The Don’ts and REALLY Don’ts of Mailing Lists and Email Marketing


June 20, 2011 / Updated: June 20, 2011 / Lena Shore
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Building an email list takes time and care. You collect emails from clients, your own web site, sales reps, contests, and interested emailers. You send your offerings, deleting bounce backs and abandoned addresses, removing the opt-outs, watching the inbox placements and the click through rates, pruning here and adding there, tailoring and growing a list of people who care about what you have to say and may even act on it. It is a powerful tool, and an extremely valuable resource. A thousand names could easily be the result of several years of work and attention.

So would you sell your list of good and active customers to another business for $100 bucks? $300? No? Well neither would anyone else.

Making that list might be a time-intensive process, but you know some things about it. You know that the people on your list don’t mind and may even want to receive your email. You know about how many dead addresses to expect every time you send. And you know that everyone on your list signed up, in one fashion or another, to be there. Knowing these specific pieces of information are the differences between a successful email marketing campaign and getting shut down before you even start.

Renting Email Lists: Don’t Do It

It might seem like a good idea to bypass all that hard work and substitute a little cash for it instead. Some email list providers will rent lists out for a fairly small charge. You tell them how many addresses you want to send to, and they send your email to that many people. One seeming advantage is that they take the responsibility of mailing… you never get to see the actual list… which frees you up of a variety of negative consequences we’ll discuss below.

Now the chances that the addresses on a rented list were collected legitimately are slightly higher than those on a purchased list, (not good, but a tiny bit better) but what they were not was collected for you. Those addressees signed on to receive emails about skateboards, or Twilight movies, or heaven help us, Justin Beiber. They never signed up for marketing pieces about print services, dental hygiene, or even web design. At best, they don’t care, and at worst, you’re spam. And that means blacklists.

Buying Email Lists: REALLY Don’t Do It

The only thing worse than a rented email list is a purchased one. With a rented list there is at least a chance that the list is managed, and possibly not fatigued. (Overused lists result in addresses becoming more and more resistant to marketing as they eventually identify all marketing attempts as spam.) But there is no such semblance of control with a purchased list. Even if you are circumspect with your marketing and send out an email once a month, you can bet that the other fifteen, fifty, or five hundred people who all bought copies of the same list are playing merry hob with your ability to get through. And that not only hinders you, (and negates your investment) it also directly harms your ability to conduct email marketing at all.

There are a growing number of companies out in the Wild Wide Web who operate computerized blacklists. The ISPs of your potential customers reference incoming mail against these blacklists to decide whether or not to let yours through. As you get on one or more blacklists, (and yes, they do share) your ability to send email at all becomes more and more crippled. Time and money can remove you from a blacklist, but finding extra ways to waste money is rarely a pro-success tactic.

How do you end up on a blacklist? The law of the land says that you may send your emails to anyone you like, without them having opted in, as long as you provide a place for them to opt out. It’s a terrible guide. Practically speaking, anyone who wants to can report you as spam and several of them will hobble your enterprise. This means that trust in your recipients is just as important to you as trust in you will be to them.

And you cannot trust a purchased list.

They are culled from internet spiders, crawling the web for any listed addresses, live or not. They are back and forth between list sellers… with addresses that have opted out of other emails being even more valuable because there is a human being on the other end of it… even though they are definitely uninterested in unsolicited emails. They are dead addresses, abandoned addresses, out-of country addresses, do-not-reply addresses, and foreign language addresses.

Dead addresses are potentially more problematic than live ones who don’t want your mail, because sending to too many of these at once will tag you to your ISP as spamming, and will result in your email server being shut down entirely. In fact, every reputable ISP forbids the use of purchased lists from their servers. A fact that should speak volumes about the advisability of the practice.

Targeted email can be a great supplement to your overall marketing strategy. Even if you’re not bringing anything new to the table, just reminding your customers (and potential customers) that you’re there is a proven way to increase your sales. But thirty addresses you trust is far and away more valuable than a thousand you don’t. They won’t shut down your ability to get through to others, cost you money, or turn off your mail servers.

And they might just buy something.