Is Double Opt-in Overrated?

Why are
we still talking about “double opt-in?” It has been discussed, debated and
explained by the industry leaders over and over again. Yet, it is still
considered by many to be the highest standard of email permission.

Don’t
get me wrong, I have nothing against double opt-in. My reservations are for the
illusion that has the industry believing that it is the highest standard of
email consent. In reality, the double opt-in method is a tool that allows email
senders to segment subscribers who are excited about a program and are willing
to take another action by clicking on the link to ensure they remain with the
email program.

But does
that mean the subscribers using a double opt-in method are clear as to what
they are opting into? Maybe, and maybe not. The answer lies in the disclosure
language of the consent. I suggest we put more focus on the disclosure at the
time of consent and less focus on the double opt-in method.  

But first,
when is double opt-in a good idea? If you run a community website and users are
required to sign up to be a part of this community site, then why not use the
double opt-in signup method to collect emails? Similarly, if you are sending a
diabetes newsletter and your audience includes patients seeking education, you
have an energized audience excited enough to confirm subscription. Double
opt-in is also recommended for companies that are capturing emails through
co-registration programs so they can confirm the true owner of the email address.

Conversely,
if users navigate through your site during comparison shopping and sign-up to
receive your messages, why would you initiate a double opt-in and risk missing
out on the chance to communicate to all of them?  If you are only mailing to a double opt-in
list, you may be missing out on marketing to a huge segment that would like to
receive your communication but was not excited enough to opt-in for it twice.
That’s the biggest drawback to double opt-in – lost opportunities.

Regardless
of where you stand on double opt-in, do not confuse it with permission levels.
Generally, senders that restrict subscriptions to double opt-in adhere to the
highest standards. (This could be why the double opt-in signup method has
gained a reputation as the highest standard of email permission.) The knee-jerk
implication is that single opt-in methods cannot maintain the same standards. That
is simply not true. You can still maintain the highest standards of permission
levels!

The
health of the email program does not lie in whether you use a single or a
double opt-in method. If you want to positively impact the health of your email
program, focus your attention on these key areas: signup disclosure, relevance
and frequency.

Signup Disclosure – Signup disclosure is incredibly
important to your list health, but is often given the least attention. When
creating a signup process, focus on aligning user expectations with the
communications you plan to send. Make sure the process is clear and
conspicuous. Set the right expectation regarding frequency and content at the
very beginning. Many senders are reluctant to disclose frequency at this point in
the collection process. Later, they find themselves struggling with elevated
complaints. You can avoid, or at least diminish, this problem by using words such
as periodically, frequently, weekly or daily.

A clear
and conspicuous signup process also means that disclosure language cannot be in
fine print or hidden in the privacy policy. Instead, it should be present at
the point of collection. A preference center is a great way to capture
interests and set the right expectation on what subscribers can expect to
receive after signing up. A welcome message is another way to reinforce these
expectations.

Frequency – Most senders struggle to find the
optimal frequency for their subscribers. They are either too afraid or don’t
have the technical ability to give this control to users. My advice? Stop
trying to guess the right frequency for your list. Once, twice, three times a
week? Who can tell?

Instead,
improve frequency governance by shifting the controls from list level to user
engagement levels. Set frequency based on where users are in their lifecycle. If
they are actively responding to your communications, then it is likely they are
happy with the frequency and content. If they are not responding to your
communication, then allocate more resources to improving your content and
making it more relevant.

Relevance – You can have the best signup and consent
process and the best preference center in the world, but unless you can keep
your message relevant, your subscribers will disengage over time. Segmentation through
demographics and interests is a successful method for ensuring message
relevance. Plus, it is generally easier to execute. If you segment based on
user preferences, then it is important to frequently encourage users to update
their preferences since these can change over time.

Behavioral
targeting is also a great way for you to keep your messages relevant,
especially through predictive analytics. With predictive analytics, you can
study user behaviors and model them against other users with similar behaviors.
This can be a powerful tool to keep messages relevant over time. Making simple
adjustments in your program can translate into increased performance.

Remember,
opt-in is important, but if you want to make your list – and profits – soar, focus
on signup disclosure, frequency and relevance.

4 Responses to “Is Double Opt-in Overrated?”

  1. Gregg Oldring
    September 27, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    Single opt-in creates delivery problems. Double opt-in avoids them.
    I wouldn't jeopardize delivery to engaged subscribers just for a marginal improvement in list growth.

  2. Dave
    September 28, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    Not a big fan of the term "double" opt-in. Lets use confirmed opt-in. It helps to avoid *some* issues especially in terms of address validity, but I think the article makes a good point about disclosure, frequency and relevance. I've seen confirmed opt-in lists fail because of frequency and relevance issues.

  3. Norm Garrow
    October 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    Putting aside the fact that your article is both well written and informative it's also right on point. I find that most folks have been sold on the idea that any aspect of running an internet business can be resolved with a quick and easy "silver bullet" in this case double opt-in. I agree with you that double opt-in does lead to lost opportunities which translates to missed sales. I appreciate you pointing out that there are no "set in concrete" rules when it comes to frequency. I could go on but you said it best.

  4. Andy T (Pure360)
    October 5, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    A lot of it depends on how and when you collect the sign-up. Many mobile apps, will give you instant access for 24 hours so you can register, use the app but you have to go and click the double optin link within that day to have access tomorrow. So they are covered and still get confirmation.
    With web-shops, you are asked to register in order to purchase but you can browse before that. Amazon stores your actions in a cookie until you login. Then when they send you order confirmations etc. you then get the back and forth for confirmation etc.
    When someone signs up for a newsletter the newsletter might not be due for another week so they don't have to leave your site there and then to click it.

    The important thing, in my opinion, is making sure that the people who sign-up are doing it because they want it. Not because they want the quote, loan or whitepaper. So as Naeem's already said, control expectations, be upfront.
    There is no value in addresses that don't really want your emails so don't collect them in the first place

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