Let me start by saying this is not a post about the legality of buying an email list. If you want to check on the legality in your country, speak to a lawyer. We’re here to discuss whether you should or should not buy a list.

Spoiler alert … You should NOT!


We all know what SPAM is … Or at least we should ;-)

There are also two other terms, basically synonyms for SPAM.

  • UCE – Unsolicited Commercial Email
  • UBE – Unsolicited Bulk Email

Mailbox Provider (MBP) Policies

All mailbox providers have policies prohibiting SPAM/UCE/UBE. Let’s look at some of the major ones.

Google: https://support.google.com/mail/answer/10979322?hl=en

The relevant part:

Before you send them an email, it’s best to get clear consent by giving customers the option to opt-in or subscribe to your email list.

Yahoo!: https://senders.yahooinc.com/best-practices

The relevant part:

  • Verify you’re only sending mail to users who specifically requested it.
  • Don’t purchase mailing lists or subscribe users by having an opt-in checkbox automatically checked on your website.

Outlook: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/topic/microsoft-anti-spam-policy-e4506f97-694f-49bc-8231-cac4369afcb8?ui=en-us&rs=en-us&ad=us

The relevant part:

Microsoft prohibits the use of the service in any manner associated with the transmission, distribution, or delivery of any unsolicited bulk or unsolicited commercial e-mail (“spam”).

Apple: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204137

The relevant part:

Send only to recipients who explicitly subscribed to your emails (not list purchases, list rentals, or email appends).

Email Service Provider (ESP)

I am not aware of any ESP that publicly states that they allow purchased lists. Every one of the known ESP’s I have checked, specifically prohibits uploading and mailing to a purchased list.

Aweber: https://www.aweber.com/antispam.htm

The relevant part:

Use email lists that you purchased, rented, leased, or in any way bought from a third party. This includes email addresses that you purchased via co-registration.

MailChimp: https://mailchimp.com/legal/terms/

The relevant part:

17.2. You won’t use purchased, rented, or third-party lists of email addresses.

ActiveCampaign: https://www.activecampaign.com/legal/anti-spam-policy

The relevant part:

We do not allow any form of paid, rented, borrowed, etc. lists. If you did not directly get permission to send emails to a subscriber you cannot use our hosted email marketing service.

The list goes on and on. It took me less that 5 minutes to find these 3 ESP examples to show you.

What about those ESP’s that DO allow importing purchased lists?

They won’t be around for very long, I 100% guarantee you that! Those that are still around, have HORRIBLE delivery and deliverability.

But … Everybody does it, why shouldn’t I?

Do you remember when you were young, and you used this same argument with your parents? If your parents were like most, you would have gotten a response, something along the lines of … If everyone were jumping off a cliff, would you be doing it as well?

The same is true here. Just because SO many companies and individuals are completely ruining their email marketing programs, does that mean you should too?

What are the consequences of mail to a purchased list?

Let me start with asking you this question … 100% honestly, tell me how you felt the last time you got an email that you did not signup for? Be HONEST here! NOBODY can HONESTLY say that they enjoy receiving emails that they did not specifically signup for!

Let’s have a look at some of the things that could happen if you were lucky enough to not get caught and shut down by your ESP YET …

  • You could email someone like me, who goes out of their way to get the spammer shut down. This is the list of things I do …
    • I report the spam to the ESP.
    • I find the registrar and hosting company of the domain that is linked to.
    • I report the domain and the spam to the domain registrar and host.
    • As I am based in South Africa, I report the spam to my government, who has a strict anti-spam law.
    • If the spam does not stop, I …
      • Report the ESP, along with all their IP’s, to all major blocklisting organizations.
      • Report the ESP to their domain registrar and hosting company.
    • At this point, 99% of the time, the spam stops.
    • This is a harsh route to take, and it has caused more than one company to be completely shut down, but, don’t spam!
    • I know several people that follow this route to report spam!
  • Your domain can be added to the major blocklists.
    • When this happens, all email you send, either goes straight to spam, or, hard bounces.
    • No more email marketing for that domain!
  • Google, and other search engines can mark your domain as malicious.
    • Now, not only is your email marketing dead, but so is your SEO.
    • Well done, you lose!

Now imagine you are a SaaS who thought you would get into the whole growth hacking game, signup with one of the plethora of list brokers out there, buy a list, and start mailing to it. After a few weeks, or on the outside, a few months, your help desk gets inundated with tickets saying they are not receiving any emails from your system. Welcome emails, password reset emails, system notification emails, etc, etc, all disappear in the ether.

You also get contacted by your SMTP provider that you are using via an API to send all these system emails, and they tell you that your account is being shut down for abuse.

You also get contacted by your domain registrar, telling you that your domain is on a major blocklist and you have 24 hours to resolve the block listing, or your domain will be suspended.

You also notice that your web traffic has fallen off a cliff. When you investigate what is going on, you find out that all the major search engines have completely removed your domain from their search results, and they have also marked your domain as malicious. In the case of Google, whenever someone is using the Chrome browser and goes directly to your domain, Chrome throws up a big red warning that the site ahead is malicious.

Can you say …

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Now tell me honestly …

Do you REALLY want to buy that list?!