Opt-In Lists Good, Purchased Lists Bad

Sharon Jennings

13 February 2013

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm the Pigs repeat a similar statement for most of the story, but by the end they have gotten so power-hungry they forget the underlying reason for their mantra and break their own rules.

A lot of email marketers set out with the best of intentions, and they know that they shouldn’t but when under pressure to hit targets, or just feeling a little cocky, they buy a list to be able to send an email out to hundreds, if not thousands of new contacts. What harm can it do…?

For anyone that can feel their resolve weakening, or for any start-ups who are lost on how to begin an email marketing campaign, here are a few reasons why you don’t want to touch a purchased list with a six-foot-barge-pole.

Two reasons why you shouldn’t use purchased lists


Emails to purchased lists just don’t perform as well as those sent to organically grown opt-in lists. If someone has signed up to your email, and given you permission to send to them, they will be far more interested in what you have to say. If the people on your list don’t have a clue who you are then the majority, if you’re lucky, will delete you or unsubscribe (you do have an unsubscribe option, don’t you?). What others will do, is mark you as Spam.

Now, you might not care that someone has marked your email as Spam, but if enough people do it on the same email provider, for example Hotmail, you will end up getting blocked and NONE of your future emails will reach any @Hotmail inboxes ever again.


Additionally, purchased lists are rarely good quality, they are likely to have a large number of old and out of date email addresses, which can also be caught by Spam Filters and cause your emails to be blocked in future.

Worst case scenario is that there will be a “Spam Trap” or “Honey Pot” email address in the list. These addresses are set up by ISPs or anti-spammers and are posted in such a way that the only way it can be found is by a “Spam-Bot”, which is an email address harvester used for creating lists. As no legitimate email could ever find its way to this address, anyone sending to it is going to get blacklisted. It can take months, even years to repair your sender reputation after getting caught in a honey trap.

How to get started with your own list

  • Have a sign-up option on your website, and have an automated email that goes out to the customer confirming their subscription.
  • Ask your customers and new prospects if they’d like to receive email communication from you whenever you speak to them. Maybe do a telephone campaign, which not only allows you to get opt-in, but also cleans up the contact details you have on file.
  • Have offers and/or competitions through your social channels that require email addresses (but make sure there’s an option to opt-out of further communication.
  • Encourage shares and retweets on social pages, opening you up to new audiences.
  • Put a subscription option at the bottom of your marketing emails, for when people forward onto friends.

It might not be as quick and easy as buying a list, but it will end up being more profitable. These people will have actively chosen to engage with you – they want to hear what you have to say. It may take a while to build up a substantial list, but it really is a case of quality over quantity.

Any reputable Email Service Provider will not allow you to send to purchased lists using their services, (and will close your account if they find that you have) for the simple reason that it could result in them getting blacklisted as well.  Anywhere that does allow you to use their services will most likely be already blacklisted and your deliverability will end up being zero anyway!  If in doubt, MailChimp hasa nice support article about what does and does not constitute a valid Opt-In List.

So, altogether now, “Opt-In Lists Good, Purchased Lists Bad. Opt-In Lists Good…”