A Case for Double Opt-In

A Case for Double Opt-InWhen I got my first job in email almost 8 years ago, my boss had me write an article entitled: “A Case Against Double Opt-in”, which essentially described why double (or confirmed) opt-in was bad and why single opt-in was good. At the time, I was new to email and was working for a company that was in the business of sending email to purchased lists and affiliate generated leads. Some of the reasons I came up with not to use double opt-in were:

    · Recipients didn’t understand the process and thus didn’t complete the process.
    · There was a much better response and ROI when using single opt-in.
    · The rationale of confirmed opt-out made much more sense: if they didn’t want the email, they could simply unsubscribe.

As a result of this rationale, I was constantly battling ISPs to unblock our IP addresses. Needless to say, my argument was not very convincing.

Since those days, I have learned a great deal about email deliverability, and why it is important to confirm email addresses. However, as I talk to clients and companies getting into the email marketing space, I still see that there is a lack of understanding of what opt-in really means. Thus, I will give a brief explanation of the different types.

To make things simple, I will use a scenario, where Joe, an avid Internet enthusiast, wants to know more about fishing, so he goes online to a fishing website and signs up for a weekly newsletter delivered via email:

No opt-in:
After sign up, Joe would simply start to receive the newsletter — no prior communications.

Single opt-in:
After sign up, Joe would immediately receive a confirmation email thanking him for signing up, as well as some expectations on the types of emails he will be receiving and at what frequency. There will also be a link to unsubscribe, if he so chooses.

Confirmed opt-in:
After sign up Joe would immediately receive an email confirming his sign up request, but also a request that he validate this by clicking an activation link. Joe also has the option to ignore this email and not be added to the newsletter, with no further action needed.

Of these three types, confirmed opt-in is the only method that proves:

    · Joe is a real person
    · Joe has a valid email address
    · Joe really did sign up for the newsletter.

There is an element of truth to the fact that when using confirmed opt-in, there will be some users that either won’t understand, or will choose not to complete the confirmation process. However, as most ISPs today have some sort of a spam or complaint option, chances are that senders may lose more business with blocked email than then they would with recipients not understanding the confirmation process.

Therefore you need to follow a confirmed opt-in process, which should work as follows:

    1. Clear communication at the time of sign up: Let the user know that they will be receiving a confirmation email that needs to be acted on, or they will be removed from the subscription.

    2. Clear communication in the confirmation email: Give clear and concise instructions on how to confirm the subscription.

    3. Safe list/address book notice: When sending the confirmation email, it makes perfect sense to ask the subscriber to add your email address to their address book or safe list. Doing this ensures your email already is exempted from many initial spam filters and most likely goes straight to the Inbox.

    4. Reminder emails and automatic unsubscribe: It’s OK to send reminder emails to the user to confirm their subscription, however this should be limited to no more than three. Still, the timeframe for subscription confirmation should not extend past more than a week or so, and if there is no response from the user by then, the email address should be removed. Ideally, this should be done automatically via the system you are using to send the email campaigns.

    5. Use a single link: Provide a single, automated, click-able link in the email that a user only needs to click once to confirm their subscription.

By using a confirmed opt-in process, it will validate the authenticity of your lists and will help to reduce user complaints and ISP delivery issues. In my next article, I will talk about the importance of having a working unsubscribe link. Until then

Jaren Angerbauer
Director of Deliverability


6 Responses

  1. elyse says:

    Great, easy to understand read on Opt-in emails. And yes, I think for CAN SPAM purposes, the easiest and most effective way to have them confirm opt-in would be to place a hyperlink in the body of the email that the user clicks, and the job is done!
    Thanks for the info Jaren

  2. Applause for the thrust of your post Jaren, but the terminology has me confused a little. If Joe signs-up to the newsletter, how can that be "no opt-in"?

    Isn't that single opt-in as it's usually defined by the email marketing industry?

  3. Jaren Angerbauer says:

    Hi Mark,

    To answer your question, unless there is some sort of verification of sign up, there is no way to tell that Joe actually was the person who submitted the sign up request. To clarify this even further, if I were to go to a newsletter site (that didn't use any opt-in methods) and sign up for a newsletter using *your* email address, they would be happily (and ignorantly) sending you newsletters that you never actually requested — thus the "no opt-in" scenario.



  4. OK…so am I right in thinking that what you're saying is this…

    What we conventionally think of as single opt-in isn't really opt-in at all (since it may be a false sign-up). So we would be better served using the terminology that you suggest?

  5. Jaren Angerbauer says:

    To justify an opt-in of any sort, there needs to be some sort of affirmation, whether it be in the form of a verification email (double/confirmed opt-in) or confirmation email that simply affirms that a sign up took place (single opt-in). If neither of these occur, then it would be hard to say that there was really any opt-in process at all.

  6. Eydie says:

    Your caution about double opt-in is even more relevant right now, with the criticisms flying against Facebook and its Beacon program. Beacon, for those who don't know, lets online retailers tell all of one's "friends" about one's recent purchases. Users complain that there's only a tiny window of time on which to act on an "opt out" screen, or else that the opt-out isn't even noticeable. User-friendly, obvious opt-outs are necessary to gain the trust of consumers!

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