Why purchasing email lists is a huge mistake (+ list-building tips)

The magic of email marketing is based on the premise that your subscriber likes what you have to offer and happily opts-in to join your mailing list. It’s hard work to attract those subscribers, but it’s also the reason why email marketing is the most effective marketing channel. 

One day, you’ll get an email or phone call from someone selling an email list. We’re not going to lie, purchasing an email list is VERY tempting. They’ll talk about the quality of the list and the ability to segment and target your perfect audience. The seller seems legit, so you make the purchase. Going from a few hundred email addresses in your database to 20,000 will feel really good. Until it doesn’t.

Eventually, your entire email marketing operation will fall to pieces. There are several reasons why buying an email list is known as the email marketer’s “kiss of death”. In this guide, we’ll tell you the truth about buying lists as well as some best practices for building a healthy, high-quality list. 

But first, we always like to set the groundwork by defining the terminology we’ll be using so we are clear.

Essential email definitions to add to your lexicon


The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a legal framework in the European Union for the collection and processing of people’s information. EU citizens can learn how their data is being used, submit complaints and request a company to delete all of their data.


(CAN-spam act) A law that sets the rules for writing and sending commercial emails such as marketing and promotional emails. It empowers recipients to unsubscribe and delivers tough penalties for violations.

What is email list buying?

Buying an email list is exactly how it sounds. A seller has a database of email addresses for different target markets, including job titles, industries, interests and many other segments. 

These vendors will claim to have accurate email addresses with amazing deliverability. While it will seem too good to be true, purchasing email lists is never a good idea.

Just remember that you are one of the thousands of people who the provider is trying to sell to. The lists are likely full of old email addresses that are inactive and result in larger bounce rates. 

In every case, these emails are from people who didn’t subscribe or opt-in to receive your emails. Sending them unsolicited emails is not only against the law, but most of the recipients will delete or unsubscribe anyway.

How does purchasing an email list work?

  • Buying email lists

    Email list vendors will sell you a group of email addresses that are yours to use forever. You can buy emails based on specific demographics or behavioral information such as purchasing habits or content consumption. The more targeted the emails, the higher the price. Another trick is to offer to ‘opt-in’ emails. Providers will tell you that all the people in the list opted-in. While this might be true, they definitely did not opt-in to your list! Don’t fall for this gimmick.

  • Renting an email list

    Another scheme email-list vendors have concocted is to lease out email addresses that you never see. You request your targeting criteria and trust the provider to send your email to this mystery list. While some of these vendors might seem legitimate or even well-known, this is not email marketing, but rather advertising. The subscribers have not asked to receive your email and you will most likely annoy them.

5 reasons you shouldn’t buy an email list

We hope we’ve been clear about the risks you face by buying email addresses, but just in case you are still tempted, we’ve listed five serious reasons for you to reconsider purchasing email lists.

  • 1

    Avoid buying emails because it’s illegal

    Let’s start with the most obvious and serious reason: It’s against the law to send people emails who didn’t give you consent!

    Under GDPR and the can-spam act, you must have explicit consent from your contacts to send them emails. It is a very clear law. And you will pay penalties for sending unsolicited emails, or even worse, some country’s anti-spam laws include jail time. Keep in mind, if your purchased email list includes people from other countries outside of your own, you’re subject to those laws.

  • 2

    Email marketing software tools won’t allow it

    Reputable email marketing tools will not tolerate users who buy email lists. Firstly, providers like MailerLite forbid list buying and consider it a violation of the service agreement.

    Secondly, the deliverability quality of your email marketing tools is tied to the quality of its users. Because users share IP addresses, one person’s mistake of using a bad list can hurt deliverability for the other users. If emails are ending up in the spam folder or ISPs like Gmail and Yahoo are flagging your emails, the entire group of users will suffer the consequences. You don’t want to be that person!

    To ensure people are following the rules, email tools will monitor user behavior, assess the quality of your email addresses and track the recipient engagement. If you use a bought list, your email service will find out eventually.

