Buying email lists is never a good idea. This is no longer the 1990’s, there’s now legislation in place to try and stop it, people are fed up with it, and they’re more savvy about reporting it. Although it may initially seem like a good idea, you may be setting yourself up for more heartache than it’s worth.
Is Sending Spam Legal?
Many people ask this question, and those thinking of buying email lists often ask ‘is buying email lists legal?’ The fact that these questions are asked should get alarm bells ringing. Yes, buying email lists is legal, and so is sending spam as long as the rather paltry requirements of CAN SPAM are met. These are:
1. Your email must include an opt-out link
2. You give a physical postal address
3. The email headers have not been forged
I Do All That, So What’s The Problem?
With increasing contention surrounding spam, buying email lists is more hassle than it’s worth. Although it’s possible to get targeted email lists, they’re still very ineffective – the only people who benefit from spam email lists are the people who sell them. There have been a few high-profile cases where the buying and using of email lists have caused untold grief for the company who sent them. Here’s the reasons why you should never buy an email list:
1. EMAIL ADDRESSES MAY HAVE BEEN HARVESTED
This is particularly true of the cheaper email lists which have been compiled by unscrupulous methods such as using bots to scour the web and gather up all email addresses that they come across. Safe to say that the owners of these addresses won’t have opted in.
2. LISTS ARE HIGHLY INEFFECTIVE
There are no quick fixes. If you want a highly relevant and effective list, build your own. It’s a slow process, but of a much higher-quality than you’ll be able to buy.
3. WHY WOULD A COMPANY SELL THEIR CONTACT LIST?
Think about it, if a company has gone to the trouble of creating a high-quality list, why would they then sell it as oppose to renting. (Renting is marketing slang where a company sends emails to their list on your behalf. You never see the email addresses.) Not to mention that the list you buy will have been bought by many other companies, all spamming the same people. Renting a list will al least mean that the owners have put some care and consideration into its compiling.
4. EVEN RENTING LISTS ISN’T EFFECTIVE
Marketing experts the world over tend to agree on this. Renting is expensive, and that money is better spent elsewhere. Somewhere where it’ll get you more for your money.
5. IT WILL REALLY ANNOY YOUR HOSTING PROVIDER
Large volumes of unsolicited mail will undoubtedly result in a large number of those mails bouncing back, either soft (where a message reaches the intended mail server, but is returned as the user ‘bounces’ it by flagging it as spam, the mailbox is full, not functioning or your message is too large) or hard (where the email address is invalid, or the recipient server has blacklisted your mail server), and this puts added strain on the mail server. Your hosting provider will have rules on the sending of bulk mail, and breaking those rules can result in their refusal to offer you hosting.
6. YOUR MAIL SERVER CAN GET BLACKLISTED
Tied in with point 5 about annoying your hosting provider, being blacklisted is a huge problem – blacklists are global and subscribed to by different ISPs, meaning that more and more servers will refuse mail from you.
7. REPUTABLE EMAIL MARKETING COMPANIES WON’T LET YOU USE PURCHASED LISTS
MailChimp is a common one. They know that purchased lists are not the way things should be done, and they don’t want anything to do with them as they’ll harm their own reputation.
“No purchased lists (no matter how expensive).” – MailChimp T&C’s
8. SENDING SPAM WILL TARNISH YOUR COMPANY’S IMAGE
…and your soul. Many consumers will lose respect instantly, with some people going as far as to vow to never deal with such a company.
9. BEWARE THE SPAM TRAPS AND HONEYPOTS
Such is the need to combat spam, that the numerous organisations that have appeared to combat the problem set ups traps to find those who spam, and those who create the email lists. These are email addresses that are created and hidden on web pages so that bots harvest them. When the email receives an email, it can only be from a spammer, or spam list. The sender is then blacklisted.
10. YOU’RE WASTING TIME AND MONEY
The money is an obvious one, but having to deal with all nonsense that comes about from using a bought list can take up a great deal of your valuable time – dealing with complaints from recipients, your ISP, ‘cleaning’ the list, and so on. By creating your own list, you put in the legwork now, but reap the benefits later. Better still, you haven’t annoyed anyone.
How Should It Be Done?
- Create your own lists by getting permission from customers and potential customers
- Offer a newsletter or another good reason to sign-up for a regular email. Such as coupons
- Don’t email them too often. Unless you have great, time-sensitive offers, once a fortnight is more than enough. People tend to unsubscribe after the third email unless they perceive that they’re receiving something useful
- Comply with CAN SPAM
- Give your mail recipients something useful. Give them a reason to read your mail, and not flag it as spam
- Use double opt-in – This means that not only have they agreed to receive email, but their email address is confirmed as live and correct
- Clean your list regularly. Make sure that you’re only sending to people who want it, and that there’s no dead addresses
- Test, test and test some more. Make sure that your email displays correctly in the major email programs and that they don’t break if people block images
- Consider using multiple email subscriptions so that people can choose which types of emails are relevant to them
Is It Legal To Buy Or Sell Email Lists?
Each country has their own laws, and the CAN SPAM act doesn’t actually forbid the selling or buying of email lists. This may be where a flaw in the CAN SPAM act lies; it doesn’t penalise the people who harvest these email addresses, though there is protection from this in the Data Protection Act (UK), and other countries will have their own laws. So unless everybody on those email lists have explicitly given permission for their details to be sold, the sellers and buyers are likely to be breaking the law.
Many companies who sell these lists describe them as ‘clean’. Doesn’t that mean that they’re inherently dirty?