect global citizens from having their personal information shared and abused. Email lists available online automatically fall into this category, as you haven’t confirmed that the members are a) aware and b) consenting to share their details with others. It may be the case that, once upon a time, they did check a box that authorized their email to be shared with affiliates – but it’s not likely they’ll view your unsolicited message campaign as a legitimate use.
So, which laws precisely prohibit the sharing of contact lists in this way?


George Bush signed an act into law in 2003, which heavily dictates the use of data like email addresses. It has several sections, but the most relevant explicitly prohibits cold email marketing. Not only does it state that addresses cannot be bought or sold, but it also stipulates that a recipient must voluntarily opt into a campaign. Provisions do exist for the latter, but if you don’t curate the list yourself, you can’t confirm that these requirements were met. 


The General Data Protection Act set out by the EU in 2016 may also tie your hands if your bought email list includes European members. Overall, it was produced to allow web users to regain control of their data, including specifying where and how it’s used. Some parts of the act are irrelevant to email lists, but the ones that aren’t are definite red flags. The law states that users should be able to update their personal information easily, request you stop processing or delete it completely, and ask for details to be sent to them or a third party. If you’ve bought an email list, then the recipients are not even aware you possess their data, which immediately fails to comply with GDPR.

While some websites may continuously ignore these restrictions with no repercussions, the results if you do get caught aren’t worth risking. You will have to pay a hefty fine and receive sanctions that may hurt your business significantly.

Danger #2: It’ll Damage Your Brand Reputation

5 Dangers of Buying an Email List in 2020 + Alternative Strategies

Brand reputation matters. A 2013 study showed that ‘authenticity’ was one of the top qualities that attracted customers to a brand. Users want to trust the companies they visit before they invest their money in them. So acting in a way that could damage your brand reputation is a dangerous game.

No-one wants an unsolicited email. They’re annoying, repetitive and – more often than not – enjoy an instant, one-way trip to the trash folder. If you buy an extensive email list, then all you’ve achieved is framing your company as a spam brand. Not only will it reduce direct conversions, but it’s also likely to have a knock-on effect. People who receive spam often complain about the nuisance on social media or review platforms. As 61% of customers read reviews before making a purchase, you don’t want the majority of customer literature on your brand to be negative.

Using email lists will also decrease your customer retention rates. Consumers that come back to your site, again and again, are the main bulk of your profit margins. Figures state that a customer-retention-rate rise of just 5% can lead to a massive 25%-95% increase in company revenue. For every unsolicited email that causes annoyance, you’ve lost the possibility of a return customer.

Danger #3: It Will Harm Your Stats

Website metrics are incredibly important for accurately reviewing the success of your site. Unfortunately, buying email lists often shifts your stats, as there hasn’t been the same amount of thought put into curating the audience. Several metrics, which are essential for monitoring site progress, will be skewed considerably by just one bought email campaign:

  1. Bounce Rate. Not only will you onsite bounce rate increase – as recipients of the email may click through, but have no interest in browsing– a high email bounce rate also increases your spam score.
  2. Deliverability. All of the best email marketing services take note of repetitive, uninitiated, mail. Misusing lists can result in penalties and decrease the chance that the emails reach the desired inboxes.
  3. Engagement. So far, your engagement stats are based on a hard-earned audience, who you’ve encouraged to invest in your brand. Add in a list of a thousand people, who’ve never heard of you, and your overall engagement levels are bound to decrease
  4. As explained above, expecting the same engagement stats from an unsolicited email campaign is naïve. Spam emails are only cited to work 0.000008% of the time, so your overall conversion rate will decrease drastically.

Since the above-listed metrics are often used to prove the success of a business, it’s a fools-game to mess about with them.

Danger #4: It’s Not Guaranteed to Work

Just because an email list is for sale, even if it purports to target a specific niche, there’s no guarantee it can achieve these claims. In fact, it’s more likely that the opposite is true. A purchasable email list is not exclusive, so the addresses it contains have already been bought and spammed to shreds by other businesses. If it honestly had the value it claimed, then the owner wouldn’t be choosing to sell it. In reality, those recipients are already sick of endless promotion campaigns and may be less likely to engage than individuals you collect yourself.

Similarly, the list itself could be out of date. Industry expert Loren MacDonald stated that 25%-30% of email lists becomes invalid per year. Not only does this mean wasted time and a pointless email, but promoting to inactive accounts is also a surefire way to be flagged as spam.

