Can I buy a mailing list and add it to a newsletter?

If you have a newsletter, you probably know the advantage of a large subscriber number. If you’ve spent time growing it you also know how much time it can take. That’s why it may be tempting to take a shortcut and buy a list to import, growing it overnight. But should you? Should you buy a mailing list and add it to a newsletter? The short answer is: absolutely NOT!

Cons of using a purchased list for your newsletter

If you buy a mailing list and add it to a newsletter it comes with a set of problems you may not have considered. For one, it makes people angry. That should be enough to stop you. But if not, you should also know it also violates the terms of service for most newsletter companies and it just might be illegal.

Unsolicited email makes people angry

There are some serious problems with using purchases email lists, but first, let’s think about unsolicited email in terms of the recipient. How do you react when you find out a brand you’re unfamiliar with has added you to their newsletter without permission? If you answered “angry” you’re not alone. Unsolicited email drives people nuts and has made people really sensitive about their inbox. Even if you’ve added someone to your list ethically, a whopping 32% will consider that message spam according to PEW Research.

Unsolicited email and spam is offensive. Period. If you avoid angering the ones on the targeted list, seemingly your ideal customers, don’t buy a mailing list and add it to a newsletter.

Importing a purchased list violates terms of service

Most newsletter companies are crystal clear if you buy a mailing list and add it to a newsletter, you’re in direct violation of their terms of service. Mail services like MailChimp, Constant Contact, and others are extremely careful about purchased lists because it can ruin their business.

Other than the legal problems this causes, which I will dig into later, these mail services relentlessly protect their business models. If their logos constantly appear on unsolicited emails, they know this hurts their brand. If there’s a rise of email users flagging Mailchimp emails as spam, eventually all their emails go to spam and their business model ends.

Email providers and mailing list curators are aligned on this goal. In order to protect their business model, they aggressively fight spam to stay in the email users’ good graces. If your emails are flagged as spam one too many times, you’ll be banned quickly, losing the list you worked hard to build.

Importing a list into your newsletter puts your company domain in SPAM

Importing your mailing list into a newsletter could also put your entire company into SPAM jail, which is why newsletter companies state clearly they don’t allow purchased lists. “There is a Spam database that all ISPs and email providers subscribe to and supply data to called SORBS.” explains Eric Skeens, managing partner of 3 Tree Tech, an IT consulting firm, and client. “There are multiple ways to get flagged in SORBS, but the most detrimental way is through a spam-trap, which is an email address that is unsuspectingly hidden in purchased email lists.”

Some companies have tried a simple work around to this problem. While it may be risky to buy a mailing list and add it to a newsletter, what if you simply emailed everyone yourself manually? You’re still on shaky ground says Skeens. “Another common way to get flagged is to send out a mass amount of emails in one day, usually anything over 400 emails in a day will potentially get you flagged as a spammer. Following rules and regulations on internet marketing will typically keep you out of Spam jail.”

If you find that no one is returning your emails, you might be in SPAM jail.

Importing a purchased email list is likely illegal

In most cases, when you buy a mailing list and add it to a newsletter, you are likely breaking the law. The FCC CAN-SPAM Act is clear if you are sending an email to someone who has already opted out, you’re in violation of the law.

…buying lists like that can be risky. There is the possibility that addresses on the list belong to people who have already opted out of receiving email from your company. And there‚Äôs a risk that the list was put together using illegal means like address harvesting or dictionary attacks. Therefore, some companies choose to send marketing email only to people who have affirmatively asked to receive them or with whom the company already has a business relationship.


Because it’s extremely difficult to know if someone has opted out, or if the list was acquired with consent from the entire user base, you’re on shaky ground. Unless you can personally vouch for every single email on the purchased list, you could be stepping into some legal trouble.

The penalty for breaking spam rules, and the law, could very well result in all your corporate email ending up in spam, or could even result in a penalty of $43,792 per incident! Can you afford that? I sure can’t.

How to ethically buy a mailing list and add it to a newsletter

What if you’ve already purchased this list? Or what if the list is extremely relevant and you know they’d appreciate your email newsletter? There is only one way to ethically buy a mailing list and add it to a newsletter in a way that doesn’t violate terms of service. Email everyone individually with a compelling CTA and ask them to sign up.

Hire a VA or have your interns copy and paste a standard email and manually email every single person on your list with a compelling call to action, asking them to sign up. This is legal, and when they opt in for your email list, their opt-in confirmation ensures you’re in the clear.

Emailing everyone manually is a lot of work, but it will prevent you from tarnishing your brand, getting blocked by your newsletter software, flagging your entire domain as SPAM or breaking the law. If you want to know how to grow an email list the right way, I recommend learning from one of the best, Sam Parr. It takes lots of time and hard work.

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Of course, if you’d like help working on your PR strategy to reach difficult audiences, you should download my guide on getting more press in just 10 days. I send other PR, earned media and SEO hacks as well.


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