Why You Should Never Buy an Email List (And Tips to Build Yours)

by Angela Chapa

Last updated on November 12th, 2018

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Are you tempted to buy an email list? It sounds easy, right? You just purchase email addresses and start sending people marketing emails. A shortcut, if you will.

But there’s always a problem with shortcuts. The time you save by not building your email list organically harms your bottom line, reputation, email efficacy, and other things that make your business strong.

You should never buy an email list. Period.

Yes, it might seem to save time in the short term, but it’s a dangerous road to put your business on. Your email list should be your most powerful marketing asset, and if you buy an email list, you put it in jeopardy.

Here’s Why You Should Never Buy an Email List

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Imagine that you’re sitting in front of your computer. You open up your email account and see a message from a brand you’ve never heard of. You might open it out of curiosity.

Or you might just delete it unread because you don’t trust it.

Either way, once you figure out that you never signed up to receive emails from that brand, you’ll be understandably irritated. Someone you don’t know has appropriated your email address to sell to you.

It’s kind of like door-to-door sales. Most businesses don’t use it anymore because it’s an irritant. People don’t like strangers ringing their doorbells. If you didn’t invite someone to your house, why would you open the door for them?

The same thing applies to email marketing. When you buy an email list, you’re knocking on the doors of consumers who didn’t ask you to drop by.

Let’s look at some of the specific reasons why you should never buy an email list.

You won’t get qualified contacts

Someone might have told you about the best places to buy email lists. You’re stoked. No more relying on people to find your website and sign up. No more creating free content.

The company might even say you can buy a targeted email list. In other words, they’ll mine their emails for people in your desired demographic. Sounds great.

However, you won’t get qualified contacts.

A qualified contact is someone who is familiar with your business and wants to learn more about what you do. He or she has the capacity and desire to buy from you, even if it isn’t until weeks or months down the line.

You can’t get that when you buy an email list, no matter how targeted. This is because those people don’t know your brand and are therefore not necessarily suitable as prospects.

Sure, you might get lucky with a few. That’s true in any numbers game. However, you’ll have a much stronger, healthier email list if you gather your contacts organically instead of buying them.

You’ll increase the chances of get marked as spam

Spam is — quite literally — a four-letter word. When your emails get marked as spam too often, email clients like Gmail and Yahoo! can start diverting all of your emails to recipients’ spam folders. If that happens, your open rate will plummet and many of your contacts won’t see your emails at all.

Nobody likes spam. It sends the message that you don’t care about consumers’ rights and desires and that all you care about is selling more product. You don’t want to become that business.

If you buy an email list, most people won’t recognize your name in their email inboxes. For many consumers, that means an instant trip to the spam folder.

Build your email list organically instead. Send emails only to people who actually want to hear what you have to say. They won’t spend you to spam because they’re interested in your brand voice.

Your contacts won’t be exclusive

When you buy an email list, you’re not purchasing exclusive rights to those emails. Companies that sell email lists make money by selling the same contacts over and over again, and the people on these lists often find themselves subjected to barrages of marketing messages.

In some cases, those contacts will close down their email accounts and open new ones just to cut down on the noise.

Additionally, some people have email addresses exclusively for marketing content. They don’t want to clog their personal or business accounts with things they don’t want. Your deliverability will take a huge hit when you buy an email list.

This isn’t just because of spam, either. You might have your emails sent to recipients’ promotions or updates folders, which aren’t opened as often as primary inboxes.

Additionally, if you’re buying these “secondary” email accounts that people use for marketing, your emails will likely get lost in the hundreds of other emails.

The engagement rate won’t be high

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Engagement matters when it comes to email marketing. The problem is that you already have the odds stacked against you.

First, you have to convince people to open your emails. That’s hurdle number one. If they delete your emails or send them to spam folders, you don’t even get a shot at engagement.

Next, you want recipients to act based on each email’s content, whether that’s clicking through to read a blog post, take advantage of a discount, or check out a new product. Clicks are true engagement.

When you buy an email list, you can be sure that engagement rates will plummet. Wouldn’t you rather each of your 500 subscribers read and click through on your emails than 2 percent of your 500,000 “subscribers”?

Keep in mind that, when you buy an email list, you’re not getting subscribers. You’re getting contact information. There’s a huge difference.

Bought email addresses might have a negative impact on brand awareness

People who receive unsolicited emails might not open those emails or click through based on the content, but they might remember your brand’s name. That’s dangerous. It can hurt brand awareness as well as reputation.

Think about the business around the corner that’s constantly clogging your mailbox with badly designed flyers. You might avoid that business precisely because of the unwanted intrusion.

Email marketing works the same way. Consumers who have a negative experience with your brand, such as receiving unwanted emails, might “blacklist” your business entirely because they don’t like your tactics.

How to Build a Valuable Email List

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You don’t have to buy an email list to market your business successfully. In fact, you shouldn’t. Taking a shortcut might seem like a sound business strategy at first, but it won’t benefit you in the long run.

The better strategy is to build a valuable email list from the ground up. Use your existing traffic to grow your email list. Convert visitors on amazing offers, keep them riveted with awesome emails, and clean your email list regularly so your deliverability remains high.

Here are the seven steps necessary to build a valuable email list the healthy way.

1. Identify your target audience

Start with the people you want to reach. If you’re marketing to college graduates between ages 22 and 40, you’ll want to make sure your brand messaging appeals to young up-and-comers.

