Don’t Buy Email Lists. Do This Instead.

Sara Kappler
5 min readMar 11, 2024

Growing a business is hard. Temptations are a-plenty. As a business owner, you might get offers that seem too good to be true. Quick results with little effort? Sounds great, right? But in the world of email, purchasing lists are simply not a shortcut. They’re a dead-end.

We’ve worked with over 100 business owners over the years and many have asked us about list purchasing. If email marketing is so successful, why not just add more people? However, in this post, we’ll explain why this rarely works and what to do instead.

The Pitfalls of Purchased Lists

Let me explain why purchased lists rarely yield returns.

1. It’s Prohibited:

Legislation like CAN-SPAM sets clear boundaries around unsolicited emails. Consider this definition of spam, from Termly :

“Spam is a bulk email message advertising goods or services and sent to a recipient without his or her prior consent — and without an underlying business relationship from which that consent can be implied.”

As you can imagine, purchased lists rarely come with consent. And most of the time, there’s no underlying business relationship.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use purchased lists, but it’s best practice when emailing anyone for the first time to inform them how you got their email address. “You’re getting this email because leadgen.123 agency sold it to us” doesn’t look great.

2. Set Up To Feel Spammy:

Every time you buy a list, dozens if not hundreds of others have done the same. So when we hear “we have a list of 1,000 emails,” we think “here’s 1,000 people who have been overridden with emails and probably won’t like the intrusion.”

Most recipients on purchased lists have no idea that their data was scraped and sold to begin with — they just see an influx of spam and don’t know where it came from. So they are much more likely to get annoyed and mark you as spam.

3. It Will Harm Your Email Sending Strategy:

Sending emails to purchased lists causes low open and click rates and high rates of spam complaints, bounces, and unsubscribes. This can tarnish your sender reputation. Major email service providers (ESPs) like Google and Apple Mail might start flagging your emails as spam, which means even your subscribers who did opt-in are less likely to see your emails.

Now, you might ask “Can’t we just send from another domain?” Yes, but domain hopping can cause deliverability issues. ESPs can identify patterns of behavior around non-opt-in email lists, causing your emails to go to spam across all your domains.

FAQ: What if the decision has been made?

Despite the arguments against list purchasing, sometimes email marketers — especially in-house teams — simply don’t have a say in the strategy. If that’s you, here are some ideas:

  • Run the list through a tool like ZeroBounce to remove invalid emails and spam traps.
  • Offer to test a sample (5–10%) of the list and see how it performs.
  • Track opens, clicks, unsubscribes, bounces, and spam reports closely and monitor deliverability closely.
  • Examine conversions and results and explain the potential impact vs. potential reward.
  • Explain the investment needed to incorporate the full list — possibly thousands of dollars with an ESP that specializes in purchased lists.
  • Let the client/decision-maker make the decision.

Alternatives to Email List Buying

A few years ago, I got tired of seeing wasted investments on purchased email lists and started researching alternatives. Here are three options we often recommend to clients.

1. Brand-Centric Giveaways

Organizing giveaways that appeal to your target audience is a great way to grow your email list. It could be a giveaway of your products or services, or it could be a giveaway of a tangential product (win a $500 gift certificate to ___). You’ll need to decide:

  • What to give away
  • Terms and conditions
  • How you’ll fulfill
  • How you’ll market the giveaway
  • How much you’ll invest in marketing

2. Working with Other Brands

Engaging with other businesses, especially in adjacent industries, can be effective. If you find the right partner, both sides win.

While any business owner is typically hesitant to share lists (with good reason, it’s a business asset), there are still effective ways to work towards mutual goals. For example, you could promote joint giveaways in each list. Or you could cross-promote relevant campaigns in each other’s email lists. For example, you could send an email saying, “Have you met our friends at [brand name]? Here’s an invitation from them.”

Whatever the co-branded opportunity, don’t forget to track your time and find ways to track conversion so you can effectively measure ROI.

3. Leverage Organic Traffic for List Growth

Now, you may already have a pop-up offer on your site capturing 10–15% of website traffic, but did you know you can also capture email addresses of site visitors by using cookies? This strategy targets people who have already shown an interest in your business by coming to your website . You can contact these people with good email manners and nurture them to become customers over time. In our agency, we’ve seen results like these:

List growth services work for a variety of businesses and can make email marketing yield greater results, faster.


Every business wants to grow their email list. But if you’re thinking about buying lists, there are alternatives — whether it’s brand-centric giveaways, working with other brands, or using organic website traffic to grow your list. In all cases, find a marketing team that can bring campaigns to life and drive list growth. And find a partner that doesn’t shy away from ROI reporting.

About Centric Squared

At Centric Squared, we’re not just about email marketing; we’re about smart email marketing. Our list growth services use state-of-the-art technology to identify and capture the email addresses of anonymous site visitors. We can help you significantly improve the ROI of your email marketing strategy.

Get in touch today to see how we can help your business grow.



Sara Kappler

I run a CRM-Driven marketing agency. Mom of three. Flexible work advocate. Data nerd. Results-oriented.