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Email Purchasing Guide: 7 Reasons Why It's a Bad Idea and How to Build Your List for Free

Dive into our Email Purchasing Guide to uncover 7 reasons why it's a risky move and explore effective, free strategies to build your list ethically
Written by
Harsh P
Published on
March 27, 2024

Introduction to Email Purchasing

Introduction to Email Purchasing

What are Email Lists

Email purchasing is a strategic approach used by businesses to quickly increase their email marketing campaign efforts and broaden their reach. It involves acquiring pre-compiled lists of email addresses from a third party. These lists are typically segmented based on various criteria, allowing companies to target their marketing messages more effectively.

An email list is a collection of email addresses gathered by businesses to send marketing materials, updates, and other communications. These lists are central to executing effective email marketing campaigns and building relationships with potential customers.

Types of Email Lists:

  • Organic Lists: Built over time through opt-ins on a business's website, these lists consist of users who have expressed direct interest in the brand or its offerings.
  • Purchased/Rented Lists: These are acquired from third parties. While they offer quick access to a broader audience, they come with risks related to consent and engagement.

Understanding Methods of Acquiring an Email List

Understanding Methods of Acquiring an Email List

Understanding the various methods of acquiring an email list is crucial for businesses looking to enhance their email marketing strategies.

While some methods focus on quick expansion, others emphasize organic growth and engagement. Here’s an in-depth look at these methods, including their advantages and potential drawbacks.

Purchasing Email Lists

Buying email lists involves acquiring a set of email addresses from a third party. These lists are often segmented based on demographics, interests, or behaviors.


  • Immediate expansion of your email audience.
  • Access to segments that might be difficult to reach organically in the short term.


  • Risks of non-compliance with email marketing laws like GDPR and CAN-SPAM.
  • Potentially low engagement rates, as recipients did not opt-in to receive emails from your business directly.
  • The quality of the list can vary, with risks of including outdated or irrelevant email addresses.

Renting Email Lists

This method allows businesses to send their marketing messages to a list owned by another party, without actually acquiring the list.


  • Access to a targeted audience while the list owner maintains responsibility for compliance and data quality.
  • No long-term commitment to the list, offering flexibility in marketing campaigns.


  • Limited control over the list and how often you can access it.
  • Costs can accumulate if renting lists becomes a recurring need.

Building an Organic List

Creating an email list from scratch by collecting emails from customers and prospects who have willingly opted in to receive communications from your business.


  • High level of engagement, as subscribers have shown direct interest in your brand.
  • Better compliance with legal standards, reducing the risk of penalties.
  • Ability to develop deeper relationships with your audience through personalized and relevant content.


  • Requires time and consistent effort to grow significantly.
  • May require investment in content creation and marketing tools to encourage sign-ups.

Why Buying Email Lists Is a Bad Idea

Why Buying Email Lists Is a Bad Idea

Buying email lists is widely considered a risky strategy for several compelling reasons:

1. Violating Consent Regulations Under GDPR

Purchasing email lists often leads directly to violating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a critical legal framework enacted to protect the privacy and personal data of individuals within the European Union.

GDPR mandates explicit consent for data processing activities, including email marketing.

Violating Consent Regulations Under GDPR
Violating Consent Regulations Under GDPR

Here’s why buying email lists conflicts with these regulations:

Lack of Direct Consent

When you buy an email list, the individuals on that list have not directly given your organization permission to contact them. Under GDPR, consent must be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous. Purchased lists rarely, if ever, meet these criteria.

Risk of Severe Penalties

Non-compliance with GDPR can result in substantial fines, up to €20 million or 4% of the company's global annual turnover, whichever is higher. The financial risk far outweighs any perceived benefit of quickly acquiring a large number of email addresses.

Damage to Brand Reputation

Beyond the financial penalties, violating GDPR damages your brand’s reputation. Consumers are increasingly aware of their privacy rights and are likely to view businesses that disregard these rights unfavorably.

2. Compatibility Issues with Email Service Providers

Utilizing bought email lists poses significant challenges when it comes to email marketing platforms. Reputable email service providers (ESPs) have strict policies against sending emails to purchased lists.

Here’s why these platforms restrict the use of bought email addresses:

Protecting Email Deliverability

ESPs maintain high standards to ensure their users enjoy optimal deliverability rates. Sending emails to purchased lists, which often contain outdated or incorrect addresses, increases the risk of bounces and spam complaints. Such activities can harm the sender's reputation and, by extension, the ESP's overall deliverability rates for all its users.

