Buying vs. Scrubbing an Email List: What You Need to Know

Email marketing is one of the most proven ways to get in front of new customers. It’s also great for keeping in touch with your current customers and staying “top of mind.” According to Campaign Monitor, email marketing generates $38 in ROI for every $1 spent.

In order to reap the marketing and lead generation benefits of email, you need people to send emails to. If your business doesn’t yet have an email list or has a limited list, don’t worry. There are two ways to get hundreds to thousands of email addresses within your target market or demographic.

When to Buy an Email List

While a widespread school of thought urges against purchasing an email list for any reason whatsoever, the truth is that buying an email list is not as tacky as it might sound, especially when you’re offering a product or service that you truly believe your purchased audience can benefit from. 

There are many vendors out there that sell email lists, ranging from high-end providers that charge thousands of dollars per month for super-accurate information to smaller companies that sell in bulk at dirt-cheap rates. For budget-conscious small to mid-sized businesses, we recommend InfoUSA. In the email purchasing world, many providers simply repackage InfoUSA’s data and resell it at a higher price. Consider that an insider’s tip!

Buying an email list is usually best for:

  • Big numbers (3,000 email addresses and up)
  • Business to business (B2B) sales
  • Professional services 

Another option in the same vein is to “borrow” an email list. Online magazines and blogs will often allow you to pay a per-email fee for access to their database. Whenever you can align your offerings with the already-engaged audience of a popular website, borrowing might prove more efficient, because you know the email addresses are high quality.

When to Scrub an Email List

“Scrubbing” an email list means manually collecting email addresses and building a list from scratch based off of public information such as personal or company websites, LinkedIn, trade magazines, and directories. 

The quality of a scrubbed list is almost always dramatically higher than a bought list. However, you will pay more, and your list will be smaller. Since the information has to be public, the first question to ask is always whether the audience is one that can be scrubbed in the first place. 

Scrubbing an email list is ideal for:

  • Finite demographics
  • Location-specific marketing
  • A smaller but more refined list (500-3,000 email addresses)
  • Industries where email information is public (such as education)

As a general guideline, you should never pay more than $1 per legitimate email address. Keep in mind that when you buy a massive email list, you might pay 10 cents per email, but a lot of them will be erroneous, bringing you up toward the $1 per email mark by the time it’s all said and done. You might be tempted to make scrubbing an intern’s or admin’s project, but for cost-effectiveness, it’s usually best left to a marketing agency that has access to affordable and ethical outsourcing. 

Choosing an Email Provider

Whether you buy or scrub an email list, note that deploying your email communications afterward can be tricky. Most big-name email marketing providers—including MailChimp and Constant Contact—only allow you to send emails to people who have “opted in,” meaning they have in some way agreed to receive your emails.

If you use an opt-in-only email provider to send emails to people who have not opted in, the provider will mark you as spam and lock you out of your account. There are a few non-opt-in email marketing providers out there, but they can be difficult to find. If you are having trouble finding one, ask us and we will be happy to recommend the provider we use for these types of lists.

Common Mistakes

Buying or scrubbing a list can be relatively easy, but it can also be a headache if you don’t do it the right way. Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Not identifying a specific target audience
  • Not knowing where to find the right resources and information
  • Overpaying a third-party vendor
  • Trying to scrub a list in-house
  • Using an opt-in email provider and getting flagged 

We’re Here to Help

As marketers who genuinely enjoy helping businesses strategize and reach new customers, we know how to buy or scrub a custom email list as affordably and effectively as possible. A big part of it is first determining which is best for you. If you’re looking to drive more leads for your business through email marketing, contact us.