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Buying a third-party email list: Costs, downsides and better alternatives

Topics
What does an email list cost and should you buy one?
The drawbacks and dangers of buying a third-party email list
4ways to build your email list organically for more engagement
How to keep your email list healthy for effective marketing campaigns
Final thoughts

There are various ways to obtain or grow an email list for your next marketing campaign and some are more effective than others.

If you’re tempted to buy a list from a third-party provider, you’ll need to consider the costs, pitfalls and other options before committing.

In this article, we’ll answer the question “how much does it cost to buy an email list?” and explore major drawbacks to help you reconsider your options.

We’ll also share more sustainable list-building alternatives to help you maximize the impact of your next email marketing campaign.


What does an email list cost and should you buy one?

Third-party email lists are collections of email addresses and other supporting details, like names and phone numbers, that brokers and data companies sell to businesses for direct marketing purposes.

Prices for email marketing lists depend on their type, source, size and quality (i.e. how targeted and well-maintained they are). They are usually based on the cost per thousand impressions, also known as the cost per mille (CPM).

For example, a list of 3,000 contacts priced at $300 CPM would cost you $900.

The average list prices reported online vary wildly, but according to both CostOwl and CostAide:

  • A typical consumer email list costs between $200 and $400 CPM

  • A typical business email list costs between $300 and $600 CPM

Business mailing lists are usually more expensive than consumer mailing lists as decision-makers buying on behalf of organizations are likely to spend more than individual customers.

Should you buy email lists to get new customers?

The idea of buying a ready-made email list can be appealing.

For what might seem like a small fee given email’s potential ROI ($36 for every $1 spent, according to Litmus research), you get your hands on the email addresses of hundreds or thousands of potential customers who are ready to receive your message.

The problem is, there’s no guarantee that they’re ready or interested in your newsletter or business.

You may even find that the addresses you get are invalid and your emails bounce back, increasing your bounce rate and damaging your sender reputation with email service providers (ESPs). We’ll talk more about how a poor sender reputation can stop emails from making it to your audience shortly.

It’s much more effective to build your list organically over time, so you know exactly who you’re talking to and how best to engage them.


The drawbacks and dangers of buying a third-party email list

Look at any email list broker’s website and you’ll see plenty of benefits, but for each one, there’s a drawback that goes unmentioned.

Here are some examples of how using third-party email lists can be counterproductive.

There’s no guarantee of a strong return

Whatever a broker-supplied email list costs, it’s unlikely to contain your ideal customers.

Even if a list is targeted using demographic data, the people on it haven’t shown interest in your brand or product, nor have they consented to receive marketing emails. That means, by contacting them, you’ll violate GDPR legislation and could be fined.

These non-consenting contacts are low-quality leads: they’re less likely to convert than people who agree to receive marketing from you (also known as giving opt-in consent).

This means you could spend $600 CPM or even more on a list, expecting great results, and still get very few (or no) conversions.

You could damage your sender reputation and hinder future campaigns

Contacts that haven’t consented to receive your marketing are also more likely to mark your emails as spam as the content is unlikely to be personalized or fully relevant to them.

If this happens too often (i.e. your spam rate increases), you’ll gain a reputation with ESPs for sending unwanted business emails. These ESPs will then automatically divert your messages (even solicited ones) to users’ junk folders, limiting your long-term reach.


You risk damaging your brand image

Sending non-personalized content without consent can give your audience a negative experience of your brand and is against the law in many countries. This can, in turn, cause people to unsubscribe and go elsewhere to buy.

In a Manifest survey of US consumers, almost a quarter said they unsubscribe from emails they didn’t sign up to receive and 38% opt out when the content they receive is irrelevant.

Another survey from Coveo found that 76% of consumers would abandon a brand completely after three or fewer bad experiences. Just over one-in-ten said they’d move on at the first instance.

In short, using third-party email lists comes with a serious risk of making brand-damaging first impressions.

You could be fined for violating email compliance laws

By emailing hundreds or even thousands of people without permission, you could break US and European legislation and risk being heavily fined.

The US CAN-SPAM Act gives email users the right to have businesses stop contacting them and outlines the penalties companies could incur if they don’t comply. It applies to all commercial emails, including those between businesses (B2B).

If you use a third-party email list to contact someone who had previously opted out of receiving your marketing, you’ll violate CAN-SPAM and could be fined up to $46,517 per email.

GDPR, which applies in the EU and UK, requires brands to obtain “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous” consent. While a mailing list broker may claim their contacts have opted in to receive emails from unspecified brands, there’s rarely a guarantee and you’re liable by being the sender.


4 ways to build your email list organically for more engagement

You’re more likely to get engagement and conversions from contacting 100 highly-targeted, consenting recipients than you are by sending a blast email to 100,000 people from a generic third-party list.

This is because when you know exactly who you’re talking to, you can provide relevant, engaging content.

