Why Buying Email Lists Is Never A Good Idea . . . And Could Get You In Trouble

3 min read
Jan 21, 2022 4:51:26 PM
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Why Buying Email Lists Is Never A Good Idea . . . And Could Get You In Trouble
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If you’ve ever searched Google for “How to grow my contact list,” you’ve come across plenty of companies that are eager to sell you email addresses of people your company has never been in contact with. And while it may seem like this is a gift from the marketing gods and will certainly help you get emails to more people, they're really just selling you snake oil, and potentially, much worse.

Back in the early 2000s, the CAN-SPAM laws were first introduced, and the internet rejoiced. Who wants to crawl through an inbox of unsolicited emails from people you don’t know?  Written not just for bulk email sends, the law covers any digital correspondence a business makes. But many B2B businesses don't understand the law and may feel that they're not sending spam since they are emailing people with information from a legitimate business.  However, spam is considered any email that is sent without the recipient's permission. Including marketing emails from reputable companies. 

"It's not spam - I'm sending emails from a real company, not a scam."

In fact, according to HubSpot, an industry leader in inbound marketing, marketing emails make up 36% of all spam messagesNot only does it create distrust for your brand due to the reader possibly viewing the email as a potential scam/phishing attack. But it can also lead to your account being flagged by your email marketing platform (Constant Contact, HubSpot, MailChimp) and losing your ability to send emails entirely. Some platforms will even go so far as to instantly close your account the moment you upload a list they even suspect may have been purchased. Internet Service Providers also react adversely to spam. If they feel you are a spammer, they will discredit your email server’s reputation, which in turn destroys your email's deliverability so no one will even see the emails you're paying to have sent. 

How do the email marketing services and internet providers know an email list was purchased? Just like some companies make money from selling you these lists, other companies are there to protect people from this. They do this by intentionally leaving specific email addresses exposed around the web. When those emails are found on a send list, the company who left the email knows that this list has been purchased. These companies have thousands of data points their clients are marketing to. If they see problematic addresses across multiple accounts and you happen to upload a list with these contacts, your account will almost certainly be flagged and potentially closed.

“Sure, but the company selling lists claims to comply with spam laws”.

More often than not this is a bait and switch tactic. What they are selling you is data - what you do with that data is up to you. If you look hard enough, almost all of the “reputable” list dealers have fine print somewhere on their site explicitly stating you can not upload these contacts for marketing, even though they know people will do it anyway. Their business models rely on that.

Think how you would be if your email address was scraped your email address off the internet and sold to thousands of strangers every day who then flooded your inbox? That’s what is happening when you purchase content lists. 

For some people, that level of risk to reward may be worth it, but what happens if you were to be fined for a violation rather than just being blacklisted by your marketing platform or ISP? Granted, it is not common to be brought to court over spam complaints, but the possibility is there and could lead to your company paying millions of dollars in fines. In 2020 the FTC raised their fine for sending unsolicited emails from $16,000 to $43,280 per email, and more than one person may be held responsible. So that means if you send to a purchased list of 1000 contacts just once you are opening yourself up to $43,280,000 in potential fines. Is that unqualified email address you might not even get a response from that valuable? Probably not.

From paid social to organic search, discover new ways to grow your business without the risk of hand-slapping from the FTC.

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