Account Executive @sophmackintosh carries out an experiment to find out the value of paid-for address lists for email marketing campaigns.

A quick Google search will reveal hundreds upon hundreds of companies offering to sell you the data of strangers, promising you it’s the best way to magically get your brand out there. But does this really work? We all know the annoyance of spam emails dropping into our inboxes. Are people really likely to respond and engage with a random email from someone they’ve probably never heard of?

We decided to try it out first hand, purchasing 1000 emails from a website that promised they would be targeted contacts (aimed at the SME market). We then came up with a nicely-designed email designed to appeal to our audience, while trying to avoid the mistakes that many spammy mass emails make. So, what happened?

Buying the contacts

After getting several quotes (prices stretched up into the thousands, and you could buy tens of thousands of contacts at a time) we decided upon one company. We requested 1000 targeted contacts for unlimited use, and paid £254.

So how did these contacts stack up? Well, a quick look over the list showed that many, far from being small businesses, were actually corporations – including McDonalds. As franchises, they were technically small businesses, but ones unlikely to be suitable for our campaign – and emails to large corporations are more likely to go straight to spam and have no impact. Still, we decided to see what would happen.

The email

We crafted a targeted, well-designed email introducing ourselves that clearly stated why the reader was receiving it, encouraged them to find out more about us, and which had an obvious unsubscribe button for anyone who wasn’t interested. We wanted to ensure it didn’t look like spam, and that it would be an email applicable to our targets. With our list of (mostly) relevant contacts, it would surely be successful – right?

The campaign

Out of 1000 sent emails, 145 bounced because the email address didn’t actually exist – a rate higher than the actual open rate, which was a mere (and pitiful) 121. Out of those 121 opened emails, just 10 people clicked through to our website; that’s a 1 per cent success rate. It was marginally higher than our ‘abuse’ rate, though, with 8 people reporting us as spam despite our best efforts with the wording of the email.

That works out at £25.40 for every click through to the website – a bit steep, really. And with a bounce rate of almost 15 per cent, we paid £38.10 for contacts that were completely useless in the first place.

Our conclusion?

If our carefully-planned out, targeted email campaign using bought contacts didn’t work, then we don’t think scatter-gun random emails to tens of thousands of people will have any impact whatsoever (except for on your bank balance). Don’t waste your money – you’re essentially shelling out to have people mark you as spam, losing credibility for your company overall, and annoying potential customers rather than engaging them. There are much more effective ways to generate leads.

For more of our reviews on popular marketing techniques that waste your money, see our Value of Newswires series.

This post originally appeared on the B2B PR Blog.