Jun 5, 2006

Purchased & Rented Email Lists Suck

I just stumbled upon this very interesting article from Blackfriars’ Marketing, that compared Google Adwords to Email Marketing for one of their recent campaigns. Their conclusion was that Google worked way better. Their email marketing efforts basically only got a 0.3% response rate (and cost them about $100 per click). Ouch.

So why would MailChimp post a link that poo-poos email?

Because they rented their email list. When you purchase or rent
an email list (even if it’s "opt-in"), don’t expect to get any response
from it. The recipients on that list have no clue who you are, and they
didn’t give you permission to email them.

Is purchasing or renting an email list against the law, or unethical? Not necessarily.

But it’s definitely a waste of money, and will more than likely get you reported for spamming (not to mention it’s a violation of the MailChimp terms of use). Again, that’s because they didn’t give you permission to email them.

By the way, we’re not saying the guys who did the experiment did anything wrong. We’re so glad they actually posted their results, proving how worthless rented lists can be.

On a side note, I recently ran some stats on one of our MailChimp users with a list of over 60,000 recipients. He uses double opt-in for his sign-up process. Every campaign, he gets reported for spamming (from the very people who double opted in) by about 0.08% of his recipients! Most of the reports come from AOL users who have found it more convenient to click the "Report Spam" button, rather than clicking the actual "Unsubscribe Me" link provided in the email. One more reason to provide very prominent unsubscribe links at the top of your email, in addition to the footer (examples).

I compared that to another MailChimp user with a list of about 20,000 recipients, and who uses the single opt-in method. He does a great job of setting expectations on his sign-up page, and sends an email confirmation that tells people exactly what kind of emails they’ll get, and how often. Every time he sends, he gets a 0.25% complaint rate from AOL users.

How do we know they’re getting all these complaints? Because AOL sends our Abuse Desk an email alert, every single time an AOL user clicks that "Report Spam" button for a campaign that came from our system. We monitor those complaints across all user accounts. If anyone exceeds a certain threshold, we send a warning, investigate the account, and take any necessary precautions to prevent blacklisting and to protect the deliverability of our system.

So even if you run a completely clean, permission-based list, you’re gonna get spam complaints. There are some things you can do to prevent complaints, but they’re inevitable (hey, people forget, and we all get lazy sometimes). But if spam complaints are inevitable with permission lists, think how bad they are with purchased lists!

Our recommendation?

Build your own house list. It’s slower, but your response rate will be so much better. There are some tips for growing your house list here. Can’t wait that long? Look into list co-registration with relevant partner sites. Just don’t rent or purchase email lists. Even if they’re opt-in. Even if God himself sold you the list. If you do, just don’t use MailChimp.