Upholding Reputation and Trust

ESPs strive to uphold their reputation as trusted platforms. Allowing users to send emails to purchased lists would associate them with spam-like practices, undermining their credibility in the industry.

Enforcing Anti-Spam Policies

Most ESPs have stringent anti-spam policies in place, aligning with legal requirements and best practices in email marketing. These policies are designed to protect both the sender and the recipients, ensuring that all communications are consensual. By forbidding the use of purchased lists, ESPs enforce these policies, ensuring a healthier email ecosystem.

3. Poor Quality of Email Lists for Sale and Marketing Messages

Poor Quality of Email Lists for Sale and Marketing Messages

The notion that high-quality, engaged email lists are available for purchase is fundamentally flawed.

Here’s why the concept of buying a "good" email list is a misconception:

Quality and Consent Issues

Truly engaged and interested email subscribers can't be bought because genuine engagement is rooted in consent and interest in the brand's offerings. Lists for sale often consist of generic addresses gathered without specific consent for resale or lack the segmentation necessary for effective targeting.

High Risk of Inactive or Fake Addresses

Many lists available for purchase are plagued with outdated, incorrect, or fake email addresses. This not only dilutes the effectiveness of marketing campaigns but also increases the risk of encountering spam traps, which can severely harm your sender reputation.

Diminished ROI

Given the low engagement rates and high bounce rates associated with purchased lists, the return on investment (ROI) of email campaigns using these lists is often disappointingly low. The resources spent on buying these lists and executing campaigns would be better invested in building and nurturing an organic list.

4. Lack of Personal Connection with Purchased or Rented Lists

Engaging potential customers through email marketing relies heavily on a foundation of trust and familiarity.

Here’s why a purchased or rented email list fails in this regard:

Absence of Brand Recognition

Recipients of emails from a purchased or rented list have not willingly interacted with your brand or opted into your communications. This absence of a prior relationship means that your emails are essentially cold calls, which are far less effective and can be perceived as intrusive or spam.

Low Engagement and High Unsubscribe Rates

Without a pre-existing interest in your brand, recipients from a purchased list are far more likely to ignore the emails, mark them as spam, or unsubscribe. This not only wastes your marketing efforts but can also damage your email deliverability and sender reputation over time.

Ethical Considerations and Customer Perception

Modern consumers value privacy and consent highly. Sending unsolicited emails can lead to negative perceptions of your brand, undermining trust and potentially deterring future engagement even with users who might have otherwise been interested in your products or services.

5. Damaging Email Deliverability and IP Reputation

Damaging Email Deliverability and IP Reputation
Damaging Email Deliverability and IP Reputation

Purchasing email lists significantly jeopardizes your email deliverability and the reputation of your IP address, two critical factors in the success of any effective marketing campaigns.

Here’s a deeper look into how bought lists cause harm:

Increased Bounce Rates

Email lists for sale often contain outdated or incorrect addresses, leading to high bounce rates. Frequent bounces alert Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that your mailing practices may be dubious, which can lower your sender score.

Encountering Spam Traps

Spam traps are email addresses specifically used to catch spammers. Bought lists may unknowingly include these traps. Sending emails to a spam trap address is a clear signal to email providers that you're engaging in spam behavior, severely damaging your IP reputation.

Reduced Sender Reputation

ISPs and Email Service Providers (ESPs) monitor how recipients interact with your emails. High rates of unopened emails, spam complaints, and unsubscribes, all common with purchased lists, signal that recipients don't value your emails. This negative feedback can lead to ISPs and ESPs blocking or limiting your emails, reducing overall deliverability.

6. Becoming a Source of Annoyance

Using bought email lists increases the likelihood of your emails being perceived as unsolicited or spam, annoying recipients.

This perception impacts your brand negatively in several ways:

Intrusive First Impression

First impressions matter. For many recipients on a purchased list, their first encounter with your brand is through an unsolicited email. This unwelcome introduction can foster negative associations with your brand, making it difficult to build a positive relationship in the future.

Eroding Brand Trust and Loyalty

Trust is the foundation of customer loyalty. Sending emails to individuals who haven't expressed interest in receiving them undermines trust from the outset. Recipients are more likely to view your brand as intrusive rather than valuable or relevant.

