Email Harvesting: Why It’s Wrong and How It Can Hurt Your Business

email harvesting bad ideaWe all know how hard it is to build a new list from scratch. Building a new list of email addresses requires a lot of time, money and patience, and the urge to speed things up can be very strong. That may be why so many newbies consider taking the shortest, and apparently cheapest solution – namely scraping email addresses from websites.

Email harvesting involves a number of different methods, but one of the most common involves the buying and trading of already compiled lists of email addresses obtained through scraping. Others use special software, known in the industry as “harvesting bots” or simply “harvesters” that spider websites, forum postings, and other online sources to obtain publicly available email addresses. Others use a dictionary attack to guess email addresses based on visible usernames. Still, others trick people into revealing their email addresses by offering a free newsletter, gift or other product.

At first glance, scraping email addresses can seem like a fast way to build a list of contacts, but there are many reasons why this is not a good idea. For starters, harvesting emails in this way is illegal in many countries, including the United States. In fact, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 specifically prohibits the practice. Beyond the illegality, however, there are many other reasons to avoid email scraping. This kind of email harvesting can be very bad for your business, and it is not an effective way to build a loyal base of customers.

There is a very good reason professional marketers do not harvest email addresses through scraping. Using technology to scrape email addresses from the web may let you collect thousands of email addresses, but the quality and utility of those addresses will be suspect right from the start. You might have thousands of email addresses in your database, but you do not have the consent of the email owners to receive your emails. Email marketing is based on permission; without that permission you have nothing.

Email harvesting risks
If you ignore the risks and choose to build an email list through scraping, you face a number of significant risks. Some of these risks could hurt the reputation of your business, while others could actually put you out of business. These are just a few of the serious risks of building a list based on scraped email addresses:

  • You could be flagged as a spammer by email clients and ISPs
  • You could be suspended by your SMTP service. No professional SMTP service permits marketers to send unsolicited emails.
  • Your bounce rate could skyrocket.
  • Sending unsolicited emails could ruin your brand reputation.
  • Your company could be fined by local authorities. Each country has different laws regarding unsolicited emails and different punishments for violating those laws.

No matter how tempting it might be, building your email address through scraping is always a bad idea. If you use scraped email addresses, you are likely to get caught, and that could subject you to a huge fine through the CAN-SPAM Act and its international equivalents. Even if you somehow evade detection, the quality of the list you build this way will be questionable at best.

Building a solid consent-based email marketing list takes time, but in the end, it will be well worth the effort.

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