Another barrier for purchased email lists is the increasing advice and warnings surrounding phishing threats. As web users are continuously told to be wary of unknown senders and links in emails, the amount of engagement with unsolicited emails is dropping significantly.

Danger #5: It Alerts Spam Filters

Spam filters are the make or break of email marketing campaigns. They’re the first challenge that, if you fail, could completely invalidate your efforts. Marketers go to endless extremes to create the perfect messages that won’t trigger these mechanisms. However, all these efforts could be in vain if you make the mistake of purchasing an email list.

When deciding whether to mark a message as spam, email clients monitor a variety of factors.

  • Blanket Penalties. Because email service providers often use shared IP addresses, they automatically ban the use of purchased lists. This is because, if one person is blacklisted, all other senders in the network will be penalized. Not only will your campaign be marked as spam, but you could also be blocked from the platform for good.
  • Decreased Inboxing. As unsolicited emails are unpopular, users will often manually mark them as spam. The more this happens, the higher the chance is that you can be blacklisted entirely from sending mail. This reason is why anonymous email lists are often seen a ‘high-risk recipients.’
  • Bounced Emails. As previously mentioned, a substantial amount of your purchased email list could include inactive accounts. These types of addresses are known as spam traps, as email clients monitor the mail sent to them. As the owner of unused accounts isn’t giving permission or instigating the messages, it’s a clear sign that your emails are spam – so email service providers will react accordingly.

There’s always a risk of being flagged as spam if you’re sending out mass emails. You aim to make this threat as small as possible, and buying an Email list will have the adverse effect.

Alternative Options

5 Dangers of Buying an Email List in 2020 + Alternative Strategies

If a purchased Email list isn’t the answer to quick and relevant leads, then what is? Unfortunately, there’s no instant solution for marketing success. Creating a genuinely receptive audience takes time; only those who are willing to invest the work see the results they desire. However, despite this fact, some tips and tricks exist that can potentially speed up the process.

The following will help you build your email list using any email marketing solution, increase engagement and make more profits than before!

1.      Appoint a Strategist

Most successful online businesses have a team dedicated to creating a high-quality marketing strategy. By assigning these efforts to specific staff members, you are free to invest your time elsewhere. If you have the time to focus your attention on these efforts entirely, they’re more likely to prove effective. There are many qualified digital strategists available, and hiring one could revolutionize your email marketing.

2.      Create a Marketing Funnel

If you don’t have the budget to hire more staff, then it is possible to create your own campaigns. A marketing funnel is a handy diagram that helps visualize a strategy for taking readers on a journey within your site, which eventually ends in conversion and brand loyalty. Once you have an appropriate structure in place, your only job is to create brand awareness that attracts leads to populate the top of the tunnel. Once achieved, your email list will grow of its own accord.

3.      Improve Organic Traffic

Creating awareness and interest for your site is the best way to collect beneficial leads. One potential method is through onsite and content SEO, which will help increase your Google ranking. As sites on the first page of Google receive 75% of clicks, it can revolutionize your visibility online. While keywords were once the primary focus for most SEO strategists, Google’s RankBrain release has changed the format. Now, high-quality, detailed content is best, alongside the creation of internal networks to group topics and guide potential customers around your site.

4.      Create User Incentive

Building a successful email list is done best by offering opt-in subscriptions. Choosing this avenue means that, when you send mail, the recipients have already actively expressed an interest – and will be more likely to engage. However, convincing them to subscribe is where the difficulty lies. Many sites create user incentive with exclusive offers for their subscribers. This could include previously unseen content, discounts or freebies throughout the year.

Don’t Get Caught Out by Quick Fixes

As tempting as it may be to buy an Email list, instead of investing the effort to create one from scratch, the drawbacks far outweigh any supposed benefits. Furthermore, it’s debatable whether they will produce results in any case. With so many legal restrictions and practical barriers, the likelihood of purchasing a relevant and receptive list is incredibly small.
If you don’t want to sacrifice the hard work you’ve put into your site, then it’s best to focus your efforts on growing your organic audience. At the end of the day, loyal customers are worth infinitely more than unverified email addresses.

Inside this Article
Who Buys Email Lists?
Danger #1: It’s Breaking the Law
Danger #2: It’ll Damage Your Brand Reputation
Danger #3: It Will Harm Your Stats
Danger #4: It’s Not Guaranteed to Work
Danger #5: It Alerts Spam Filters
Alternative Options
Don’t Get Caught Out by Quick Fixes
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