Lower Engagement Rates

An annoyed recipient is unlikely to engage with your content, leading to lower open and click-through rates. Over time, consistent low engagement can further impact email deliverability, as ISPs and ESPs use engagement metrics to assess the quality of your email campaigns.

7. Risk of Penalties from Your Email Service Provider (ESP)

Utilizing bought email lists not only undermines the quality and effectiveness of your email marketing efforts but also poses a significant risk of incurring penalties from your email service provider (ESP).

Risk of Penalties from Your Email Service Provider (ESP)
Risk of Penalties from Your Email Service Provider (ESP)

Here's an in-depth examination of this risk:

Violation of ESP Policies

Most reputable ESPs have strict policies against the use of purchased or rented email lists. These policies are in place to maintain high deliverability rates, protect the ESP’s reputation, and ensure compliance with anti-spam laws. By using a purchased list, you're likely violating these terms of service.

Potential Consequences:

  • Account Suspension: If your activities are found to violate your ESP's policies, your account may be temporarily suspended. This immediate halt not only disrupts ongoing campaigns but also demands time and resources to resolve.
  • Permanent Account Closure: In severe cases, particularly if the violation leads to legal issues or damages the ESP’s infrastructure, your account could be permanently closed. This would necessitate finding a new ESP and rebuilding your email marketing operations from scratch.
  • Financial Penalties: Some ESPs may impose financial penalties for violations of their terms of service, particularly if your actions have led to increased scrutiny or maintenance on their part.

Why ESPs Take Strict Action:

  • Maintaining Deliverability: ESPs work hard to maintain strong relationships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and email clients to ensure high deliverability for their users. Activities that threaten this relationship, like sending to purchased lists, prompt decisive action from ESPs.
  • Protecting All Users: A single user’s malpractice can affect the deliverability and reputation of all users on that ESP. To protect the interests of their entire user base, ESPs enforce these policies strictly.
  • Legal and Ethical Standards: ESPs must comply with global anti-spam laws and ethical standards within the industry. Enforcing policies against purchased lists is part of adhering to these standards.

How to Build Your Opt-In Email List For Free

How to Build Your Opt-In Email List For Free

Building your email list without incurring additional expenses is a strategic approach to grow your subscriber base organically, ensuring a high level of engagement and interest from your audience. Here are effective strategies to build your email list for free:

1. Creating Gated Assets to Encourage Email Sign-ups

Creating Gated Assets to Encourage Email Sign-ups
Creating Gated Assets to Encourage Email Sign-ups

Gated assets are an effective strategy for building your email list without incurring direct costs. This method involves offering valuable content or services that require users to provide their email addresses to access.

Here’s how you can leverage gated assets

  • Identify Valuable Content: Determine what type of content is most appealing to your target audience. This could be eBooks, white papers, industry reports, or exclusive video content. The key is to ensure that the content is sufficiently valuable to justify the exchange of an email address.
  • Implement Gating Mechanisms: Use forms on your website where visitors can submit their email addresses to gain access to the content. Ensure the process is straightforward and that the value of the content is clearly communicated.
  • Promote Your Gated Assets: Utilize your website, blog, social media channels, and any other marketing platforms at your disposal to promote these assets. Highlight the unique insights or benefits users will gain from accessing your content.
  • Follow Up: Once someone has accessed your gated asset, follow up with a welcome email that further engages them and introduces them to your brand. This initial engagement is crucial for building a relationship with new subscribers.

2. Conducting Lead Generation Campaigns

Lead generation campaigns are targeted efforts designed to collect potential customers' contact information, including email addresses.

Here’s how you can conduct these campaigns effectively:

  • Utilize Social Media Platforms: Platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter offer tools specifically designed for lead generation. These include lead generation ads that feature built-in forms pre-populated with users’ contact information, making it easy for them to sign up.
  • Host Webinars or Live Events: Webinars, live Q&As, and other online events are powerful tools for gathering email addresses. Registration for these events provides a natural opportunity for participants to provide their contact information.
  • Offer Free Demo: If your business offers a product or service, consider offering a free trial or demo in exchange for an email sign-up. This not only helps build your list but also introduces potential customers to your offering.
  • Create Interactive Online Tools: Interactive tools, quizzes, and assessments that offer personalized results or recommendations can be an excellent way to gather email addresses. Users receive value in the form of personalized advice or information, making them more willing to provide their contact details.

