Unfettered by streams of ads, auto-playing videos and blood-boiling trolls, email is one of the few spots left on the net where we can truly dedicate our full attention to consuming content, one piece at a time.
That’s what makes email marketing such a goldmine for businesses, and what makes your email list one of the most precious tools in your marketing arsenal.
It’s understandable, then, that you might be tempted to quickly grow yours by buying an email list. But, like most solutions that seem too good to be true, this one has the potential to do some serious damage to your company.
Read on to learn why you should never buy an email list, and how to build an email list with your target audience instead.
3 Reasons to Never Buy an Email List
Look, we get it: building an email list organically is no easy task. It takes time, creativity and a consistent level of effort.
But when you buy an email list, you risk:
- Wasting time on an audience that doesn’t want to hear from you,
- Making it harder for your emails to get through to subscribers, and
- Damaging your reputation.
Overall, the risk is not worth the reward — here’s why.
#1. When Your First Impression Is Going to Suck
Say you’re out for a walk one day, when you hear an unfamiliar voice call your name. You turn, and notice a stranger walking towards you. Waving and smiling, they’re eager to get your attention. But, no matter how hard you rack your brain, you have no idea who they are.
Sounds creepy, right?
Let’s switch things up. Now you’re the stranger, and the person you’re rushing on the street is an innocent subscriber whose email address you bought.
They have no idea who you are, how you got their information, or what you want with them. This is not how you want someone to feel when they open your email. You want them to feel curious, delighted, and excited — not frustrated, angry, and confused.
In this state, rather than take the time to get to know your business better, potential subscribers are likely to flag your messages as spam (making it even harder for you to get into inboxes in the first place).
#2. The email list you bought probably sucks, too
Now, imagine you did grow your email list the good ol’ fashioned way (i.e. through folks subscribing on your website). If someone offered to buy this email list from you, would you sell it? Would it be worth losing the trust of your subscribers?
Didn’t think so.
You see, when you buy an email list, you’re buying email addresses that have already been sold and spammed over and over and over again. As a result, the people behind these emails probably aren’t responding any more (thanks to, you know, being sold on a list) by the time you get them.
If, by some miracle, you end up being the first person to buy this email list, there’s no way to guarantee that the people on it will actually engage with your content, even if they fit the demographic and psychographic bill for your ideal client.
Why? Because they don’t know you, and don’t know what to expect in your email. So rather than risk opening a strange email, they’ll flag it as spam or trash it before clicking “open.”
#3. When you buy an email list... you're breaking the rules
By emailing subscribers who didn’t opt-in to your list, you could, in a very real way, be violating a host of rules and regulations — from those on your email marketing software, to the FTC’s CAN-SPAM, to Canada’s CASL, to GDPR, the world's strongest set of data protection rules.
There’s also a chance that the list sold to you includes spam traps and honeypots (a venus flytrap for spam).
These addresses are scattered across the net (on sites, forums, etc.), set up by organizations dedicated to combating email spam. When you send an email to them, they report you as a spammer.
Think of this report as a penalty point on your driver’s license for the web (cue melancholy a la Olivia Rodrigo). If you rack up too many points, you:
🚗 Lose your license, making it harder to see your friends (aka your email deliverability will decrease, even to subscribers who, you know, actually opted-in to your newsletter), and
💩 Harm your reputation (aka your Sender Score — think credit score, but for email — which makes mail servers less likely to let your emails through).
Clearly, the risks far outweigh any potential reward when it comes to buying an email list.
So how can you get started on building an email list that’s earned, established and engaged?
We’re glad you asked.
Here's how to grow your email list safely + authentically
Now that you know what not to do, let’s dive into some tried and true marketing strategies you can start using right away to grow your email list.
A common thread unites these steps: an obsession with getting into your customer’s heads, to bring them value, gain their trust, and meet them where they live online.
#1. Give them that good good (gated content)
Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience: when they’re online, what are they looking for? What questions do they want answered?
These ideas will be the backbone of your pillar content. Long-form, high quality and educational, after reading these, your audience will feel like they’ve learned something new and/or useful. These include blogs, guides and templates.
These premium pieces of content are your gated assets, so valuable that people will have no problem sharing their email address with you to access them.
This is the most powerful way to build your email list, because it starts with you fulfilling a promise to your audience: that, in exchange for their trust (signing up for your email list), you will offer them valuable resources that will make their lives better (gated content).
#2. But wait, there’s more (free content)
Your pillar content is the gift that keeps on giving. From it, you can pull interesting, attention-grabbing highlights that can then be shared as short-form pieces of micro content on platforms across the web.
You might be wondering: “Why would I share any of this stuff for free? Isn’t the whole point here that I get people’s email addresses in exchange for my content?”
And you’re right, that is the point. But, to grow your email list through gated content on your website, you need to give your target audience a reason to visit first.
By repurposing, condensing and sharing your long-form content into a series of bite-sized pieces, you’re giving your audience a taste of what they can expect when they join your email list.
#3. Where’s the (platform) party?
With your content ready to go, you want to make sure it’s tailored to the platforms where it’ll be shared (i.e. people go on Instagram for dynamic visuals, and Twitter for hot takes).
Before you start posting, do some research and find out where your target audience is on social media, and elsewhere online. Experiment with a variety of platforms to see where you get the most engagement.
For posting, consistency is key. You can’t measure the success of your efforts after sharing one post, then another one month later, with no engagement in-between. It also isn’t enough just to post content — you need to participate in conversations with other people, and share their content too.
Every platform is like its own little house party. Don’t be the guy that shows up, with a megaphone, interrupting conversations to talk loudly about himself, and dipping the second you’re done.
#4. Sharing is caring
Make it as easy as possible for people to share and help you grow your email list. Include social shares so people can promote a web link of your email on social media. If you want to get ✨ fancy ✨ use a tool like Click to Tweet to create pre-written content that includes an attention-grabbing line from your email.
Your classic “Forward to a friend” button or link opens up a new email for your audience to — you guessed it — forward your content to friends. Make sure you have an opt-in button near the top and bottom of your email, so folks can easily subscribe if they like what they see.
Yes, to grow your email list takes time
But the siren song of buying an email list is just that: a siren song — a dangerous fantasy that risks your reputation and hinders your ability to connect with people at all.
To build a solid relationship with your audience, focus on creating content that truly fulfills their needs. Meet and engage with them where they live online. Put in the effort, and, in time, your subscribers, having gained value from your work, will become your champions, using the formidable power of word of mouth to grow your email list for you.
All you have to do is start.