Shopping for a List Online at 2 a.m.?

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I looked up "mailing lists" on the Google search engine and came up with more matches than Bayer has aspirin. The top sponsored spot was for "Cheap Mailing Lists" from www.directmailconnection.com.


With one click I challenged it to change my life and the way I think about researching mailing lists. I looked up opportunity seekers from its database of 4,900 yellow pages and 500 white pages phone books it said it uses. I did not know that you could get opportunity seekers from the white pages or that there even was an "Opportunity Seekers" heading in the yellow pages.


I clicked further. The cost was $65 per thousand -- or you could buy 100 names for $15. On the upside, 10,000 names cost $450. But its guarantee scared me off. It would send you two names for every one that came back. I did not want to clean its list so I left. It was 2 a.m., 12 minutes later.


Back at Google, Listbazaar.com, a Web site of infoUSA, also came up at the top of paid spots. It offered selections from a database of 12 million businesses, 250 million consumers and would also sell me a CD Directory of phone books.


Undaunted by my resistance, it then tried to close me on a "Customer Analyzer," which carried a $250 price tag, then cost $250 for 500 names -- which I passed on quite readily.


I clicked toward a count of motorcycle dealers in a 20-mile radius of Philadelphia. I found I could buy the full records of two dozen or so dealers for $10.80, or the base records of dealers for $6. Exit, 16 minutes later.


After a brief stint at Google and a scan down the list of mailing list URLs, I went to Accurateleads.com from Dimark. Its site runs off of 40,000 databases. It offers about 50 specialty lists and offer counts -- but not in real time (I will get a call tomorrow with the count). So, with a click and a whoosh, I headed out at 2:23 a.m., just seven minutes later.


Back at Google I fumbled through several more sites, then landed on No. 11, USAdata, which is Acxiom. I went in. Click: Select by state. Click: advanced list data. Click: 10 to 19 employees and bingo -- Pennsylvania businesses with 10 to 19 people. The list had 37,233 records that I could buy at 20 cents a name or $7,446.60. I then proceeded directly to step four, which is pay and get list.


But, somehow I felt cheated. I felt I should have at least run across a "thank you" by this time -- especially if I was going to plunk down $7,446.60 after being at its site for less than 20 minutes. So I looked for the "back" button and ... there was no going back.


Not yet ready to commit to a $7,000 purchase, I navigated my way to earlier screens and found pop-up miniscreens kept appearing out of nowhere. Clicking around some more, I kept returning to the same screens. So I left 16 minutes after entering its site.


At the 40th slot at the search engine was ZAPDATA from IMARKET and D&B. If you have not heard of ZAPDATA by now, and its offer for 50 free leads -- touted in its many mailings and full-page ads in all the trade rags -- where have you been? So I figured I would go in to get my 50 free leads.


But no. It wanted me to register first. And from the looks of the form I was to sign over my life for 50 stinkin' leads. I left.


Then I typed "Direct+Marketing+Mailing+Lists" into the search parameters on Google and bam -- 4,674,237 pages of catalogs came up. Oops. Finally, the thinkdirectmarketing not-quite-ready-for-prime-time site came up. I clicked on "articles" thinking I could finally learn something and one article came up. The "Books" link took me to Amazon ... and I never did find a list and left 12 screens and six minutes later.


So I scrolled to dmoz.org/business/marketing/direct_marketing, which shows about 100 mailing list links, with one-line descriptions of each. Some were familiar names, but some of the biggies were absent -- like infoUSA and Edith Roman, the firm that sent me the nicest list catalog I ever received.


Knowing the information is out there I typed in EdithRoman.com and finally found some familiar turf. I had enough clearance from previous client work to fully access counts and databases.


While I could get Standard Industrial Classification code counts and a few demographics with the provided click boxes, I could not get multiple overlays that were not included in its checkbox page. Additional information and the tough, lean questions about files that I like to ask list vendors were lacking. File usage, not there. Number of file continuations or rollouts, nope. Recency, frequency, monetary, no. Data card information - yes, for some files.


The Web doesn't do everything, but for basic list investigations or an hour's entertainment for a DM junkie at 2 a.m., it's great.


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