3. Utilize Social Media Platforms to Promote Your Gated Assets

Utilize Social Media Platforms to Promote Your Gated Assets

Utilizing social media platforms is a powerful and cost-effective strategy for promoting your gated assets and, in turn, building your email list.

Here’s how to maximize the impact of social media in your list-building efforts:

  • Strategic Sharing: Share links to your gated content across all your social media profiles. Tailor your message to fit the platform and audience, highlighting the value and exclusivity of the content being offered.
  • Engage and Interact: Don’t just post links; create engaging posts that spark conversation. Ask questions, use polls, and encourage comments to boost visibility and engagement. Higher engagement rates increase the likelihood that your posts will be seen by a broader audience.
  • Leverage Paid Advertising: Most social media platforms offer targeted advertising options that can be used to promote your gated assets to a specific audience. Use the targeting tools available to reach potential subscribers who match your ideal customer profile.
  • Collaborate with Influencers: Partner with influencers in your niche to share your gated content. Influencers can dramatically extend the reach of your message and lend credibility to your offer.

4. Providing Value Through Lead Magnets

Providing Value Through Lead Magnets

Lead magnets are incentives offered to potential subscribers in exchange for their email addresses. These magnets must provide tangible value to encourage sign-ups.

Here’s how to effectively use lead magnets to grow your email list:

  • Identify Your Audience’s Needs: The first step in creating an effective lead magnet is understanding what your target audience values. This could be solutions to common problems, answers to frequent questions, or access to exclusive information.
  • Create High-Quality Lead Magnets: Whether it’s an eBook, a discount code, a webinar, or a free tool, ensure your lead magnet is high-quality and relevant to your audience. The perceived value of your lead magnet directly impacts the likelihood of someone signing up.
  • Promote Your Lead Magnets Everywhere: Use every channel at your disposal to promote your lead magnets. This includes your website, blog, social media platforms, and any existing email communications. Make sure the call-to-action (CTA) is clear and compelling.
  • Segment and Personalize: As your list grows, segment it based on the lead magnet used to sign up. This allows for more personalized follow-up communications, increasing the engagement and conversion rates of your emails.

5. Optimizing Your Website for Email List Conversions

Optimizing Your Website for Email List Conversions
Optimizing Your Website for Email List Conversions

To effectively build your email list for free, optimizing your website to convert visitors into subscribers is crucial. This involves strategically placing sign-up forms and calls-to-action (CTAs) throughout your site, ensuring they capture attention and encourage action.

Here’s how to implement this strategy:

  • Strategic Placement of Opt-In Forms: Embed email sign-up forms in high-traffic areas of your website, such as the homepage, about page, and blog posts. The footer and header of your site are also prime locations because they appear on every page.
  • Use Pop-Ups and Slide-Ins Wisely: While they can be effective, it’s important to use pop-ups and slide-ins judiciously to avoid annoying visitors. Consider triggering these based on specific user behaviors, like intending to exit the page, to offer them value before they leave.
  • Offer Incentives Directly on Your Website: Similar to lead magnets, offer something of immediate value in exchange for email sign-ups directly on your website. This could be access to exclusive content, a discount code, or an entry into a giveaway.
  • A/B Testing: Regularly test different elements of your opt-in forms and CTAs, such as the wording, design, and placement. A/B testing helps identify what resonates best with your audience, optimizing conversion rates over time.

6. Engaging Through Community and Events to Grow Your Email List

Engaging Through Community and Events to Grow Your Email List

Building a community and hosting events are powerful ways to engage with your audience and encourage email list sign-ups.

Here’s how engaging through these channels can effectively grow your list:

  • Leverage Online Communities: Participate in or create online forums, Facebook groups, or LinkedIn groups related to your niche. Use these platforms to share valuable insights and content, including links to sign-up for your email list where relevant and permitted.
  • Host Webinars and Online Workshops: These events provide an opportunity to showcase your expertise and offer value to attendees. Require email registration to access the event, and make sure to highlight what participants will gain from attending.
  • Organize Contests and Giveaways: Use your website and social media platforms to host contests or giveaways that require email registration. This not only grows your list but also increases engagement and spreads awareness of your brand.
  • Create a Referral Program: Encourage your existing email subscribers to refer friends in exchange for incentives. This can be an effective way to organically grow your list, as people are more likely to sign up based on a recommendation from someone they trust.

7. Encouraging the Sharing of Your Gated Assets to Expand Your Email List

Leveraging the shareability of your gated assets can significantly amplify your reach and contribute to the growth of your email list organically. When your existing audience finds your content valuable, they're more likely to share it with their networks, introducing new potential subscribers to your brand.

