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For most email marketers, list growth is always top of mind, particularly given the amazing ROI that we see from this channel.

As the medium scales extremely well, the temptation to expand your list through list purchase is often impossible to ignore. That said, email best practices have long directed marketers away from this tactic.

So what’s the truth of the matter?  Why do best practices contradict a legal and potentially lucrative practice? Is it merely superstition between your marketing program and additional revenue?

Let’s walk through the very real-world impact of list purchase and discuss what makes this such a controversial topic within the industry.

The case for list purchase


Let’s be honest, selling lists would not have existed this long if it did not yield monetary results.  While all lists and list vendors are not created equally, some marketers have seen success to their bottom line after purchasing additional recipients.

BUT…. there are also a large number of marketers who have not seen successful results after purchasing a list.  In fact, in cases where list quality is particularly problematic, this can result in a blacklisting which can have a significant and lasting impact on revenue.  While lists may vary in quality, the only way to truly assess the cleanliness of a list is after you’ve already hit the ‘launch’ button. Not ideal.


List Growth

Buying a list is very effective at growing a list. If quantity is your only goal, list purchase is very appealing.

BUT…. in virtually all cases, a purchased list is going to be less engaging than a list that is grown through direct interactions with your clients and prospects. Purchased lists carry a lower value too and in some cases, can actually pose a negative value.


Instant results

This tactic is fast to deploy and can be used at key times of the year to help boost revenue.

BUT…. as purchased lists carry a higher reputational risk, this method tends to ‘age’ very quickly and can become detrimental. Purchased lists are much more likely to bring spam traps. And as various anti-spam systems start to detect the combination of spam trap hits as well as user complaints, it is common to see the overall sender reputation diminish as sends to these populations continue.  This should be of particular concern for those clients using list purchase at times where revenue is absolutely critical.

The case against list purchase

Long term revenue

While some clients do see an initial revenue bump from a purchased list, in the long-term the audience is less sticky and has usually been added without appropriate permissions, targeting, or context.  Recipients in purchased lists are likely to show their positive value upfront with purchases/conversions occurring in the first few campaigns. After that, engagement drops off very quickly.  At that point, the net effect of adding an unknown number of spam traps, as well as users who are prone to complaining and a less active audience, pulls down sender reputation and usually results in deliverability issues at various networks.

This long term diminishment of deliverability/revenue is rarely tied back to aggressive acquisition techniques as the negative impact is only felt after an accumulation of problematic/unengaged addresses.


User Permission

It’s virtually impossible to ‘buy’ permission and it is especially unheard of from list purchasing vendors.  For a user to give permission to receive email, they should be making an informed choice and accepting mail from a particular sender about a product line.  Without this level of permission, users are much more prone to mark messages as spam or ignore them entirely.  As these are the primary drivers for many anti-spam systems, it is no wonder why list purchases can often lead to very problematic results.

In summary

As email is a medium where inbox owners (Google, Microsoft, etc) are very aggressively monitoring list quality and user engagement metrics, and as these same entities have specifically called out ‘purchased’ lists as something that they define as spam, sending to any purchased list carries an extremely high risk of deliverability problems.  While some of these risks can be mitigated, it is impossible to mitigate the risks of purchased lists entirely.  The value of a naturally cultivated list has a MUCH higher value and maintains that value overtime.