B2B Email Lists: How Publishers Use (or Abuse) Your Email

In B2B marketing, and particularly in enterprise technology marketing, publishers lean heavily on email lists for lead generation programs, including whitepaper and webcast promotions.

B2B email lists also still command high rental rates ($300+ CPMs are very common). Both directly or indirectly, email continues to be an important vehicle for B2B publishers.

But when you rent an email list, purchase an ad in an email newsletter or run a lead generation program with a publisher, do you know how much the publisher has used (or abused) their email list?

  • Have serial non-responders been removed?
  • What percentage of emails go straight to the spam folder?
  • How many emails does a publisher send to their list?
  • Do they share their list with other companies?

To find out, we set up new email accounts and registered to access a whitepaper from 10 different publishers. Each address was used only once; then we walked away from the account for seven and a half months. We did not open a single email. We did not even log in. When we finally checked those email accounts, here is what we learned:

An Overview of B2B Publisher Email Habits

Publishers Send LOTS of Email
Only 6 of the 10 publishers emailed regularly through the test but those six sent more than 2,000 emails. TechTarget easily topped the list with more than 1,000 emails.

Publisher Are Not Cleaning Out Dormant Emails
Of the six publishers that emailed regularly, not a single one meaningfully reduced the frequency of emails, despite zero activity in more than 7 months. Four of the six publishers significantly increased frequency, likely indicating publishers are continuing to increase their use of email.

Notably Ziff Davis Enterprise, which had the highest increase in frequency, was purchased by QuinStreet shortly before this test started. The increase may represent a switch from Ziff’s historical email practices to QuinStreet or an artificially low number of emails sent during the initial transition.

Spam Filters Causing Problems
The email accounts used all run through Google mail and use Google’s spam filter. Although there were only a few emails caught in the spam filter in the last month, 24% of Ziff Davis Enterprise emails from the last month were flagged as spam and 10% of IT Business Edge’s emails landed in the spam folder. With both owned by QuinStreet, this may indicate broader issues with QuinStreet’s email practices.

TechTarget, despite sending far more emails than anyone else, did not have a single email in the last month caught in the spam folder.

Emails Are Shared Internally
None of the accounts received any classic spam email. The accounts did not receive a single email from a Nigerian prince, offering a fake Rolex or a random services pitch. Clearly none of the publishers outright sold the email address to a third party.

However, the email address in many cases was shared and used by multiple properties within the publisher. In one case it was rented even though we specifically opted out of rentals when registering.

  • The accounts used to register with CIO and Network World, both part of IDG, were shared with ITWhitepapers, another IDG property. More than half of the email to these addresses was actually from ITWhitepapers, not CIO or Network World.
  • TechTarget emails came from multiple TechTarget sites as well as BitPipe, another TechTarget business.
  • Ziff Davis Enterprise emails, although they all came from a core Ziff account, represented a range of original Ziff and QuinStreet properties.
  • After receiving no emails for nearly 6 months and unchecking a box that should have removed the account from all list rentals, InformationWeek rented the email address multiple times in the last few weeks. Emails were received from TechWeb sites as disparate as Dr. Dobbs, Dark Reading and Bank Systems & Technology.

Background: Included Publishers

The 10 publishers included were CIO, IDG Connect, Information Week, IT Business Edge (ITBE), Madison Logic, Netline, Network World, TechRepublic, TechTarget and Ziff Davis Enterprise. No marketing emails were received from Madison Logic, Netline or TechRepublic.

Your Turn

What do you see publishers doing and what’s your opinion, as a marketer and potential client of these publishers, of the way publishers are using their email lists?

Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Image Credit: Email by Keith Ramsey on Flickr

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  • tomdebaere

    Hi Eric,

    Thank you for these insights. I have never been a fan of buying lists exactly for the reasons you describe. However, when we buy advertising space in online or offline magazines, and when we occasionally ask the media publication to use their mailing list, we do see ‘extra blood’ coming into our contact database, and website traffic.

    So there is definitely value in using them. The big question is how can we get these people engaged with us, and have them subscribe to some of our mailing lists. The problem with these rented mailing lists is that they contain so many people of so many different markets, interests etc… that it is easy to ‘piss off’ people and as such harm your brand.

    The solution to that is segmentation. I know that these lists can come with segmentation data next to each contact. Here it is important to understand how well that segmentation matches with your idea of segmentation.

    Anyway, I thought that this comment would add to your post.



    • Thanks Tom. Your comments always add, I appreciate them.

      I agree, being targeted, so you can actually be relevant to the audience, is critical.

      Email lists are often difficult to evaluate short of running a test, hopefully as marketers develop a better understanding of how publishers use their lists they will be in a better position to evaluate them.

      Thanks for your addition to the post!

  • Great research, Eric! We work with a lot of clinical publications and they are much more protective of their email and direct mail lists (which we understand but it makes our jobs harder!). This is important to consider though, and doing a test run like you did is a GREAT idea!

    • Thanks Margie! Hmm, maybe more tests are in order…


  • Great stuff Eric, would like to see this same research on Trade Shows. Some are very protective but most will “rent” to anyone…especially around the timing of the show. Most actually turn over the addresses and require nothing but a promise of one-time only usage. Pretty easy to tell who is abusing this privilege when you end up on 35 random mailing lists around the same time you register for an event.

    • Traci, interesting idea. This test wouldn’t be that hard to replicate with trade shows or other environments where you provide your information, let me know if you want to create a test of it with me!

  • Eric, this is a very insightful article. It becomes painfully obvious that publishers are oversending to their lists when you make the mistake of paying a lot of money for a dedicated email blast … and you get all of nine clicks.

    I worked briefly for an independent IT publisher (none of the ones profiled here) and they had no practices in place for list cleaning. They had no email expertise in-house whatsoever.

  • ÀfricaRM

    Hello Eric,
    Thank you for your efforts in this issue. I’m currently writing a piece on the use and abuse of email marketing for a small magazine, and if you don’t mind I am going to cite you and the results of your research.
    Best regards,

    Àfrica Rubiés-Mirabet

    • Of course. Please send me a link to your final article, interested to see it.

  • Keikax1

    Practical article – I learned a lot from the specifics – Does someone know if my company could possibly get ahold of a blank OPM OF-306 version to fill in ?

    • Sarah Morones

      Hello Keikax1. my friend found a template Employee Warning Notice example at this site http://goo.gl/NJmGSd