Purchased lists and ESPs: 9 months later


It was about 8 months ago I published a list of ESPs that prohibit the use of purchased lists. There have been a number of interesting responses to that post.
ESPs wanted to be added to the list
The first iteration of the list was crowdsourced from different ESP representatives. They shared the info they had with each other. With their permission, I put it together into a post and published it here. Since then, I’ve had a trickle of ESPs asking to be added to the list. I’m happy to add any ESP. The only requirement is a privacy policy (or AUP) that states no purchased lists.
People reference the list regularly
I’ve had a lot of ESP deliverability folks send thanks for writing this post. They tell me they reference it regularly when dealing with clients. It’s also been listed as “one of the best blog posts of 2015” by Pardot.
Some 2016 predictions build on the post
I’ve read multiple future predictions that talk about how the era of purchased lists is over. I don’t think they’re wrong. I think that purchased lists are going to be deliverability nightmares on an internet where users wanting a mail is a prime factor in inbox deliverability. They’re already difficult to deliver, but it’s going to get worse.
Not everyone thinks this is a good post. In fact, I just recently got an comment about how wrong I was, and… well, I’ll just share it because I don’t think my summary of it will do it any justice.

It seems as though you are just disguising your real intention, by giving the reader a misguided title, that allows your sponsors to be noticed, and you to make money from their advertising dollars. Let’s be clear that the attack on purchased lists is an attack on small business. Not all companies have the resources to build a list in the “proper” way, one way to cost effectively jump start their business is through starting with said “improper” methods.
Your article’s title is misleading and directed to the politically correct business environment ruining this country. It would be nice to publish an article about ESP’s that allow purchased lists, as your title implies.
I will bet we never see that article, considering that you will lose sponsors and the intent of yours or any business, making money.
It is equivalent that if our Lady Liberty had a marketing message “give me your well, rich and privileged marketeers, the rest of you wretched refuse, need not apply”
Do the right thing! Write the intended article!

I do know there are ESPs who allow purchased lists. Most of the time I know of them because they, or their customers, come to me to fix deliverability issues. There is a limit to what I can do. ISPs expect opt-in mail. Business filters expect opt-in mail. Purchased lists are not opt-in. Some filters and ISPs specifically state that senders should not use purchased lists when sending to those ISPs.
I do my best for clients, and for one or two I’ve helped them create programs that get to the inbox at least some of the time. Our rare successes are in very specific, small, niche markets where our forensic approach to deliverability creates a mailing program that works for the senders and doesn’t annoy recipients enough to cause delivery problems.  More often, though, there isn’t a fix. Clients aren’t willing to stop buying addresses or even undertake the hard work to transition to an opt-in program.
For ESPs the it’s even a more difficult business model transition. Some ESPs discover early on that purchased lists are a problem and stop allowing them. Others end up relying on the revenue and can’t disconnect customers using purchased lists. The result is predictable, and I’ve watched multiple ESPs go through this.

  • ISPs start filtering or blocking mail from the ESP IP addresses or mentioning the ESP anywhere in the email.
  • Good customers start looking for new solutions, as their deliverability is suffering. Revenues start dropping.
  • Spamhaus lists some or all of the ESP IP ranges on the SBL.
  • More customers leave for better ESPs.
  • Customers who are purchasing lists can’t move, so the bulk of revenue now comes from companies using purchased lists.
  • ESP notices the significant downturn in revenue and hires outside help (me!) to fix the problem.
  • I work with ESP to try and maintain revenues enough to keep the business running while getting rid of the bad customers.

At this point there are basically two places the ESP can go.

  1. Bite the bullet, go into debt, clean up and start attracting back good customers.
  2. Decide they can’t manage the change and continue mailing purchased lists and accepting their poor deliverability.

The reality is purchased lists are hard to deliver. They cost more than just the initial purchase price. They’re problematic for most ESPs. Some ISPs specifically call out purchased lists as no-nos for inbox delivery. The best managed purchased list programs get to the inbox some of the time. But it’s only going to get harder and harder to reach that purchased inbox moving forward.

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  • There will always be the bad apples. That individual sounds like they are one of those bad apples trying to justify their practices.
    Filtering/Privacy/Compliance is all moving towards opt-in/wanted mail that recipients engage with. This has been happening for a few years from when Google first mentioned their filters were changing.

  • This quote says it all ‘one way to cost effectively jump start their business is through starting with said “improper” methods.’
    Ii it’s too hard to start up a business, just rob a bank. Your need for finance to “jump start your business” , is sufficient justification.

  • Well, yeah, starting a business is hard. Running a small business is hard. I know, I’ve been doing it for a decade now. I don’t think I ever considered robbing a bank, or buying a list, though.
    There’s a bit of a balancing act when talking about organizations that are doing unacceptable things. On rare occasions, I’ve contacted an ISP or blocklist about a client only to get the response, “We took a look at this and they are much, much worse than we realized, we’re going to have to block them.” It’s only happened a time or two, but has made me a little cautious about pointing out bad behavior. There are, I’m sure, at least a few people who will take a list of ESPs allowing purchased lists and preemptively blocking them. I’m not sure I’m willing to be the person to compile the “block these ESPs” list.

  • Hi Laura and all, regarding your statement about not complying a list. I think ESPs who have clients come to them because the client’s current/previous provider has/had problems which is not entirely the fault of the current/previous provider will be able to say x,y,z allow such behaviour which does not help the Anti-Abuse community. At the end of the day, if senders/clients cannot listen to the advice from the experts then no one can help their mindset and the way they perceive email marketing/deliverability to work. You either move with the change and keep up or you get left behind and face the problems and issues. We are all trying to differentiate from the spammers and their behaviour!

By laura

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