Ian Lurie // Feb 8 2008
Rented and purchased e-mail lists seem like a great idea. Lots of addresses, targeted to you, dirt-cheap.
But they rarely work. Why?
The short version: A rented or purchased list is the internet marketing equivalent of selling ham for Chanukah: You’ll have the wrong product, in front of the wrong audience, at the wrong time.
You get a call from a leads and lists company. They’ll sell you thousands of names and e-mail addresses custom-selected to match your ideal customer demographic.
You plunk down $5,000 or so, use a tested, proven e-mail offer and landing page and cross your fingers.
Nothing happens. Maybe you get 5 orders. Maybe 6. But that’s it.
The company calls you to see how things went. You say, “The list sucked”.
The salesperson expresses surprise, and says she feels terrible. She’ll sell you another 40,000 names at 1/2 price to make it up to you. She’s never heard of such poor performance from a list, and she wants to make it up to you.
You give in, pay $2,500, and try again. Same result.
And so on.
Don’t feel bad – it’s happened to me too. It’s hard to turn down what looks like an easy route to sales. E-mail can be a powerful direct marketing tool. You just need a better alternative.
There are lots of alternatives to rented lists. In my experience, they all work far, far better.
If your client or boss is hell-bent on using a rented list and there’s nothing you can do to dissuade them:
Make sure the list provider guarantees all e-mails are strictly opt-in.
Make sure your message adheres to legal requirements: It must include your business’s physical address, for instance, and it has to use a real, functioning ‘reply to’ address.
Measure! Don’t trust the list provider to tell you how well it’s worked. Track open and clickthru rates, as well as conversions.
Test. Divide your list into 4 groups, like this: 10%/10%/10%/70%. Use a different subject line or offer for the first 3 batches. Then send the best performer to the last 70%.
A purchased or rented list might make sense if:
You’re selling medication for erectile disfunction.
You’re going to be moving to a foreign country soon.
You don’t care if you’re blacklisted by major e-mail providers like Comcast, AOL and Hotmail.
There are a few real times when a purchased or rented e-mail list can work:
If one sale’s worth more than the list, then it could be appropriate to roll the dice.
If you’re just trying to communicate a message, and have no conversion goal.
If you have a list of millions and only need a .5% conversion rate to succeed. However, this gets back to medications and leaving the country, so I don’t recommend it.
If you’re purchasing a list from a publication or company that’s very closely related to your business, and folks will recognize the connection.
Overall, acquiring e-mail addresses from a third party requires caution.
Any time someone tries to sell you a list, apply this test:
How would you feel receiving your e-mail? If you have to justify it to yourself, don’t use the list, ’cause you’re probably going to end up selling ham for Chanukah. Best case, they’ll just walk on by and ignore you. Worst case, you’ll end up in one of my blog posts.
E-mail 101: Remember the House List
Building the House E-mail List
Double E-mail Open Rates with this Simple Test
3 Tips to Improve E-mail Delivery Rates
Ian Lurie is founder and CEO of Portent Inc., an internet marketing agency that has provided internet marketing, including PPC, SEO, social and analytics services, since 1995. Read More