Here are four ways to ensure you reach the right people with your email marketing strategy.

1. For safe, fast results: Rent a third-party email list

Part of the appeal of buying an email list is the speed at which you can reach a large number of people. Email list rental offers the same benefit without the risk of annoying your target audience or being fined.

It involves paying a third party an agreed amount to use their email list for a single blast or campaign (depending on the rental agreement).

People on this type of list will have opted in to receive messages from the providing brand’s partners but you’ll never actually own or see their details. Instead, the provider will send your brand’s content on your behalf.

Make sure you find a third party with a similar audience base to yours. For example, if you’re a SaaS provider, you could pay to send an email blast to the list of a company whose product integrates with yours.

A focus on short-term results makes email list rental ideal for:

  • Flash promotions

  • New product launches

  • Entering new markets

  • Reaching niche markets


2. To attract already-engaged prospects: Create high-value lead magnets

New subscribers need to know they’ll get value from your emails. Go beyond a promise by giving prospects an immediate example of how you’ll improve their lives.

A strong lead magnet with the right teasers and call to action (CTA) will compel website visitors and social media followers to give you their contact information.

With customer journey stages, website metrics and other relevant CRM data in mind, consider what type of resource your ideal subscribers would value.

It could be:

  • A piece of high-value content, like a report, ebook or “how-to” guide

  • A promotional email, like “sign up to get 10% off your first order”

  • A product trial or demonstration

  • An event invite

Whichever type of asset you deem most suitable for your audience, ensure it’s:

  1. Relevant. Why does this resource matter to your potential subscribers?

  2. Exclusive. Can they get the same or similar without giving up their details (e.g. on your website or elsewhere)?

  3. Immediately useful. Which of your audience’s immediate problems will this resource solve? If you only address a future issue, there’ll be no urgency to sign up and website visitors could forget you.

Here’s a sign-up form from the Pipedrive website. It’s embedded in an article on performance objectives, so we know a guide on sales performance measurement is relevant and useful to our readers. Notice the consent box (courteously unticked by default), a promise to send our best content and details of our privacy and unsubscribe policies for full transparency.


3. To re-engage an existing following: Embed sign-up links in your social media profiles

Tap into your existing following, who you know are already interested in your brand, by embedding a sign-up form, button or link on your social media profiles.

This will make it easy for users to subscribe to your newsletter for more targeted content or register for a product trial. Either way, you get their email address and consent for future contact.

CallHippo uses a sign-up link on its Facebook page to offer followers a free trial of its cloud telephony service.


While you can’t add sign-up buttons to profiles on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, you can include links to a landing page in posts and the website section of your bio. Use a shortened URL from a service like bit.ly to avoid distracting from your CTA.

4. To streamline the sign-up process: Capture data with QR codes

QR codes are machine-readable barcodes that, when scanned with compatible devices (typically smartphones), redirect users to online content.

Publish QR codes in places where your mobile audience will see them to provide a fast and convenient way for people to meet your brand, see what you offer and register for your mailing list.

When using QR codes to build your email list, be sure to:

  • Direct users to a mobile-friendly sign-up landing page where they can learn more about your newsletter and enter their details.

  • Use clear CTAs with your QR code (e.g. “scan here to learn more”) and on your destination page (e.g. “enter your email address to have our latest product news delivered to your inbox every month”).

  • Use a QR code generator that allows you to create dynamic QR codes. These allow you to update destination content and track performance so you can optimize your campaigns.


How to keep your email list healthy for effective marketing campaigns

How much are email lists worth to your business? That depends more on quality than quantity, but even organically built email lists naturally degrade over time as subscribers opt out, change email addresses and develop new needs.

As this happens, you might notice:

  • Low open rates

  • Low click-through rates

  • High unsubscribe rates

  • High bounce rates

This is why it’s important to practice good email hygiene and list management by:

  • Using targeted messaging and CTAs to get the right subscribers (i.e. those who are more likely to stay interested and open your emails). Segment your list using factors like demographic and buyer journey stage so you can personalize your message content.

  • Setting followers’ expectations early to minimize unsubscribes and spam complaints. Explain on your sign-up page and in your first message the types of content and frequency of emails the recipient should expect. Even better if you can give them a choice.

  • Cleaning your email list regularly by either re-engaging or, if that fails, removing inactive users. Look in your database or email marketing software for subscribers who haven’t opened your messages in six months and consider what type of offer or content could get them back on board.


Final thoughts

The immediacy of third-party email lists makes them tempting, but why reach out to someone else’s audience when you can engage your own?

By taking the time to build a high-quality email list of targeted, consenting recipients, you’re setting your business up to benefit from one of the most powerful, cost-effective digital marketing channels available.

Knowing your audience beyond names and email addresses allows you to send relevant content at the right times to increase engagement, conversion rates and revenue.

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