On List Growth and Buying Lists

Today, I'm following up on my last post about how one must be able to have a way to tell the world about their super product and service.

Jonathan writes, "I came across your web-site and I'd really appreciate some help regarding opt-in lists! I'm about to start a email marketing campaign and I want to use 6-7 different firms simultaneously. The issue I've run into is that each of the firms I've found has a plethora of complaints against them! I was wondering if you could kindly recommend some reputable opt-in/double opt-in firms which are cost effective. I look forward to hearing from you."

I can't. Anybody who wants to sell you a list is trying REALLY hard to do you a disservice.

Have you ever been to O'Hare airport here in Chicago? If so, you've probably seen this sign: "Anyone who asks if you need a ride shouldn't be giving you one."

Meaning, supposed 'taxi' drivers who approach you, offering you their services, are unlicensed bad guys bucking the system. You don't know what you're going to get; you don't even know if they have a driver's license, if their car is safe, or what your cost is going to be. Similarly, somebody who wants to sell you an opt-in list is bucking best practices, as buying lists is not a best practice and is widely seen viewed by disreputable by savvy marketing professionals, internet service providers, and anti-spam groups. Anybody who wants you to buy their list is probably setting you up to fail.

Here's a quick check that most of these supposedly legitimate list brokers or list rental partners will fail pretty easily. Go to their website. Do they have any individuals listed? There's no bio of the CEO or principals of the company? That's fail number one. They do that so they can change names more easily, which they tend to do every time their previous name gets a bad reputation. Legitimate companies tend to be pretty proud of who's running the show, and want to share that with potential customers who visit their website.

Next, do a whois lookup on their domain. Is the owner of the domain hidden behind something like Domains-By-Proxy? Chances are it is. What legitimate business needs to hide who owns their domain? I know why illegitimate business do it; to try to hide from anti-spam groups like Spamhaus, who are often very good at denoting spammer connections with data points like commonality of street addresses.

Don't believe me? Read what has been reported about EmailAppenders, one of many firms in this space.

So how DO you grow your lists? That really is the $64,000 question. The right answer might be to hire the right marketing consultant or agency that will help you develop a plan specific to your unique needs. That's not something I can provide, but if I were in your shoes, I would at least research list growth online, find out what other folks are doing to grow their lists. This guide from the EEC (Email Experience Council) might be a good place to start.

Note that I don't agree with all of the guidance given in the EEC guide. In particular, “lead generation” is something I would avoid completely. And for many of the other suggestions; the devil is in the details. Asking for permission instead of assuming, and so forth. But, it's a place to start.
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