  • 3

    Unsolicited emails can ruin your brand reputation

    If you’ve read this far, we can assume you’re running a legitimate business and want to grow your list. We also know you’re not a spammer. You know you’re not a spammer. But when people get emails from you that they didn’t ask for, they’ll think you’re a spammer!

    When you send emails to people that didn’t give you permission, it’s spam. You might believe that your content is valuable or even relevant, but the truth is that people won’t recognize your sender name and will move your email to the spam folder. The best way to avoid spam filters is to only send emails that people permitted you to use.

    The last thing you want is to be perceived as a spammer! Do you want potential customers to find bad reviews from angry people who received unsolicited emails from you? It’s not a good look!

  • 4

    You’ll skew your email engagement metrics

    How do you know if your last email campaign was effective? The best way to track your campaign performance is to compare your metrics with previous campaigns sent to the same audience.

    Sending a campaign to a newly purchased email list will completely ruin the benchmarks you’ve already set to measure success. Open and click-through rates for an unsolicited email will be far lower than your usual campaign.

    If you mix your current list with email addresses that you just bought, your results will look horrible. Engagement will drop. How will you know if it was the content or the list? Are you willing to see your email campaign metrics tank?

    To ensure your campaigns deliver optimal engagement, you should periodically clean your email list with a tool like MailerCheck.
  • 5

    Other marketers are using the same purchased list

    Email list providers can’t make a living selling their email list once. They are going to try to sell those emails to as many people as possible. These salespeople are contacting hundreds and hundreds of people a day.

    Can you imagine the frustration and anger of the people on the other side of those email addresses? Chances are they are getting bombarded by unsolicited emails. Let’s just say they will not be in a happy mind space to receive your email.

    Your email will be one of many that never get opened. The recipient simply checks all of these spammy emails and moves them to the junk folder. Your investment in the email list you just purchased is lost. Your time investment in creating the email is lost. And your email marketing service is likely in the process of blocking your account.

    When it comes to building your email list, it never pays to pay! Instead, make up your mind that you will put in the time and work to create a subscriber list for the long-term. Here’s how.

Best practices: Building a high-quality email list 

The message is clear: Avoid buying email addresses. Now it’s time to shift our focus to doing it the right way.

Building your subscribers one email at a time will indeed take longer, but it’ll be so worth it. To get you started, we’ve included this guide to list-building as well as the top 5 places to find more subscribers.

Ultimate guide to email marketing: Email list building 

  • Embedded forms: These are the subscribe forms you can place on your website. It’s best to include them near your content or in the footer of every page of your site. Make it really easy for a website visitor to find.

  • Landing pages: Whenever you want to feature one special product or service, you can send people to a unique landing page that focuses on converting visitors with one single-minded offer. This can be a lead magnet (like an ebook download) or a special promotion.

  • Pop-ups: Believe it or not, pop-ups have become a more accepted tactic when executed properly. You can set pop-ups to appear at the right times and also to not show up after the visitor has already seen it once. By strategically placing pop-ups in the right places, you can generate great conversion rates and grab more email addresses without completely interrupting the user experience.

  • Social media: Your followers, who are constantly engaging with your social content, might not be on your email list. These people are the low hanging fruit that are highly likely to join your email list if you ask them. Create a lead generation campaign by adding landing page links or inserting subscribe forms within your social media pages. Email marketing and social media can be powerful when they work together

  • Your newsletters: Did you know that you can encourage your readers to forward your newsletters? It’s similar to word-of-mouth marketing, where your subscribers are recommending your content to their friends. Make it easy for them to forward the email with a clear call-to-action.

Email marketing works best with a high-quality list

The secret sauce of email marketing is that people want to hear from you. They gave you their permission! Almost every other type of marketing or advertising interrupts people in some way. It doesn’t matter how relevant or enticing the offer, the customer did not ask to see it. 

When you buy an email list, you lose the power of email. You become another annoying interruption that will hurt your reputation, get you kicked off your marketing tools and maybe cause trouble for you with the law.

Approach your email marketing like you approach your business—with integrity and determination. In the long run, you’ll be in a much better place.

Hi, It's Jonas from The Remote Company. You can usually find me working remotely from the French countryside while deep in email marketing thought. I hope this article helps you work smarter. Au revoir!