Rules are made to be broken, right?
That’s why, a few months ago, I decided to break the biggest email marketing rule of all — and buy a list of email contacts.
It was an experiment.
You see, over the years, I’ve learned that some of the conventional wisdom about digital marketing is…. How can I put this politely….. Absolute rubbish.
- “Don’t write long emails or blog posts – people won’t read them.”
- “LinkedIn advertising is too expensive to make work.”
- “If you email people too frequently, you’ll annoy your readers.”
- “Don’t worry about selling to people online. Just share great advice and they’ll come flocking!”
Wrong… Wrong… Wrong…. And wrong again!
I’ve broken all of those with great results.
So I thought that the taboo against buying an email list was at least worth testing.
The argument against bought lists is that because those people haven’t opted into your marketing voluntarily, they are less likely to be interested in what you offer, and more likely to mark you as Spam, ignore your emails and bring down your open rates.
But wouldn’t it be great if it turned out that bought lists worked? If, instead of spending months building up your email list through sweat and tears, you could just part with a few hundred dollars or pounds, and have an instant database of prospects?
That’s what I was hoping, anyway. And that’s certainly what I’ve heard from dozens of business owners over the years, who wanted to get going quickly with email marketing and were looking for a shortcut.
The list we bought was good quality. It was GDPR-compliant (meaning that everyone on it had explicitly agreed to be emailed by a third party), so we were not spamming anyone. And the people on it were the kind of leads we would try to attract through our advertising anyway.
Nevertheless, as a precaution, I kept this list totally separate from our regular subscribers, using a completely different marketing automation platform. If things went wrong, I didn’t want it to affect the deliverability of our usual emails.
I also didn’t try to sell them anything. I just shared some of my best email marketing tips and insight, and promoted some of our most popular eBooks and webinars.
And the result……?
On the bright side, open rates were decent. They were consistently around 18%-22%, which is significantly lower than our regular list, but not in any way disastrous. Some people read everything I sent them. This was a pleasant surprise.
Click-through rates were decent too. On average, around 3%-4% of readers clicked through to our resources with each email, which is above the industry average.
And the less bright side?
Unsubscribe rates were horrendous. Out of 1,040 people, we lost 240 over four months of emailing weekly. That’s a quarter of the list. Yowza!
(I was intrigued that practically no one marked the emails down as Spam, though. They just quietly unsubscribed – though the emails did attract a couple of nasty responses, which is completely unheard of on our regular list.)
And although we got hundreds of clicks through to our various resources, I don’t think a single person actually registered for any of them – even on landing pages which convert beautifully to totally cold audiences.
In other words, they were mildly curious but ultimately not really interested.
- This email marketing rule is true. Bought lists are a waste of time. If they didn’t even want free copies of my most popular eBooks, they were unlikely to be buyers.
Focus on marketing to people who have shown that they genuinely want to hear from you by voluntarily opting into your list.
(And yes, there are probably plenty of stories out there about someone’s uncle’s brother who made their fortune with bought email lists, but my experience bore out the conventional wisdom.)
- I’m glad I tried. Email marketing and indeed all online marketing is about testing and experimenting. Sometimes (…often) it pays off. In this case it didn’t, but that’s a good lesson too!
What has your experience been with bought lists? Have they worked for you or did you reach the same conclusion as me? Let me know in the comments below.