In today’s email marketing world one of your most important and valuable assets is your mailing list. When you have a valid list of subscribers who are determined to buy your products and learn about your business, growing, expanding and prospering becomes easy. Once that list is established, adding to it should be a relatively simple matter.

However, creating an entire mailing list from start to end is much more challenging. Why is it so hard? Simply put, it’s because doing so requires a lot of patience, time and resources; and the lure of accelerating this process can prove extremely attractive. That is probably why so many people prefer to take shorter and cheaper solution – scraping email addresses from the websites that they need.

So what are some of the known methods many scrapers use to harvest email addresses?

First of all not only do many scrapers harvest the data, they also buy and even trade completed email address books that they obtained through scraping; get publicly available email addresses from various sources by using harvesting bots or harvesters; use sophisticated methods like dictionary attacks that guesses email addresses based on visible usernames as well as trick people into revealing their email addresses voluntarily in exchange for a product, newsletter or gift.

The above mentioned techniques come in handy when spammers harvest and use email addresses with messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages.

Some people might have the notion that scraping email addresses is quite a fast and convenient way to build a contact list. On the other hand- how do you know that you are the only one scraping this address list from the web and sending out spam emails? The emails which can be scraped from the web are available to everyone performing the same scraping process. This would mean that those on these lists are already receiving a significant number of promotional emails. If you decide to join the list of companies mailing them, you are risking for it to simply fall on deaf ears.

Accordingly, there are many issues that should be considered prior to harvesting email addresses.

Legal issue

How legal is email address harvesting?

Undoubtedly, email scraping is a powerful tool, but when it comes to legal matters, it’s still undergoing growing difficulties. As the scraping process appropriates pre-existing content from across the web, there a number of ethical and legal quandaries that confront businesses who hope to leverage scrapers for their own processes.

Firstly, harvesting emails in this way can be illegal in more countries than you think, including the United States. Despite the shortcomings and embedded loopholes of CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, this act specifically prohibits the practice. It’s not a pure coincidence that professional marketers of reputable companies refrain from harvesting email addresses through sending unsolicited emails. The bigger the company, the larger the lawsuits will be. At the end of the day marketing is all about permission. If you don’t have that, you have nothing.

Reputation issue

How does email harvesting impact on the reputation of a company?

Apart from illegality, there are many other reasons why email scraping is not perfect, One of them is indeed the reputation of your company. This kind of email harvesting and using the addresses to send out spam (that’s what unsolicited emails are called) can be very bad for your business, and it is a dubious and ineffective way to build a loyal base of customers.

Sending spam will ruin any legitimate organization’s reputation and brand value faster than mould grows on bread when it is left outside in the middle of summer. If you’re sending out emails and receiving many spam complaints; chances are you’ll eventually get blacklisted. A blacklist is a list of IP addresses (web server’s online address) that have been reported as sending unsolicited emails.

Bounce rate issue

Are you concerned about your bounce rate skyrocketing?

In email marketing bounce rate refers to the number of emails that couldn’t be delivered. Since the email list you scraped from the web could contain expired and/or abandoned emails; there is always a possibility of seeing high bounce rates when sending emails to this list. When people switch companies or delete their free email accounts like Gmail or Yahoo their emails also change as a result. Since these emails weren’t submitted to you directly, there is no way of checking how fresh they are.

Unexpected difficulty issue

How to scrape email addresses from a website that blocks access to the list?

This might sound pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth the mention. Most respectable websites would make sure that user emails are not publicly visible. Pages containing emails are generally hidden behind a login which accordingly makes them inaccessible to web crawlers. Apart from this, many websites can detect and block web crawlers to prevent data being scraped from their pages. In short, it’s not at all an easy task to collect email addresses by scraping websites.

The worth of the harvested email addresses

Have you considered the actual worth of the scraped email addresses?

Traditionally speaking, people holding key positions in a company are unlikely to have shared their email addresses publicly. Even on websites displaying profiles of professionals; the email field is hardly ever shown publicly (with the exception of LinkedIn). This makes it impossible to get their emails using a bot. By using web scraping, the emails you collect are likely to be of less worth to you from a business point of view. Therefore, if you rely on web scraping, expect to get emails that are yield significant valued responses. Eventually, you end up with an email list that doesn’t possess much value and makes your email marketing campaigns less effective.

While email harvesting is undoubtedly a powerful tool in the hands of an intelligent user; there are several caveats associated with employing this methodology as outlined above. The methods you used to procure an email address database and the end-intention for same is what will determine their worth. So our advice is to be cautious; consider all the risks involved, ask yourself the questions above: if you end up being comfortable with the results- scrape away!