Here's how to encourage sharing and utilize this approach to build your email list:

  • Make Sharing Easy and Intuitive: Include clear and accessible share buttons or links on both the landing page of your gated asset and within the asset itself, if possible. Whether it's a PDF download or access to a video, make sure users can easily share your content on social media, via email, or through other channels with just a couple of clicks.
  • Create High-Quality, Valuable Content: The more valuable and engaging your content is, the more likely it is to be shared. Invest time in understanding what your target audience finds helpful, interesting, or entertaining, and tailor your gated assets to meet these needs. High-quality content not only attracts new subscribers but also establishes your brand as an authority in your field.
  • Encourage Sharing with Calls to Action (CTAs): Within your gated content and on the landing page, include compelling CTAs that explicitly encourage readers to share the asset with their friends, colleagues, or social media followers. You can frame this as a way to provide value to others or as a request to support your brand.
  • Offer Incentives for Sharing: Consider providing an additional incentive for users to share your gated asset. This could be access to another piece of exclusive content, a discount code, or entry into a giveaway. Incentives can significantly increase the likelihood of your content being shared, thus expanding its reach.
  • Track and Analyze Shares: Utilize tracking tools and analytics to monitor how often your gated assets are being shared and through which channels. This data can provide insights into which types of content are most shareable and which platforms are most effective for your audience, allowing you to refine your strategy over time.

Strategies to Attract Website Visitors and Convert Them into Subscribers

To effectively attract website visitors and convert them into subscribers, a strategic approach that combines compelling content, seamless user experience, and targeted engagement is essential.

Implementing the following strategies can significantly increase your conversion rates, turning casual visitors into loyal subscribers.

Optimize Sign-Up Forms

  • Simplify the Process: Ensure your sign-up form is straightforward and easy to find. A complex or hard-to-locate form can deter potential subscribers. Place the form prominently on your homepage, blog, and other key pages to catch the attention of visitors.

Offer Exclusive Content to Mailing Lists

  • Provide Value: Encourage sign-ups by offering exclusive content to your mailing list members. This could be in-depth guides, industry reports, or early access to new products. Highlighting the unique benefits of joining your mailing list can motivate visitors to subscribe.

Utilize Targeted Pop-Ups

  • Engage Visitors Strategically: Deploy targeted pop-ups that appear based on specific visitor behaviors, such as spending a certain amount of time on a page or intending to exit. These pop-ups can feature your sign-up form and offer a compelling reason to subscribe, such as a discount code for new customers.

Craft Compelling Marketing Emails

  • Showcase Your Best Content: Send well-crafted marketing emails that display the best of what new subscribers can expect. Whether it’s exclusive insights, stories, or offers, make sure these emails highlight the value of staying subscribed.

Personalize Experiences for Email Recipients

  • Segment and Customize: Personalize the user experience by segmenting your email recipients based on their interests, behavior, or demographics. Tailored content is more likely to resonate, encouraging subscribers to stay engaged and loyal.

Maintain Direct Engagement with Email Contacts

  • Foster Relationships: Keep in touch with your email contacts regularly, but avoid overwhelming them with too many emails. Balance is key to maintaining interest and engagement without becoming intrusive.

Leverage Social Proof

  • Showcase Success Stories: Highlight testimonials, case studies, or user reviews on your sign-up page to build trust and credibility. Knowing that others have benefited from your content or products can persuade visitors to subscribe.

Analyze and Optimize

  • Track Performance: Use analytics tools to track the performance of your sign-up forms, emails, and content. Analyzing which strategies attract the most subscribers and which pages have the highest conversion rates can help you refine your approach over time.

Concluding Thoughts on Email Purchasing

Buying email lists might seem like a fast way to get more contacts, but it's not a good idea. It can get you in trouble with rules about people's privacy, hurt your email's chance of being read, and even get you banned by your email provider. Plus, the people on these lists don't know you, which makes them likely to ignore your emails or see them as annoying spam.

Instead, it's better to build your email list the right way—by attracting people who are actually interested in what you have to say. You can do this by creating great content that people want to sign up for, using social media to share your sign-up forms, and making sure your website makes it easy for visitors to subscribe. Hosting events or webinars is another smart way to get people to willingly give you their email. This way, you grow your list with people who choose to be there, leading to better engagement and results for your email campaigns.

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