Get as specific as possible. You can have multiple lead magnets on your website, each of which appeals to a target demographic. For instance, maybe you have products that span many psychographics. You’ll want a lead magnet for each one.

Once you know your target audience, create a separate email list for each one. The people who receive one set of marketing emails might not be engaged with the content you send to another target audience. Segmenting your list will help improve deliverability and engagement.

Creating buyer personas can make building an email list easier. Once you have your buyer personas, you can create an email marketing strategy for each. That way, your marketing materials remain cohesive throughout your brand.

2. Create unique offers and great content

Content remains king no matter how many people say that it’s dead. The content on your site can have a huge impact on whether you build a valuable email list, so make sure it’s highly targeted and useful.

Start with your blog or other educational content. Create articles, videos, podcasts, and other media that provides actionable tips or advice. Don’t repeat what your competitors are doing. Make your content bigger and better.

The same goes for your offers and lead magnets, which we’ll cover more in the next section. People won’t hand over their email addresses for free. They want something in return, whether it’s a free whitepaper, e-course, instructional video, or toolkit.

3. Build valuable lead magnets

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Each segment of your target audience deserves its own lead magnet and offer. The lead magnet is the valuable gift you’re offering for free, such as an e-book, while the offer is the way in which you phrase your headline and call to action.

For instance, let’s say you run a business that sells mattresses. Some of your customers might want memory foam, while others want coil mattresses. Some of your customers are getting ready for their first college apartments; others are elderly.

You need ways to appeal to all of those audiences. Create lead magnets about sleeping habits, sleeping positions, easing back pain while sleeping, and more. Target them to your buyer personas and create captivating offers.

Questions are a great way to appeal to curiosity:

  • What does your sleeping position say about you? Download this free illustrated guide to find out!
  • Waking up every morning with back pain? This video teaches you how to sleep pain-free.
  • Confused by the different types of mattresses? Check out our detailed consumer guide.

The bold questions are the headlines and the unbolded statements are the calls to action. Play with different wording and design until you get the right combinations.

4. Use other channels like social media and ads to help grow the email list

Your website isn’t the only way to grow your email list. Instead of buying an email list, use your social clout and paid ads to drive more signups.

Instead of directing people to a sales or landing page, send them to a page that invites them to sign up for your email list. You don’t have to buy subscribers. You can collect them by engaging with your audience.

Believe it or not, news spreads. If someone loves your email content, he or she might recommend you to someone else. The better your emails, the more signups you’ll get — and without spending money on a paid email list.

Yes, ads cost money, but the ROI can be incredible. In fact, email marketing outperforms most other methods of capturing and converting leads.

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Sure, SEO and ads still matter, but even if you’re spending money to generate more email subscriptions, you’ll come out ahead. Just make sure you’re clever and engaging when you target your followers or desired audience.

If you don’t have the cash to spend on ads, no sweat. Just use the organic methods we’ve talked about throughout this article to grow your email list. Don’t buy subscribers. Bring them to you with quality content.

5. Create attractive headlines

Attractive headlines employ unusual verbs and adjectives and make your promise clear. They speak directly to your target audience.

The more specific you get, the better.

Remember our mattress company example? You could play with lots of headlines to strike the right balance between engaging and informative.

  • Sleep should be restorative, not painful!
  • Your sleeping position might reveal your personality type!
  • When was the last time you caught some serious ZZZs?

You see what we mean. Play with words and keep your target market squarely in mind when crafting your headlines, whether you’re using a Hello Bar, a sidebar widget, or a signup form in the middle of a blog post.

6. Add a CTA button

CTAs are all about getting people to take action based on your headline and offer. You want consumers to feel compelled to click regardless of their position in the sales funnel.

A great way to do that is to make your CTA stick out. Don’t be afraid to go big and bold. A CTA button in a bright color that stands out from every other element on the page can produce massive engagement rates.

7. A/B test different buttons and copy

Now that you’ve created awesome content, identified your target audience, and settled on headlines and CTA copy, it’s time to test. You might have a great headline and a fantastic CTA, but you won’t know whether it’s perfect unless you run A/B tests.

In fact, you can make your website better instantly by using Crazy Egg’s A/B testing tools. Write two fantastic headlines, then put them against each other. Continue refining the language until it’s just right.

Do the same with your CTAs. Change the language, button color, button size, button position, and more. You might even want to play with font choice and hover effects.

If you’re not sure whether you need Crazy Egg and A/B testing, you can see the results for yourself. Sign up for a free trial and take Crazy Egg for a spin. Set up recordings, user behavior reports, and A/B tests to make sure you’re giving your visitors every reason to convert.

Conclusion

There is no reason to buy an email list. Not only is it a poor alternative to organic email list building, but it can also harm your brand, reduce email deliverability, and get your messages flagged as spam.

If you want to know more about how to improve your email marketing over the next year, check out this video from Neil Patel and Adam from Viewership on that very topic.

https://youtu.be/tlUeqiRw15g

As you can see, email marketing isn’t dead. It’s just as valuable to today’s businesses as it was 10 years ago.

Instead, follow the seven steps above to take your email marketing game to the next level. Focus on attracting traffic and converting prospects into leads. Your email marketing strategy will take it from there.

If you’ve already bought an email list, start scrubbing it. If necessary, remove all subscribers and start from scratch.

It’s the only way to protect your brand and continue delivering a fantastic experience for your prospects, leads, and customers.

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Angela Chapa

Angela is an ecommerce/online retail marketing expert with many years of ghost writing for the B2C tech space. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

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