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How Effective Are Purchased Lists, and Do You Need to “Warm Them Up” First?

I wrote a blog post recently about why we believe purchasing targeted email lists makes sense — not just for Newfangled, but for the majority of our clients, too. In that first post, I explained our recommendation to purchase lists in terms of the number of contacts needed at the top of the sales funnel at any given time to meaningfully drive conversions and, ultimately, sales.

Today, though, I want to address another concern I had when I first started playing with the idea of purchased lists — and that was their effectiveness as compared with an organically built, opt-in-based list.

Let me back up. When we purchased our first list, I thought, well, I can’t just a buy a list — even a targeted list of agencies throughout North America — and throw them in our newsletter list and just start sending the newsletter. I thought I needed to warm them up, get the list primed before sending them our core content emails. So we came up with an idea, and that was to create a survey on the state of digital marketing for small agencies.

I called up David Baker from ReCourses and Blair Enns from Win Without Pitching and told them I wanted to do a combined survey. I let them know that selfishly I was doing it because I wanted to warm this list up, but the byproduct of the survey was going to be great for everybody and it was going to be a good branding piece, too, so it just made sense. They were game, so the three of us each came up with questions we wanted to ask and put the survey together collaboratively.

Newfangled bought a list of 4,000 names. We already had 6,000 contacts on our email list, so in buying 4,000 contacts we instantly almost doubled our list. Incidentally, we had earned those 6,000 over the course of 11 years, from 2000 to 2011. Most of it happened slowly and steadily over the course of that time, but that 6,000 number also included a huge viral thing that happened for us: Smashing Magazine listed us as one of like the top five most important newsletters for designers, and we got something like two or three thousand subscribers from just that in the course of a week.

The other thing about building up a list up over a long period of time like that is that it becomes really diluted and old. Of those 6,000 names we’d accrued over 11 years, how many qualified prospects are even on that list at this point? So, in buying a list of 4,000 prime prospects — decision makers at agencies in North America — we added this really potent batch of names. So, although we were almost doubling the list in terms of raw numbers, we were probably far more than doubling the number of actual prospects.

We put the survey together and sent it to our newly augment list as well as the lists from ReCourses and Win Without Pitching and ended up sending the survey to about 30,000 unique agency professionals. The survey got a 1% return rate, which is a very standard metric. That meant we had 300 decision makers — most of whom were agency owners — who completed our entire 90-question survey. We were thrilled: not only was it an amazing data collection and industry research tool, but it also accomplished our goal of warming up the list. Of the purchased names we bought, only 1% unsubscribed and not a single one marked it as spam.

To me, it was a home run. The first email they got from us was one asking them to take the survey, and the second email, which we sent a month later, shared the results of the survey, which were actually really interesting. Then, from that point forward, those 4,000 remained on our list and were part of the stream of our usual content-based email program.

We thought the survey had been so successful in warming up the purchased list because we had started by appealing to their egos. First, we were asking their opinion, which everyone loves, no matter who they are or what they do. Then, we were saying, “Here’s what all your peers said,” which everyone’s interested in, so it was it was kind of like candy. Then, after they got two emails in two months, they were familiar with Newfangled and were ready to receive our usual content. From that point on, we maintained a really strong subscription rate and an incredibly low spam rate.

I was really psyched about that and immediately started recommending it as a way to warm up newly purchased lists. But then, a few months later, I finally meet Dave Currie, the CMO of The List, for the first time. We were at the ReCourses/WWP New Business Summit together and I very excitedly told him the story of our survey and how successful it was in onboarding our purchased list. He asked what our unsubscribe rate was, and when I told him it was 1%, he made a claim that really shocked me. He said, “you could have taken the whole list, thrown them right on, not sent them any survey or warmed them up in any way, and you’d have seen the same results.” To be honest, I thought he was crazy, but I figured I should trust him, seeing as it’s his business and he knows what he’s doing. But I needed to see it for myself.

We bought another 2,000 names and didn’t warm them up one bit, just threw them on the list and they started getting emails from us the next week, just whatever was in the queue for our full list. And you know what? We saw a 0.86% unsubscribe rate with those people. And that’s when we realized that so long as you are well positioned and are creating very strong, unique, expertise-based educational content for your prospects, then a highly targeted purchased list can be every bit as effective as the one you’ll build up organically over time via opt-in subscriptions, or the purchased list you took great pains to pre-nurture. The List Inc is an excellent resource, and I definitely recommend their services. There are others, like Hoovers and Goldmine and, which is owned by Salesforce, but I’d start with The List just because their data is so strong.

So, between last week’s blog post and this one, that’s the full story — how and why we came around completely to purchasing lists. Like I said in my last post, the number one thing agency websites suffer from is a lack of traffic. If there isn’t enough traffic, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. If the site doesn’t move the needle, it’s not feasible to think you can earn your numbers over time: it just takes too long. You really do need that one-time injection of highly targeted names.

And that brings me to an important point: You shouldn’t need to constantly purchase new lists. Once you buy those 2,000 or 3,000 names — however many you need initially — then the momentum of your site should carry it from there on out. You’ve got your content strategy, you’re adding new content that’s going to bring in new people, and some of those people will convert. And, you’re sending out email messaging to that base on a regular basis. That should get you close to 100 unique visitors per weekday for 2,000 unique visitors per month, which is our recommended target. Based on those numbers you should expect at least roughly 50 conversions per month, which should more than make up for the natural entropy of the original list.

If you want to know more about purchasing lists, you can check out our two-part webinar series on the topic or hit us up with questions in the comments.

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