August 25, 2012

Why NOT Buy Mailing Lists?

There are many reasons why it's not a good idea to buy mailing lists. In fact, it's quite clearly a bad idea. Aside from being a potential nuisance, somewhat unethical, and risking having your bulk email account shut down, there is another downside you may not even consider...

If you were to open each of these emails, you'd see that they are addressed to different names In fact, I apparently have 17 employees I don't know about. None of these were actually addressed to me. So how did they all end up in my inbox? I have a catch-all set up so that if someone spells linda wrong, I'll still get the email. If you don't have a catch-all, you probably wouldn't even know it was happening to you.

This has been a bother to me now for well over a year. The first time it happened, I phoned the company that sent the emails and was told they bought their list from

I suggested they get their money back. That's the biggest downside to buying a list: you don't even know if the email addresses are valid. I feel sorry (sort of) for these companies that keep emailing like this because they obviously all got ripped off. But then again, maybe they got what they deserved.

Enough ranting. Here's a little humour. That email from Ask Bick above had this footer:

I'm wondering how my 17 imaginary employees opted in!

To his credit, when I tweeted directly to @askbick about this, he responded quickly, thanked me for the feedback, and offered to unsubscribe those email addresses.


  1. I'm not sure I appreciate all the notoriety, but I actually disagree with your post.

    Firstly, I would suggest you remove your "catch all", reason being, this is old technology, due to the improvements in technology, the memory recall of the mail programs, a catch all is a wasted effort. Additionally, if there was NO "catch all", these emails would bounce and as such, they would be removed from the email system. Keeping these email addresses "alive" actually makes the problem worse, so our recommendation is to remove the "catch all", it's old school.

    Second, we recommend to clients to beg, borrow and purchase lists in order to build out their email profile quickly. In Canada there could be legislation that could make building an email list almost impossible, so time is of the essence in email list building.

    Third, expanding your "reach" is imperative today, in both email marketing and social media, our recommendation is to get out there. As an example, I don't sew, but I know about 5 to 10 people that sew ... as such, but reaching me, you have the potential to reach my friends.

    Mass mailers, TV commercials, radio, newspaper are all about expanding your reach ... email marketing and social are the same. Just a touch more personal.

    Please note, email marketing providers are under great pressure these days as traffic and communication is growing quickly. If you don't want the email, unsubscribe, if you don't have the employee, let the email bounce or unsubscribe.

    Additionally, we recommend you keep 2 email addresses, 1 for the public (to be used same as your canada post mail box ... take in all kinds of material you are interested in) and the second for friends and family.

    If you want to know how to expand your reach, email me at - we can help!

    Best, thanks for listening, Mike

    1. Wow, Mike, I won't be calling you to expand my reach if this is the advice I would be paying for. Firstly, you didn't even address the point you proved which was that when you buy lists, there is no guarantee or even assurance really that you are not buying a whole list of made up addresses. Not really money well spent. Then, you entirely skip the logical jump to the idea that if you have 17 invalid email addresses on the list you purchased, are any of the emails on that list real? And if not, shouldn't you be looking for your money back? Instead, you tell the user you spammed that it is her fault because she has her user settings wrong? Does your strategy also include not fostering repeat business? How exactly are you going to control the user settings of every user in the world? Isn't it better to be aware of and allow for user settings where you can?

      Your whole second paragraph is completely opposite of what I would recommend. We recommend building strong, solid lists of subscribers that will be interested in your content. Never buy lists. Never harvest irrelevant email addresses. The number of subscribers is not the issue, the quality of the connection is what counts. Your outlined strategy goes against everything I would recommend.

      Linda is being kind in her comment to you because we have done successful promotional marketing and did not (nor would we) employ your list building strategy above. The REAL difference between what we are talking about is producing professional email marketing vs. spamming the planet, which is what you seem to be recommending.

      Finally, Canadian legislation is never going to put business out of business. The law coming into force is to prevent spam, not legitimate business and is significantly more favourable to business than current US legislation. The publication exclusion exists to allow relevant business communication to connections you do not personally know. It will not allow for irrelevant content to be pushed out the same way. The spam law is designed to put you out of business, yes, but we (and our clients) don't need to spend any time worrying about it because what we are sending is not spam and they way we are building lists falls well within the written legislation.

      I totally agree with Anita, when I receive email like yours, the LAST thing I am thinking is. "who do I know that would want this?". I like my friends, family and fans; why would I spam them?

  2. Hi Mike,

    I'm glad you responded. We have a significant difference in philosophies that won't be resolved here for sure. I think part of this difference comes from the fact that my company does newsletters as opposed to promotional campaigns. The goals and strategies are significantly different. I'm more than willing to admit that email promotion is not my area of expertise but some of your recommendations are the opposite of mine when it comes to building relationships and reputation through a newsletter. We will have to agree to disagree.

    My main point - that you don't know if you're getting valid email addresses when you buy a list - still holds. Admittedly in some cases it may be a risk worth taking but that would never be my advice to my clients.

    My catch-all does serve a purpose. It took all of 3 clicks to set it up, costs me nothing, and saves me from having to set up email accounts such as 'info@' which someone might try to use to contact me. I would be interested in hearing an alternate solution. NOTE: You can't tell everyone to turn off their catch-alls, so this is going to continue to happen to people that you email.

  3. Great points Linda, and you didn't even touch on the idea that buying lists does absolutely nothing to ensure the people have at least a passing interest in your product or service. I've gotten myself on someone's buyable list somewhere along the way and now get regular e-mails from people selling everything from stuffed animals to industrial steel. I'm not in the market for any of that. I would much rather build my list with people who might possibly be interested in my services.

    I also love my catch-all. It's great for those who "think" they know my e-mail address, but forget whether it's anita, ahovey, twirp or info. Turn that off and you risk losing out on REAL business that is trying to get hold of you. The purpose of the catch-all has nothing to do with whether or not I want to receive e-newsletters as Mr. Bickerton is suggesting.

    And, contrary to Mr. Bickerton's assertion, when I receive a spam message that I didn't sign up for, the LAST thing on my mind is "GEE, who do I know that I could forward this annoying message to?" My only thought is "Where's the unsubscribe?" And then delete.

    And I'm not sure how keeping 2 email addresses would help your situation, as Mr. Bickerton is suggesting... since the list "created" 15 more LOL. If they are just going to make up addresses to sell, it won't matter how many I actually have, will it? I know people do that on a personal level with gmail, etc., but then, if they make up gmail addresses you won't get them. It's not the same as making up addresses on your own owned domain. Not to mention, I'm just NOT interested in spam messages that I didn't sign up for from a company that bought my address (public or not).

    I'll keep my catch-all thanks, and I don't think I've been convinced to buy any lists either LOL.