November 2, 2023

Why You Should Never Buy an Email List

Reading time about 8 min

It might seem like a tempting shortcut to buy an email list, but growing your subscriber base in this way can harm your email marketing efforts. Here’s why this practice should be avoided.

A solid email list is the foundation of a successful email marketing strategy. Having a bunch of engaged subscribers with genuine interest in you and your product/service is one of your most valuable assets in digital marketing.

But if you’re a new business owner just starting out,  chances are your email contact list is not yet as large as you’d like it to be.

Lead generation can be slow. Suddenly, growing a list of emails from scratch seems like such a long and hard process. You start to lose patience.

Although purchasing email lists at this stage may be tempting, it can have a negative impact on your deliverability and put your brand reputation at risk. 

Here’s why you should never buy an email list and what to do instead.  

  1. You might break data protection laws
  2. You risk damaging your email sender reputation
  3. Your brand reputation might also suffer
  4. You’ll get poor results from your email marketing campaigns
  5. You won’t be able to use email marketing services

5 reasons you should never buy an email list

Despite how tempting it seems, buying an email marketing list is bad for your business. Here are a few issues when it comes to purchased lists.

1. You might break data protection laws

Buying an email list in itself is not illegal. However, sending unsolicited marketing messages to people without their explicit consent is illegal in many countries. This is determined by local laws where the email recipient lives (think GDPR and the CAN-SPAM act).

Even if no law exists preventing you from buying email lists, it’s still a bad practice. That’s because you can never be sure that the list broker obtained consent from the contacts they’re selling. This can turn off potential customers who didn’t give away their contact information.

Another concern with purchased lists is the method by which the addresses were collected. Most of the time, these addresses are harvested by bots who crawl the internet looking for them.

The best way to avoid this is to collect the email contacts yourself and get explicit consent. Usually, this means asking subscribers to check off a box agreeing to receive emails or other marketing messages.

Example of a GDPR-compliant signup form in Brevo

Example of a GDPR-compliant signup form in Brevo

2. You risk damaging your email sender reputation

Buying email lists can have a negative impact on your email sender reputation and delivery rate. Because when you buy an email list, you can’t be sure that the contacts are in your target audience. They’re often unfamiliar with your company, which makes them likelier to unsubscribe or flag you as a spammer. 

You also risk getting caught in spam traps. Spam traps are email addresses used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to identify and block senders who aren’t following list-building best practices.

Starting February 2024, Gmail plans to add even more anti-spam protections, including a spam rate threshold of 0.3%. Bulk senders will need to limit how often they’re marked as spam to stay below this threshold and reach the inbox of Gmail recipients.

So if you don’t protect your sender reputation, you’ll put your email marketing campaigns at risk. That means that even if your target recipients actually gave you their consent, your emails will reach the spam folder at best. This can be detrimental for your business.

Related: Deliverability 101: How do Email Spam Filters Work?

3. Your brand reputation might also suffer

Buying email lists can lead to negative brand awareness. Because nobody likes receiving unsolicited emails – even from sources they know and trust. Receiving marketing messages from an unknown company, or a newsletter that they haven’t signed up for, is even worse.

Many contacts on a purchased list may fall outside your target market and often don’t know who you are. By sending unsolicited emails, there’s a risk these contacts will associate your company and brand with spam.

For larger brands, buying email lists can have even more negative consequences when exposed. It takes a long time to build up a brand, and just one mistake to damage it.

4. You’ll get poor results from your email marketing campaigns

When emailing contacts from a purchased list, chances are you’re sending irrelevant, untailored content. This can lead to unsuccessful email marketing campaigns.

Relevance, on the other hand, is key to successful email marketing. The best way to stand out in the crowded inbox these days is to send value-added emails to your target audience..

 However, if you buy an email list, you have little information regarding these contacts  — from their preferences and buying habits, to whether they’re even potential customers. 

Your campaign metrics will suffer as a result. This means poor open rates, conversation rates,  bounce rates, or unsubscribe rates. 

Sharing targeted content can improve your email marketing campaign metrics. This usually involves segmenting your email list based on interests, demographics, and behavior.

Related: Email Segmentation: How to Segment Your Lists for Targeted Email Marketing

5. You won’t be able use email marketing services

The best email marketing platforms don’t allow the use of purchased lists on their servers. 

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, email platforms don’t want to enable spammers or promote spammy activity. Spammers are notorious for buying email lists. Legitimate email service providers don’t want to help spammers in any way, shape or form.

Purchased lists also threaten the email marketing provider’s shared IP addresses, which are essential for providing an optimal service to all its customers.

Read more:

Gmail’s new sender requirements

Email Authentication 101

Alternatives to buying email lists

Growing your own lists might take time but the return on investment is better in the long run. Engaging high-quality subscribers who are interested in your product is the only way to drive results with email. 

In other words, the best email address lists are not for sale. You can build one instead with these email list-buying alternatives:

  1. Practice consent-based email list building. Stick to legitimate lead generation practices. Create popup  signup forms on your website or share them on social media.
  2. Set up a double opt-in subscription process. This is when a new subscriber receives an email with a link to confirm their subscription. You’ll be able to  1) confirm the subscriber’s consent and 2) ensure the address is valid and in active use.
  3. Offer an incentive. People need a relevant call to action  to sign up for your emails. Try sharing a lead magnet to turn website visitors into subscribers, such as an ebook or downloadable templates. 
  4. Provide value in your emails so people actually open them and click through to your site. Use contact segmentation to create targeted email lists based on interests, needs, or preferences and send relevant content and offers to each.

Related: How to Create an Email Signup Form in 6 Easy Steps

Don’t buy an email list — build it with Brevo instead

Brevo’s approachable CRM suite gives you all the tools you need to build quality email lists. Create GDPR-compliant signup forms with our drag-and-drop builder. From there, it’s easy to segment your contact list for targeted outreach.

You also get unlimited contacts, so you can grow your email marketing list without any added costs.

Sign up for Brevo and start building your email list for free.

Build your email list with Brevo

Free plan includes all core email marketing features, 300 emails/day, unlimited contacts, 40+ templates, GDPR-compliant signup forms, customizable landing pages, and transactional emails.

Open my free Brevo account now >>

Ready to grow with Brevo?

Get the tools you need to reach your customers and grow your business.

Sign up free