November 8, 2018

How to properly use third-party data to grow your list.


There seems to be a lot of confusion and bad advice in the marketplace about growing email lists with the aid of third-party data sources. Some advice encourages you to rent or purchase data, then run it through an email validation service before your distribution to remove as much of the (potentially) bad stuff as possible. However, at 250k we don’t believe this is a good practice. Ever. Simply put, buying data is still a “no-no.”

Certainly, various channels of ill-begotten email lists can rapidly grow your audience, but oftentimes this comes at a great cost to your brand’s reputation and mailing abilities. Purchased and rented lists are usually full of bad data or invalid accounts; you end up buying junk accounts, meaning the actual acquisition costs are significantly higher when you consider the cost per valid address. That’s even before accounting for the amount of time and effort related to your ESP terminating your account, or the costs of being blocked by a blacklist provider because of this practice. Beyond a dollar amount, you’re really gambling with your email program’s ability to generate revenue for your organization.

How do people get email addresses, then? Well, there are a number of ways. Let’s rank them from most to least risky:

    • Email Harvesting (serious risk)
      Using a service or group of people to scan the internet for publicly posted email addresses, then sending them communications for your products and services. This is illegal in many jurisdictions and multiplies fines issued by government regulators.
    • List Purchase
      Buying a list of contacts, oftentimes sold to several other businesses and compiled via various methods of questionable means (like via harvesting). Purchased lists frequently include spam traps, inactive users, and invalid domain names.
    • List Rental
      Transferring ethically sourced data from one group to another, usually leading to misuse or abuse of the list. These lists still may contain a fair number of traps and bad addresses. For a better and more detailed version of this model, see the sponsorship example below.
    • Co-Registration
      One consent for registration, applied to to multiple email subscriptions. Many times these are pre-selected, as the host page will get a commission for each additional subscription, resulting in email from sources the recipient may not recognize. This can lead to a higher number of spam complaints about your brand if done incorrectly, or when the incentive is to trick subscribers into multiple lists for profit.
    • Social Portals
      Creating an account for an organization by linking to a social account and its associated email address. Many consumers are willing to do this, but it’s important to be upfront and clear about how you plan to use their information in order to source good data this way.
    • Contests
      Exchanging email addresses for entries in a prize drawing. The better the prize, the more addresses you’re likely to receive. However, it also opens people to the idea of subscribing with multiple accounts, causing bloated lists of inactive emails bogging down engagement and causing a lasting impact on your reputation. This method can be done well with the proper balance of entry limitations and actions to prove a registration is a valid entry (like confirmed opt-in).
    • Event Sponsorship
      Prominent name placement at an event. If you sponsor the latest webinar, then you will likely have strong brand recall by participants. Be sure to send a reminder email to follow-up with attendees to invite them to join your mailing lists. Don’t just subscribe them without their permission. Also, GDPR might require a co-controller agreement with the event management company, so be sure you know the rules.
    • Advertisements
      Purchasing space in e-newsletters with their own distribution lists. Need to reach an audience, but don’t have any email addresses? Look to one of the many publishers offering advertising space in their newsletters. This can come in various ad sizes ranging from a small paid link to a full-page, sponsored email. It’s their consent-based list, their mailing, and your promotion. Be ready to collect the right consent from your new subscribers.
    • Squeeze Pages
      Good SEO and ad targeting for specific products or services. These should be clear and well-branded to let the recipient know who will be sending them information. Managing these yourself will lead to better data collection, validation of the recipient, and solid proof of consent for your record keeping (which may be required by the government).
    • First-Party Web Subscription (the best!)
      The best way to collect email addresses is on your own site, pages, or channels. This gives you full control of the data flow and the privacy of the consumers, plus the freedom to set your recipients’ expectations from the start.

Looking at these various collection practices and the risks associated with each should give you a good idea of where you should spend your time (and money) when looking to grow your lists. A healthy mix of high-quality data sources and understanding where your most valuable subscribers are entering into your email program is key to making list-building decisions that positively impact your business.

Author: Matt Vernhout

Matthew Vernhout is a digital messaging industry veteran and Certified International Privacy Professional (CIPP) with more than a decade of experience in email marketing. Matt is 250ok’s Director of Privacy, and he is currently the Vice Chair of the eec, after serving for several years as the Chair of their Advocacy Subcommittee.

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