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Email Marketing: Single Opt-in vs. Double Opt-in

Single Optin vs Double Optin

It’s kind of like “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?”

Double Opt-in (aka Confirmed Opt-in) vs. Single Opt-in has been the debate for as long as I can remember when it comes to list building and email marketing.

The email service provider always wants the double opt-in for better list quality, few complaints & spam traps, etc.

NOTE: If you take a moment to review the ISP best practices, many of them ALSO recommend confirmed opt-in.

The email marketer feels they are losing out on valid subscribers if they use double opt-in since a certain percentage won’t ever click the confirmation button.

So, the battle rages on…

First things first, I’m certain we can all agree that you’ll get MORE subscribers if you use single opt-in. In other words, every email address that is entered into your web form now becomes a “lead”. So naturally, by not requiring them to take an additional action, you’re going to have MORE subscribers that you can send your messages to.

However, let’s also agree that you’re going to wind up with higher QUALITY subscribers if you require a confirmed opt-in as part of your subscription process.

PLUS, these leads are much less likely to complain about your emails, will have little to no spam traps, and are valid addresses. This helps with your overall deliverability. These confirmed opt-ins are also much MORE likely to engage with your messages by opening your emails and clicking your links, which translates to higher inbox placement across the board. So, while you’ll wind up with fewer subscribers, you’ll have better subscribers and better deliverability with a double opt-in list.

Even after having said that, most marketers will argue AGAINST double - or confirmed – opt-in because they feel like they’re not getting all the subscribers they could be getting.

The Psychology of Your Initial Interaction

Most likely, you have some sort of “freebie” or “bribe” that people get in exchange for giving you their email address.

You should absolutely deliver the item of value in an email.

In other words,

  1. A person visits your website and decides they want this free gift you’re offering
  2. They enter their email, and any other required information, in the form field and hit submit

In order to RECEIVE this item, they need to check their email to download the PDF, get the video link, etc.

This forces them to give you a real email address.

If they’re not even willing to do that, what’s the likelihood that they’re going to really want your related emails and offers? Chances are, they’re just trying to rip off an idea or get some free content from you if they aren't even willing to give you a good email address.

In other words, don’t give them the gift on the next page. Make them go to their email and click the link to access it.

While this doesn't guarantee you won’t wind up with some bad addresses in your list, it increases the odds of them giving you a real address if they truly want the information. Again, if they won’t even give you a valid email address, they’re really not interested in what you have at all and are just poking around for freebies.

When you require a valid email address, it causes a subconscious anchor (and generates a real email address).

What it also does is forces the new subscriber to interact with you via email right off the bat. This not only increases deliverability due to higher engagement, but it also instantly connects you with quality content. And it gets them used to engaging with you via email.

Plus, requiring the subscriber to take an extra action to get the information starts the engagement process early. You’re conditioning your subscribers to open your emails and click the links in them.

This way, when you send out your next email, they won’t be wondering who you are and why you are emailing them, and in turn, clicking the spam button. They’ll be more likely to actually open your emails.

The Double Opt-in (or Confirmed Opt-in) Process

The above example clearly demonstrates the benefit of sending your gift, freebie, or bribe via email. And while some may argue that it’s better to keep them on thank you page and sell the something, the benefits of sending to their email straight away far outweigh the benefit of staying on the confirmation page, or sales page.

TIP: Have another version of your sales page with the link to the free gift at the top, so when they click on the link to redeem their PDF, video, or other, they’ll have another opportunity to see your sales message.

Depending on the email software you’re using, you can simply create this identical flow where the confirmation link is simply the link to download the special report, checklist, etc.

So instead of saying “Confirm Your Subscription and allow me to send as much mail to you as I want”, you’re saying, “Hey, here’s that link I promised. Let me know what you think!”

The end result is the same for you, but the experience for the subscriber is much different.

Benefits of Implementing A Double Opt-in Process

Your email marketing program will reap a number of benefits when you start using a double opt-in process.

