Email Marketing – Would You Like That Served With Double Or Single Opt-In?


In the USA, Double opt-in has been considered now as Best Practice for many a year. However, many of you may be surprised to know that double opt-in is not a CAN-SPAM requirement, nor is it a requirement of countries which have the toughest legislations.

So why then double opt-in? What are the benefits of double opt-in and why have not other countries embroidered it as Best Practice as heartily as the USA?

In a nutshell, I believe that it is to do with the amount of spamming a country produces. Whilst there are some other benefits of double opt-in, the main benefit is that you have foolproof evidence that a subscriber has signed up.

This is beneficial within the USA for 2 reasons:

1: The USA in general has an Opt out legislation.

2: The USA has the 2nd highest amount of spammers worldwide.

The results of the above is that generally speaking, recipients in the USA tend to hit the 'this is spam' button rather than the 'unsubscribe' link, due to the more lax legislation, which requires respondents to unsubscribe rather than subscribe. Therefore, if you use double opt-in and are accused with spamming, you can, armed with your irrefutable double opt-in information for the complainant, approach the ISP when you're blacklisted and refute the charge.

However, this is not the case with countries which have 'opt-in' legislation such as UK, Australia, France, Italy, Germany and the likes … As their legislation is based on opt-in, rather than opt-out, the practice of reporting as spam instead of unsubscribing has not been as big an issue, which in turn generally reduces the chances of being blacklisted.

Therefore, due to stricter legislation and less spamming activity, other countries have not implemented double opt-in as stringently as the USA has – basically, because the need has not been there.

Before we go any further, let's look at some definitions:

Single Opt-in: Single Opt-in is considered as a subscriber registrants to receive email communications from yourself via either sending an email to you requesting to subscribe or subscribing using a form on your website. A confirmation or 'welcome' email may or may not be sent. I'm not sure about the percentage of legitimate marketers using 'single opt-in' VS 'single -opt-in with confirmation email', however from my observations; it would appear as though the major send either either an automated confirmation email (required by most ESP's) or a welcome email.

Double Opt-in (other known as 'Confirmed Opt-in' or 'Closed Loop Opt-in'): This goes one step further. Within the confirmation email, a request is made for the subscriber to click on a link to finalise their subscription request. Only upon clicking on this link are they subscribed.

Each side of this debate has legitimate reasons for their preferred choice, so let's look at the positives and negatives of each:

The Case for and against Single Opt-in (with confirmation email):

You retain 100% of your subscribers. Providing, also that you send a confirmation or welcome email, you should also be able to determine immediately whether the email which was used for the subscription was a functioning email address.

From a Business point of view, single opt-in's lead the way. As Ann Holland from MarketingSherpa succinctly stated:

"Professional publishing means running your company as a business. It's smart business to not put barriers in front of a sale (or opt-in).

"If I changed my company's policy to double opt-in – which would reduce our new monthly opt-ins by probability 50% – I would then lose substantial revenues.
Not every company can afford to lose 30-50% of their potential subscribers. It is easy and tempting to pass off the 'lost subscribers' as not being worth anyhow, as obviously they were not interested enough to reply, but there's enough evidence to support that it's not just due to lack of interest that they are not completing the double opt-in process …

Bill Nussey from Silverpop recently said: "And, in my view, the only way to make customers even angrier than sending them unsolicited email, is NOT to send them the critical email updates that they went out of their way to request."

According to MarketingSherpa's Email Marketing Benchmark Guide 2007 (USA based), only 37% B2C firms use single opt-in. It is interesting to note, and therefore to put into perspective that all reports are based on reports based on this article. Not only does this show the popularity of double opt-in in the USA, but also, many of these results, such as the above result, are USA specific and can not be taken as general worldwide findings.

The Case for and against Double Opt-in

Even way back in 2002, ClickZ was reporting between 40-60% losses and things have not changed much since then … all reports seem to indicate that the losses average out to being 50%.

Marketing Sherpa revealed in a 2005 study performed by Pivotal Veracity that 18% of filtered messages were transactional – such as Welcome messages to new opt-ins.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Advocates for double opt-in state that lists grown using double opt-in result in higher quality lists. This is based upon the promise that they were dedicated and interested enough to complete the subscription process.

Subscribers who have double opted-in are also more likely to actually receive the e-communication within their inbox than a single opt-in subscriber. Marketing Sherpa reported a 10% difference in deliverability between double and single opt-in lists.

Traditionally, one of the benefits of double opt-in has been that you end up with a cleaner list … however as the trend for single opt-ins now is to send a confirmation or welcome email, this essentially should produce as clean a list as a double opt-in list, providing you action the undelivered addresses and delete them from the list.

The advocates for double opt-in would also say that you stand a greater chance of the subscriber forgetting they had signed up if you used only single opt-in …. however, I would find it difficult to believe that they would remember any better , simply because they had responded to an email.

The main points to remember, which option you choose, is that by making your e-communications interesting, relevant and regular, you will increase your chances of retaining your subscriber and not causing them to 'forget'.

I personally do not believe that you can generally state that one option is better than the other. Every business needs to make a decision for themselves based on their geographic market, industry, whether they're B2C or B2B and finally, whether like MarketingSherpa, it ends up being a matter of economics.

Finally, if you are in two minds why not put it to the test and see which one works best for you?


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