Question: We have a hard time growing our e-mail list and would like to again consider list rental for help. Is that safe these days?

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Answer: You’re not alone in reconsidering list rental. A couple of things are driving the interest: Most of the bad actors are gone; search pricing is on the rise, while e-mail prices have remained at an all-time low; and e-mail vendors have been busy improving their products and delivering results. Most important, people have not stopped joining third-party lists. In fact, the reality is that thousands join third-party lists every day, and they want to receive relevant offers as much as ever. Is it safe? Yes, if you follow the rules.

Here are three of the rules to follow when using a third-party e-mail list for acquisition:

Make sure the list is highly "permissioned." Third-party lists need to be held to a higher standard than, say, a customer file. You need to be sure that the e-mail you send is reaching someone who really wants it. The best way to be sure of this is to rent lists based on the double opt-in permission standard. This ensures that the recipient expects to be getting offers such as yours and also helps increase e-mail deliverability rates by testing delivery and lowering complaints before the list is rented.

Use a trusted partner. The old advice was simply to check out your partner’s sign-up forms and make sure you are comfortable with the opt-in process. Now you need to make sure that the list source is reputable and that the list manager has good standing with spam watch groups and ISPs, as well as within the media industry. Ask about such things as their quality assurance procedures, hygiene practices and deliverability tools. Further, ask to speak with other mailers that have used their lists. Oh, yes, then visit their form and make sure you’re comfortable with the opt-in process.

Steal a page from the search marketing rulebook. Ask the vendor if it’s building its lists based on the list members’ specified interest categories, just as you would when doing paid search. Provide a detailed description of who you are trying to reach and what the offer is, and you’ll get a much better list to rent and much higher response rates. Example: If you’re selling digital cameras, ask if they have a digital camera list. Keywords are the Internet’s best way of ensuring relevance.

And, of course, if you’re looking to grow your list, you should also tune into what you are doing on your own Web site. Make sure you are emphasizing registration for your newsletter or product announcements with a clear, easy-to-find form. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your list will grow by just maximizing the flow of traffic that already comes to your own property.

Michael Mayor is president of NetCreations, the list management division of Return Path ( NetCreations runs PostMasterDirect and IT Pros Direct, both double opt-in list rental companies targeting wide categories.

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