Purchasing data for the purposes of direct marketing is a very old practice, pre-dating digital marketing, companies bought and sold postal addresses and telephone numbers of contacts who could be sold on to interested parties for the purposes of cold contacting.
We’ve all received an abundance of cold contacts via email, telephone and through the post, nowadays it’s mainly via email. Each morning when we check our emails, there will be a significant number from companies who we’ve never heard of and/or have little interest in. These cold emails have become a real nuisance for all of us, in the digital world, these have been termed as spam.
Are they a legitimate means of marketing your products though? - do the positives outweigh the negatives? In this article, we are going to take a closer look at purchased databases of email addresses; how they are sourced, what are the risks of using them, what does the law say and do they work.
At this point, it’s probably worth pointing out that here at Email Blaster, we don’t allow purchased lists to be used to send out email marketing via our software. This does mean that this article will have a bias against using lists of this nature. Over the years though, we’ve seen thousands of purchased email databases, so hopefully, this does provide enough experience to write a balanced article based purely on experience and fact.
Purchased lists are sourced by List Brokers, there is a whole industry nowadays based around organisations trading both public and private data of individuals and companies. This trading is carried out by data houses who specialise in this area - they are called List Brokers.
This data could be obtained via a number of different sources. In this section, we’ll look at some of the common routes taken.
At the more reputable end of the market, data houses will contact the address owner directly and enquire if they have the correct information. They will have normally obtained a telephone number via the internet, they will then call and request further information such as trading address and email address.
It’s quite common to state that this information is for inclusion in a free directory of businesses. The end-user then assumes that it’s ok to provide this information as it may result in added exposure for their business. Typically they are not told by the data collector that their email address will then be added to a database that will be sold potentially hundreds of times for the purposes of cold email marketing.
It’s quite typical for list brokers to trade lists with other list brokers. As these brokers are always looking for more email data that they can sell on to their clients, buying lists from other brokers offers a quick and easy way to do this.
This means though that private data changes hands between brokers without the knowledge of the people whose email addresses are on these lists. Whilst there’s nothing illegal happening by doing that, I think most of us wouldn’t agree to have our email addresses traded between companies over the internet.
When these lists are routinely bought and sold by different companies, it also means that if you buy a list of these email addresses, the company you have bought it from may know very little about it. This means that the list could be very old and nothing is known about the qualification or opt-in of the email addresses contained within.
As these lists are traded between brokers, they can be massively over-sold, this means that the owners of the email addresses are often bombarded by emails promoting all manner of goods and services. Typically this means that these people aren’t receptive to email marketing as they are already totally saturated by marketing emails.
When you purchase an email list, it’s quite common to see an awful lot of generic email addresses within it. These could be sales@ contact@ customerservices@ or accounts@ for example. This is because these email addresses have been harvested directly from the contact pages of companies websites.
The email addresses that companies put on their contact page are harvested without their consent or knowledge. Typically these are addresses that are not intended to be used to receive email marketing. This means that those addresses are bombarded with unwanted sales emails - from senders using purchased lists. The knock on effect is that these companies need to employ very strict spam filters - meaning most marketing emails end up going into the junk filter.
In terms of do they work, it probably depends on how you define success. If you send out 10,000 emails at a cost of £100 but sell two products for say £200, then yes, technically that’s a success.
If you look at the bigger picture though, the conversion rate is tiny. You have to contact an awful lot of people before finding a very small number who may be interested in what you are selling. If 2 people out of 10k purchased - what about the other 9,998 people - how many of these will mark your email as spam, or complain to their service provider.
This ‘success’ is often at the cost of quite a bit of collateral damage - when people complain, your company name is very often added to the email service providers ‘blocked senders list (blacklist)’. This means that all future emails will be blocked.Try email marketing Free
When using purchased lists, they can be a total leap into the unknown. If your purchased lists contain thousands of email addresses then very little will be known about most if not all of them.
As data is generally sold on a count, these lists are typically stuffed full of old or duplicate data, purely to increase the count. More email addresses means a higher purchase price.
As the quality of these lists can be quite dubious they can cause quite a bit of damage to bother the sender (your company) and the service provider, this is why email software providers such as ourselves will not let people send out to purchased lists.
The main area of damage is the sender being blocked from a network (such as Gmail or Outlook) because of a high number of users marking the emails as spam. Every time a user receives an email they haven’t asked for, lots of them will mark it as spam. When people do this, these results are automatically filtered back to the email service provider
When GDPR was first launched, it stated that all contacts contained within your email list had to have opted in directly in or order to receive your email marketing. It also stated that they needed to have opted in via ‘positive opt-in’, this means that the subscriber would have to perform a positive action such as putting a tick in a box.
However, the DMA (data and marketing Association) successfully lobbied to have the restrictions of GDPR changed - so that data houses and list brokers could still continue to trade email databases legally.
This took the form of ‘Legitimate Interests’ - GDPR now has the inclusion that any business can be legally cold emailed if they have a legitimate interest in receiving your product. This very loose term of legitimate can be used to argue that anyone has an interest in receiving a whole host of cold emails. This, therefore, makes it perfectly legal for list brokers to continue to sell lists of cold business email addresses that can be bombarded with all manner of sales emails that they haven’t asked for.
Despite it being perfectly legal to send out email marketing to businesses who have not opted in (under the banner of Legitimate Interests), all major email marketing software suppliers will still prohibit the use of purchased lists.
As we’ve previously looked at, purchased lists are typically riddled with bad data, causing significant damage to both the sender and service provider. Most of us hate to have our inboxes bombarded with sales emails that we didn’t ask to receive.
Email marketing is one of the most effective methods of cultivating long term relationships, it’s great for building loyalty and brand awareness with new subscribers. If our inboxes are polluted by a barrage of emails that we didn’t ask for, then this means that we miss the emails that we did ask for.
Nowadays all email marketing software suppliers won’t let purchased lists be used for the main reasons that we’ve touched on:
It’s a question that often comes up, “if you can’t buy data, where can you get it from?”. Buying data does present what seems to be a quick fix to getting an email list. Successful email marketing has never been about quickly blitzing out huge campaigns to thousands of cold recipients though - it simply doesn’t work.
Building a database should be methodical and consistent, add a little each month that you’ve generated organically. You can do this by adding a good subscribe form to your website, the knack here is to offer something that people will want in return for joining. Also, make sure the form is highly prominent on your website - not buried in the footer or an internal page.
You can also use social media to prompt your followers & contacts to visit your website sign up form in decent numbers. Social media is a great platform to attract large numbers of visitors.
The other areas that lots of us overlook are the contact details of people who may be existing customers or people who may have enquired with you but never purchased. It’s often quite surprising how much of this type of data that we may already have but aren’t using.