Is Buying Marketing Data & Email Lists Legal?

Buying data lists for marketing may seem like a perfectly easy and effective way of boosting your mailing list, but is it safe, effective and legal?

Explore our guide to discover everything there is to know about bought marketing data, including:

  • What is bought data and where does it come from?
  • How do you buy it?
  • What are the risks involved with buying email marketing lists?
  • Is it GDPR compliant and legal to buy email addresses?

What is bought data and how do people buy it?

Bought data is essentially contact information you have purchased to put into a CRM or email marketing provider. This contact information can represent that of businesses or individuals, and can be bought from various online sources.

Companies selling data, providing they are reputable and authoritative, will ask you what sort of data you are looking for, and then provide you with a segment that matches your demographics from their huge database. You could ask for 20,000 email addresses of UK citizens under the age of 40, and they will provide that for a certain price.

HOWEVER, we strongly advise against doing this, for reasons you will discover further down in our guide.

Where do bought email addresses come from?

Experian, one of many companies that sell email addresses, state that they “obtain data compliantly from a variety of sources,” which “include data partners we trust… government sources, publicly available data and market research data.”

While Experian are one of the more trustworthy data sources, there are many unreliable and dishonest companies advertising similar services.

This data can be acquired from anywhere, including partner websites that have the “I agree to be contacted by a third party” boxes. If you have ticked one of these boxes, the chances are your email address is purchasable from somewhere online.

As you can never be 100% sure where such email addresses have come from, we strongly recommend against buying data. Adding thousands of contacts to your newsletter subscribers may sound appealing, but not if 98% of these people have never expressed an interest in your products and/or services.

bought email list

Is buying data legal and GDPR compliant?

This is a complicated question, but in short, using bought data is legal and in line with the recently introduced GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations). HOWEVER, this is only the case if it has been purchased in the right way, from the right source.

GDPR states that, to contact an individual, you need explicit consent from them. Most of the time, individuals whose email addresses are on a bought data list have not explicitly agreed for companies such as yours to contact them, therefore you would be breaking GDPR regulations by doing so.

If you have bought your data from a reputable company such as Experian, it’s still important to make vital checks before contacting people in your purchased list. It’s essential, for instance, that you offer recipients a clear, easily accessible means of unsubscribing from further updates from you.

It’s also a best practice to utilise a double opt-in process, which means sending them an email asking them to confirm their subscription before contacting them again. Any recipients who neglect to double opt-in should not be contacted again.

Remember to check any bought data against your current ‘Do Not Contact’ list (those who have already unsubscribed etc). You can face a fine for breaking GDPR restrictions if you contact someone who has already opted out.

8 dangers of buying email addresses

There are many reasons to avoid buying data online, the most important of which we’ve detailed below…

1) Bought data lists tend to be out of date and low quality

That’s right, many emails in your bought mailing list will be defunct, left logged in on a dusty laptop in an attic, untouched for years and just slowly collecting spammy marketing emails for the rest of time.

How many of you have abandoned an email address and started a new one after growing increasingly frustrated by spam? This will apply to a lot of email addresses in those bought data lists.

2) It can negatively impact your email marketing click and open rates

The fact of the matter is, people who have explicitly opted in to your marketing communications are much more likely to open your emails as they’ve gone out of their way to request them in the first place. Bought email addresses, on the other hand, are not expecting your emails and will therefore be unlikely to open them.

When looking at your email marketing reports, bought leads will skew the data, undoing any hard work you’ve put into increasing your open rates and click rates and ultimately raising the eyebrows of your service provider.

If you’re interested in discovering the average open rates and click rates for your industry, check out the MailChimp email marketing benchmark.

3) It can damage the reputation of your business

In marketing terms, there’s not a lot worse than being called a spammer, but that’s the risk you take with buying leads for business. All it takes is one person to raise a complaint with MailChimp (or another provider) and your company will get a black mark next to its name.

If MailChimp receives a spam complaint for your communications, you’ll need to verify how you obtained permission to email the subscriber in the first place. You will, of course, struggle to do this if you bought the data.

The more people that identify your promotional emails as spam, the less likely your future emails are to turn up in your subscribers’ proper inbox. This will obviously damage the reputation and profits of your business.

4) Bought data tends to get blocked by email marketing services

As touched upon in the previous point, a lot of promotional email content backed by bought data will be blocked by Outlook, Gmail and similar providers. Spam filters are more intelligent than ever before, and are likely to detect emails its users have not explicitly opted into receiving.

When contacting a bought mailing list for the first time, you are likely to get a hefty bounce rate and spam rate due to the fact some addresses will now be derelict, while others will have strong spam filters in place that block emails from unknown sources.

5) People on your bought list will not know who you are

If you receive an email from a company you have never heard of, how likely are you to open it? Not very. This is the case for every email address on your bought list.

Speaking metaphorically, contacting a bought email address is the same as entering someone’s home without knocking on the door or asking for permission to do so. You may be offering them the best thing in the world, but most people will be frustrated by the level of intrusion you’ve displayed in doing so.

6) Your email service provider can block you for using bought data

It’s not just your recipients’ email providers you have to be wary of, your email marketing provider, such as Campaign Monitor or MailChimp, can block your account and even fine you for using bought email lists.

“Third-party lists of email addresses are prohibited under our Terms of Use. This includes purchased or rented lists,” says MailChimp. Campaign Monitor, meanwhile, describe purchased email lists as “a huge no-no”.

7) You won’t be the only one using your bought list

An easy mistake to make is assuming you’re the only business that will be using your bought list. This list is available to everyone who can afford it, therefore, you will be contacting people who are probably already drowning in a sea of promotional marketing emails, most of which have dropped into their inbox without warning.

Just think, you could be emailing your competitors or people who have no interest in your business or service!

8) You can get quality leads for free!

The best way to get quality, strong, GDPR compliant business leads? By generating your own subscribers list through engaging, effective and creative marketing, of course!

Forget buying marketing data and lists, and put your effort, time and money into building a loyal audience and customer base, full of people who are explicitly interested in what you have to say, sell and offer!

buying data

Is buying email addresses worth it?

In summary: no. The many risks massively outweigh any minor benefits of buying marketing data for your business. The most effective method of building a strong list of contacts is to do so through organic methods.

If you do want to invest money into accelerating the process, why not spend your hard-earned cash on highly targeted, intelligent Facebook Ads that will find people who match your demographics and encourage them to subscribe to your newsletter? You can even use your current subscribers (providing they’re GDPR compliant) to target similar people on social media using Facebook Lookalikes!

Prefer to build your database gradually and relatively cheaply? We recommend giving people an incentive to subscribe, such as money off their first order or the chance to win something through a Facebook prize draw.

You should also put together a marketing strategy consisting of insightful, useful content on your website, offering visitors the chance to receive such materials straight to their inbox with a subscriber form.

These are just a small number of ideas to generate superb audiences for your email marketing. For more guides and up-to-date information, why not subscribe to our regular emails? (see what we did there…)

Oliver Wilkinson
Content Manager