Adding new people to your email list is a never-ending process – or should be, anyway. As we think about where and how to find names to replace the people who change jobs, abandon email addresses or simply unsubscribe, it is important to remember what our objectives are in the first place. Increasing the number of people on your list is not an objective. Rather, improving the performance of your email program is the objective. One of the tactics for achieving that objective is growing your list.

But even a larger list does not necessarily make your email program more successful. Instead of simply adding more people to your list, the email marketer’s job is to recruit more people who behave like the people on the list who have already made email a success. The way to do that is to acquire pre-qualified prospects.

Pre-qualified prospects fit into one of the following two categories:

1. People whose attention you have before you have permission to email to them.
2. People who are in market for your product and therefore predisposed to lend you their attention.

Building your email list with people who fit into either of these two categories will help ensure that your new contacts behave similarly to your existing list, exhibiting similar engagement and propensity to buy.

Below is a graphic detailing a number of different list building tactics, mapping potential volume of new subscribers against how well qualified they are. As the colors suggest, the red section is the one you avoid. Go instead to the green. Explanation of a few of these tactics follows the graphic:

List Purchase: This tactic is in the RED section because despite the volume, many of the names you purchase are not just unqualified, but anti-qualified. Spam traps and spam complaints common to purchased lists can hamstring your sender reputation, impacting your deliverability. The issue with bought lists is not (usually) CAN-SPAM compliance. Whether they are legally obtained or not, many people who have never heard of you before that first email to a purchased list will mark it as SPAM, and that makes it harder for all your messages to reach their targets. And the bigger a list you buy, the more SPAM complaints you are likely to get, compromising your sender reputation further.

Conference Marketing: There are three conference tactics in the graphic – Conference Attendees, Expo Sweepstakes and Expo Sign-In. You can draw a line connecting them all that runs from the red section straight towards the green. If you add a whole list of conference attendees to your database (assuming that by registering for the conference they have agreed to allow exhibitors to contact them by email), your first message to them will be the first time many of these people have heard of you. So like a bought list, you run the risk of a number of SPAM complaints, or at least plummeting engagement metrics. The greater exposure you have at the event – with a high-profile sponsorship or a speaking role – the greater the likelihood that more of the attendees will know your brand (ie. you have their Attention before their Permission) and engage with your message. A sweepstakes at your booth gives explicit permission, but does not necessarily mean your participants are in market. You can improve their likelihood to engage by offering a prize that only qualified prospects would try to win, such as a free month of your services instead of an iPad. And of course people who visit your booth and sign up to receive more information without the incentive of a sweeps are the best qualified of all. Despite their lower numbers, they will likely respond to your contact with even greater engagement than your existing list.

Facebook: Facebook is an especially fertile ground for list building because of the potential to sign up a large volume of people whose attention your brand already enjoys.