If you’ve worked in the email industry for more than about a week, you have probably heard sending to purchased lists is bad. If you use an ESP, they’ve almost certainly told you it’s not recommended and (in most cases) not allowed. So why do folks keep purchasing lists, and keep trying to send to those purchased lists?
Part of the problem is the differentiation between the B2C and B2B markets. Most of the major consumer (B2C) email providers have made great strides in mail filtering, implementing complex algorithms and machine learning designed to identify potentially unwanted or unsolicited email and stop it in its tracks. Consumers, who use mail primarily to communicate with people or brands they know, appreciate this and have come to expect it. They also offer feedback loops, which allow recipients to lodge spam complaints which the mailbox provider (usually) forwards to the sender in the hopes they will remove the complainer from the list.
Business email (B2B) tends to be a bit different. While many corporate domains have their email hosted by a major player like Microsoft or Google, the filtering is unique and corporate email suites allow more customization by the mailbox owner or their IT team. Corporate domains also rarely have feedback loop capabilities – if the recipient complains, the sender receives no indication of this. As a result B2B marketers are often more likely to purchase a list, using the justification that the lists don’t generate spam complaints (see the FBL comment above) and that the lists are often targeted to specific business functions or roles. And while it’s true that neither US CAN-SPAM nor Canada’s CASL explicitly outlaw sending to purchased lists, it’s still a bad practice.
Need more proof? How about a position statement from the Messaging, Mobile, and Malware Anti-Abuse Working Group (you might know them as M³AAWG)? M³AAWG is the industry group tasked with identifying and working to eliminate abusive practices in the messaging space and is made up of a lot of folks you’ve heard of. The 3 major US mailbox providers are all active members, along with most notable international providers, ESPs, blacklist operators, and spam filter vendors.
Last month the organization released a position paper identifying the purchase of lists in any context as an “abusive practice” that generates high volumes of unwanted email and drains corporate resources. They also discuss the potential legal ramifications of purchasing lists along with the poor data quality often associated with these lists. If you or someone else in your organization is considering purchasing a list, this statement will help shed some light on why it’s a bad idea.