Just how good are bought-in email marketing lists?

email2A couple of months ago, I wrote about the potential merits of bought in lists and some of the potential pitfalls. As I said at the time, there is no question that building your own list of qualified, relevant contacts who you know and who know your business it the best way to build an effective marketing database but it does take time and so people do look to buying lists as a shortcut.

In the past few weeks we have had a couple of opportunities to practically test the accuracy and value of a couple of bought-in lists – with some interesting results:

Case 1 – The BIG list

A client approached us with some lists she had bought. All lists were sold as fully checked and 100% opt-in so , on the face of it, legitimate and useable? Across the lists there was a total of over 800,000 records! Yes, alarm bells should be ringing!

But these were clearly not just lists of email addresses harvested from the internet (always a complete no-no in my view). Lists included company names and addresses, telephone numbers, Number of Employees, Turnover, Business Activity and even contact names and positions. Not all details for all records but certainly a significant majority. Very much what one might expect to see from any of the hundreds of data brokers that operate across the UK. Whereas most brokers tend to charge anything from £30 to £250 per 1000 records the cost of this list was less than £0.50p per 1000

I was intrigued and felt this was worthy of some further investigation so we set to work.

Our starting point was to presume that the quality of the lists was too poor to be used in a legitimate campaign (this is no reflection on the data provider but simply , in our view, a reasonable and professional starting point). Our primary objective was to see if we could improve the quality of the data

This is what we did:

  1. Delete all records with no email address – took out around 10,000 records
  2. Delete all records with web-based email addresses (hotmail etc) – took out around 50,000 records
  3. Flag all records where more than 15 records had the same domain (This was mainly to exclude very big companies which were not relevant to our client’s needs) – flagged around 150,000 records

By now we had reduced the list by over 200,000 records – around 25% – but we still had 600,000+ to go at. Now to test the data quality:

Using dedicated verification software we checked every single email address we had left. With such a big list it took quite some management and about 2 weeks to complete but by the end we had identified over 300,000 ‘bad’ addresses.

The ‘master’ list was now down to a third the size of our starting list but, on the flip side, it was significantly better qualified – but we hadn’t finished…

Although we flagged and excluded all email addresses where 15 or more had the same domain this still left many companies with multiple (up to 14) email addresses on the list. Simply sending to everyone can trigger Spam filters and certainly does not indicate best practice so where we had multiple addresses for a company we excluded all generic (sales@. info@ etc.) addresses.  To ensure only 1 email was going to a company at any one time, we selected the single email address in a domain that we felt was likely to be most appropriate to our clients needs – there was always the option to target other contact in future.

As a final step to creating a qualified and manageable database we used Postcode information from records to split the data into 6 separate UK regions – as it happens, our client was primarily interested in the Midlands and North.

The final outcome:

We started with a list of over 800,000 records. By the time we had finished our verification process we had excluded 85% of them! If you take into account the fact that our client was only interested in certain regions, we had a list of 55,000 – we effectively excluded almost 95%. There is no question that the list we ended up with is significantly more qualified and targeted than where we started – and even taking into account the cost of qualification process, the real cost of the list still compares extremely favourably with traditional list brokers.

Case 2 – Is your list good enough?

Another client came to us with a problem. He had bought an email list of 13,000 records in their target sector. When he tried to import the list into his email marketing system it was rejected on quality grounds – he could not use his list.

Note: Specialist email marketing systems providers (the legitimate ones anyway!) have strict compliance rules as what lists you can and cannot use in their system. This is quite understandable as maintaining quality and professionalism is vital – but it does mean that you have to be careful not to spend money on lists which you may then find you can’t use.

He asked us if we had any ideas. It appeared his problem was that there were too many ‘bad’ addresses that were flagging as failures. With our support, he removed all web-based addresses and we put the remaining list through our verification system which flagged 3,500 – around a quarter of his list – as failing.

The net list totalled 8,500 records which, when resubmitted to his email system was imported and accepted, no problem.

The list has been used on campaigns and has generated open rates and click-rates in line with many email campaigns (18% and 10% respectively), and most important, enquiries and business. Furthermore them have been NO complaints, only a modest number of bounces and unsubscribes – as would be expected with any campaign.

In Summary

In my opinion it is unnecessarily harsh to say that a bought list must NEVER be used in an email marketing campaign but any such lists must be carefully verified and, as with all marketing (online and offline) used in a professional, targeted reasonable and relevant campaign.

Quality and professionalism are key to long-term success.

If you would like to discuss the use of email lists and email marketing in your business, get in touch.

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About Duncan Wright

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Over the past 25 years, working in both the corporate world, and the field of SME marketing consultancy, Duncan Wright has developed extensive knowledge & experience that really adds value to BSA Marketing's clients.

As a member of the CIM, and as a Chartered Marketer, Duncan has the marketing knowledge to come up with relevant and innovative marketing strategies for clients, whilst at the same time possessing the technical knowledge to turn these strategies into relevant and sustainable marketing campaigns in the real world.

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