Email Lists: Build vs. Buy

Each year, institutions spend A LOT of money on buying lists of prospective students built around desirable traits (such as test scores, geography, demographics, etc.).  However, when it comes to email marketing tactics, it’s become pretty clear that in-house lists yield better results than these rented lists.  The reason?

Quite simply, with an in-house list that you build on your own you’re marketing to people that have already expressed an interest in your institution.  

Across industries, marketers agree that email marketing is most effective when you send relevant content to recipients that opt-in to receiving communications from you.  This week, MarketingSherpa’s chart of the week lists the most effective tactics in order:

Rented lists are clearly not viewed as being effective.  So why do institutions keep spending money on renting/buying lists?  Perhaps it’s because the market for education is different?  Students take tests so that they can get into a college?  So naturally, they’d want to hear from my college, right?  Wrong.

We recently did an analysis for a large undergraduate school on the East coast and found that their success rates with homegrown lists were not only better than with rented lists, but WAY better:


Both in terms of view rates and click through rates, the in house lists won every time…and on average they were far better than the average rented list of names.  Why?

In today’s world, many students have already come up with a short list of colleges well before that first email hits their inbox.  The schools who get their emails read are generally the ones that the student seeks out, not the ones that purchased their name.  

So what are you doing to make sure students are seeking you out and opting in?  Are you still relying on list purchases to spread your message?  Is it working?