The One Question to Tell if an Email List Vendor Is Legit

Are the names for perpetual use?

The answer to that one simple question will tell immediately if a company offering email names for rent is legitimate or not.

If the answer is “yes,” do not under any circumstances do business with the firm offering the names.

Why? Like it or not—and no matter what the law says—email is a permission-based marketing channel.

Email’s gatekeepers—system administrators at companies and universities, anti-spam personnel at Yahoo!, Google, Hotmail and the like—exert 100 percent control over what makes it into their email account holders’ inboxes and what doesn’t.

And here are the three primary metrics email’s gatekeepers use to decide whether or not incoming email should be blocked as spam:

. There are two types of spam traps: First, some ISPs, such as Yahoo!, turn email addresses that have been dormant for a long period of time, say, 18 months, into spam traps. ISPs assume, probably correctly, that mailers who hit those address aren’t exercising list hygiene.

The second type of spam trap is called a “honey pot” address. These are addresses anti-spam advocates put on the Internet that have never been signed up for anything. Hitting these addresses means the mailer has either been harvesting addresses off the Internet or has bought a list of names from a vendor that has been harvesting addresses.

And guess what a purchased list of email names will be chalk full of? Addresses that send all three of the gatekeepers’ anti-spam metrics off the charts, that’s what.

As a result, the ISPs will block the mailer’s messages as spam.

What is more, not only will the ISPs block email to the names on the purchased list, they’ll block email to even the mailers permission-based names.

Even worse, they’ll block future mailings, as well.

As a result, the mailer who sends to a purchased email file will be prevented from communicating with even its best customers through email, not just for the current mailing but for some time in the future known only to the spam—prevention employees at the ISPs.

And there’s nothing the mailer can do except play by the ISPs’ rules. They own the pipes. They decide who gets in and who doesn’t.

No legitimate company sells email addresses for perpetual use. No legitimate company lets the mailer take possession of the names.

The only legitimate way to rent email addresses is when the list owner sends email to its subscribers on the marketer’s behalf.

The marketer who buys an email list “for perpetual use” will learn what a mistake the purchase was about as fast as it takes to hit “send.”

Ken Magill is a veteran marketing journalist and author of The Magill Report. Reach him at

If there’s one word that most aptly describes Ken Magill’s coverage of online marketing, it’s fearless. For more than a decade, Magill has built a reputation for calling it like he sees it no matter who may get offended. Some marketers read his column just to make sure they’re not in it. In a trade-publishing market populated mostly by vendor representatives who must watch what they say, Magill stands out as the one guy who says what he thinks. Moreover, he often writes what others are thinking, but are afraid to say. He can even be very funny.

Having been a direct marketer, and having covered online marketing since 1997 for DM News, Direct, Chief Marketer and Multichannel Merchant magazines, Magill offers a unique, informed perspective on the evolution of digital selling. He was also founding editor of trade weekly iMarketing News and Magilla Marketing, a newsletter dedicated to e-mail.

He is currently founding editor of the recently launched trade weekly email newsletter The Magill Report.