Reasons Why You Should Never Buy an Email List [And Ways to Build One From Scratch]


What is a Purchased Email List?

A purchased (or shared) email list is any grouping of contact information obtained by a third party vendor or affiliate.

A simple Google search reveals plenty of tempting ads from organizations pitching seemingly legitimate lists that claim will help expand both your customer reach and profits.

After years of working with retailers and sending out massive amounts of targeted emails, we often get asked the question: “Should I buy an email list?”

The answer is simple: absolutely not, and we will detail the main reasons why.

Afterwards, we will break down what it takes to build a strong, reputable email list that will actually help bolster your brand and drive sales.

Why Buying an Email List is a Bad Idea

The List Quality is Uncertain

First off, the credibility of companies who sell email lists should always be put into question. They  can make bold, dishonest claims with language specifically geared to make their lists appear more viable than they actually are.

Do not believe words like:

  • “Clean”
  • “Verified”
  • “Real Time”
  • “Targeted”
  • “Opt-in”

There is a high probability that any list you choose to purchase with have loads of issues and inconsistencies right off the bat. These include:

  • Missing, incomplete, or recycled data
  • Out-of-date information
  • Illegally harvested addresses

Non-Exclusive Lists

Not only are email list contacts highly likely to be unqualified for marketing outreach, most are also non-exclusive.

This means that there are other companies out there blasting emails to lists that are identical to yours.

Think about it: What is stopping these companies from sharing the contents of your email lists with other businesses as well?

That means that (if the address is even qualified to begin with) you could be lumped into a pile of other brands sending unsolicited mail that they never asked for in the first place.

This is a surefire way to be labeled as SPAM, which leads directly to the next reason.


You Will Violate Anti-SPAM Laws

Sending unwanted, unwarranted emails to recipients who did not specifically opt in to your list directly violates prominent anti-spam laws like CAN-SPAM, GDPR, and the CCPA.

If you are found to have violated any of these laws, you will be subjected to substantial fines. For instance, organizations failing to comply with any of the act’s stipulations are subject to hefty penalties and/or fines.

Your Engagement Rate Will Suffer

Even if you are able to increase your email list by 10 or 15,000 names overnight, that does not automatically mean you will get more sales.

In fact, engagement/click-through/response rates can be far lower than average with a purchased list.

While average open rates should be between 15% and 25% for a healthy list, purchased lists can be far less – even lower than 5 percent.

Simply put, the odds of someone converting (let alone opening) an email from an unfamiliar brand is highly unlikely.

You Will Get In Trouble With Your Email Service Provider

Any legitimate, respectable Email Service Provider (ESPs) never lets you send emails to members of lists you’ve bought.

From a pure business standpoint, ESPs cannot meet their goals of high delivery rates and click-throughs if they have users sending unauthorized emails.

In turn, your account could be closed, you could be subject to fines, or even worse – you could be subjected to legal action.

You Can Damage Your Brand’s Reputation

Your online reputation is as critical as it is fragile. Buying email lists, barraging people with unwanted emails, and diminishing your open rates can not only hurt your brand awareness, but also your Internet Protocol (IP) reputation.

From there, it can take months, or even years, to regain your sender score and IP reputation.

Renting Email Lists

Renting email lists is also an unreliable way to reach more customers. While you can consult with a list provider and select segments of people to reach, you still do not technically own the list.

As a result, you cannot actually see the email addresses of the people you are sending to, making the entire process even more disingenuous.

There is No Such Thing as Buying an “Opt-In” Email List

When browsing rented or purchased lists, you might encounter suppliers who claim that their email list is “opt-in” – meaning that the people actually consented to receiving email messages from someone at some point.

However, it is critical to understand that this does not mean that they specifically chose to accept messages from your brand in particular. In such cases, there was usually a portion of their form that vaguely indicated they elected to receive emails from businesses other than the original company they registered with.

Again, if anyone on your list did not specifically indicate that they wished to accept messages from your brand, you cannot actually consider them your own subscribers.

How to Build a Strong, Reputable Email List

Target and Form an Audience with Useful, Engaging Content

The best way to draw prospects into your business is to carefully target exactly what types of customers you wish to acquire and entice them with strong, valuable content.

Content that is practical, relevant, unique, and shareable helps foster  genuine relationships with people. If readers enjoy following and ingesting your content, they are much more likely to trust you.

Therefore, they are far less likely to have any issue with sharing their personal contact information with you and subscribing to your email list.

Create a Lead Magnet

A lead magnet is a stimulus, or motivating factor that you offer prospects in exchange for their email address.

These can include gated, exclusive pieces of content like webinars, eBooks, videos, case studies, and eBooks. The more varied the content, the greater the chance that you will draw in a wider range of customer segments.

For instance, this blog has multiple forms of lead magnets in which you can exchange your email address for other, more in-depth content that you could not access otherwise.

Place Multiple, Highly Visible Opt-In Forms on Your Website

Give prospects plenty of standout, enticing ways to fill out opt-in forms on your website. Obviously, don’t overwhelm them, and make sure you strike the proper balance.

Even if someone would potentially like to subscribe to your brand’s messaging, they can’t do it if they can’t see it!

A/B Test Different CTA Buttons and Creatives

Your CTA is the last hook that drives your customers to subscribe, so it is well worth the time and effort to craft one that works best.

In this case, no detail is too small to test, and even seemingly insignificant shifts can generate much different results.

Many companies test the size, shape, color, wording, and placement of their CTA buttons.

Here are just a few examples:

Convert Your Social Media Following Into Email Subscribers

People who follow you on social media are already more likely to subscribe via email than others. Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity to reach that audience more directly by incorporating sign-up forms (complete with incentives and special offers) on your social media pages.

Use a Reputable Email Service Provider (ESP)

If you are not sending messages through a dedicated IP and sending large volumes of email, you are probably sharing your IP with multiple other senders.

On Shared IPs, if one sender gets banned or has a low sender score, this impacts every other sender. Therefore, reputable, Dedicated ESPs prohibit email campaigns designed for purchased email lists.


There is no reason whatsoever to buy an email list. Not only is it a poor, unsustainable alternative to organic email list building, it can harm your brand, reduce email deliverability, damage your sender score, and have many of your messages marked as SPAM.

In email marketing, the goal should always be quality over quantity. While it may take more time to build a true, wholesome list, the effort is more than worth it. You can rest easy knowing that each email you send is going to a qualified buyer who actively chose to receive messages from you.

This is the path to true marketing success and building a strong, dedicated, loyal following of Most Valuable Buyers (MVBs) – the ones who both engage with and purchase from your brand consistently, more often than the rest.

The end result is optimal engagement and conversions, without any of the negative impacts of buying lists.