  • Fewer complaints
    Confirmed subscribers are much more likely to recognize your email messages in their inbox because they've already had to go and find you once to get the free offer you provided.
  • Ability to train them how to consume your emails
    In your initial email, you can also provide them with steps to whitelist your email address, how to change their preferences within your email program, etc.
  • Mark your email as “This is not spam”.
    This is an important feedback metric for the ISPs. By requiring them to click on the link, in most clients, they will have to move the message TO the inbox in order to click the link and get the bribe. Once they've moved it to the inbox, they’re not likely to put it back in the spam folder! THIS type of engagement is highly effective in improving your inbox deliverability. It demonstrates to the ISPs that people want to receive email from you.
  • Higher general engagement
    While you’ll have somewhat fewer subscribers, the quality of your subscribers will be better and they are more likely to open subsequent messages ASSUMING that your content is great!
  • Better list hygiene
    Since you’re only mailing to people that have confirmed, you’ll be mailing to fewer bad addresses, which improves deliverability and inbox placement, and reduces the number of ISP blocks and blacklists you run into.
  • Not mailing spam traps
    Since a spam trap won’t confirm, you won’t be mailing subsequent messages to these bad addresses.
  • Better inbox placement rates
    Because of all of the factors above, your email marketing program, in general, will have better inbox placement rates.

"But I’ve been using single opt-in for YEARS with no problems"

When it comes to email marketing, the game is always changing. What was working years ago is not necessarily working the same way (or even at all) anymore.

ISPs continue to get more and more sophisticated and focus more on their user experience. Their primary goal is to deliver the email messages that their customers want and filter out the email messages they don’t want. As a result, they look at mountains of data from senders, from IP addresses, even general message content when making their filtering decisions.

While moving from single opt-in to double opt-in may represent a shift in your way of thinking, it’s definitely worth testing due to the massive increase in importance on engagement.

Your Email List SIZE is not the important metric. It all comes down to list QUALITY

QUESTION: Would you rather have 20,000 subscribers that open your email messages and want to hear from you or 200,000 subscribers that have tuned you out?

ANSWER: 20,000 engaged subscribers.

Here’s Why:

If you have 200,000 subscribers that aren't opening your messages or, worse, are clicking the spam button, they’ll cause your emails for most, if not all, of your subscribers to wind up in the spam folder due to lack of engagement.

So, not only are 180,000 people on your list “dead weight” to begin with, they’re also hurting deliverability for the other 20,000 GOOD subscribers. If the ISPs see that most people that are getting your emails are simply uninterested, then they’re going to lump all of it together and toss your emails in the junk folder.

What to Do with the "NON Confirmed"

Some people will be dead set on marketing to the people that didn't confirm the opt-in. If this is you, then here are a few considerations.

  • Put single opt-in subscribers on a once/week email broadcast
    This way you’re not mailing to them day in and day out, and the majority of your messages are going to subscribers who actually DID take the step to confirm (see the above process for the best flow)
  • Send a series of emails with your best “free gifts"
    When you do this, you can quickly find out who’s opening your emails and interacting. You’ll find a large percentage of the single opt-in folks simply won’t ever open an email. After 5-7 consecutive emails without opening, drop them or add them to an external marketing campaign.
  • Run non confirmed subscribers through a short sequence to try to get them to confirm
    Similar to the previous one, you’ll either get them to confirm or get rid of the dead weight.
  • Market to them in other ways
    Email marketing is but one marketing channel. It is important to have multi-channel marketing mix. Consider uploading these leads to Facebook and running targeted campaigns to them in hopes that they’ll opt-in for something else (and confirm). You may also consider a data append service when you get enough of these leads. You may find that a percentage of physical mailing data attached to them and can reach them in other ways.

Good. Better. Best. 
The battle of whether to use single opt-in or double opt-in will most likely continue for years to come. There’s not necessarily a “right” or “wrong” answer. It’s more of a good, better, best scale… And that scale continues to shift constantly.

So, look at your email marketing program regularly and see what that right balance is for you…

Good: All single opt-in… your email marketing program is “good enough”. You’re making sales and you’re happy with the results. If this is you, keep a close eye on your deliverability and as that part of the scale starts to tip, consider making some modifications.

Better: Use a hybrid of confirmed opt-in along with single opt-in implementing some of the strategies above for handling your non double opt-in subscribers.

Best: Move to a complete double opt-in process and realize that your deliverability and, more importantly, your inbox placement rates will be higher across the board. If you’re just starting out… this is DEFINITELY the place to start!

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How to Get Your Emails to the Inbox

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August 13, 2014


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