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The Double Opt-In Dilemma

by: Kathy DalPra

double opt-in dilemmaAt least half of my clients want to know which is best, the "double opt-in" or "single opt-in" approach to getting subscribers on their website. This post aims to answer that.

If you've ever added a "sign up" form of any kind on your website, you know exactly what I mean by "double opt-in". However, if you're new to email marketing, you might need a quick crash course on what the heck a "double opt-in" is and why it's controversial.

Here's the Scoop

A "double opt-in" is when a website visitor, such as a bride or groom, fills in a webform on your website to sign up for your newsletter or other free gift. Then, they receive an email confirmation message that asks them to click a link to double confirm that they do, indeed, want to receive your email messages. A "single opt-in" then, is when they only fill in and submit your webform and aren't required to confirm any more times after that.

When you're setting up a sign-up form on your website, depending on the email marketing provider you're using, you can usually choose whether to use a double opt-in or single opt-in process. A lot of wedding professionals that I work with when building their websites and sales plans ask me which is best.

The Pros of the Double Opt-In

The main objectives of the double opt-in are to reduce spam and increase deliverability. 

1. When you force a new subscriber to confirm their request by clicking on a link that is emailed to them, you are ensuring that they are a real person. If they entered a fake email into your webform, or if the data was entered by a software program and not a real person, then chances are good your double opt-in message either won't reach them or won't actually get opened and clicked on if there's anything fake about their identity or email address. Those who don't click that confirmation link don't get approved to receive your newsletters. Because of this, you can feel confident that your messages are being sent mostly to real people and not spammers.

2. But the spam-reduction benefits works the opposite way too. That is, it helps to ensure that subscribers don't report you as a spammer, which can happen if they forget they signed up for your newsletter or free offer on your website. By requiring a second confirmation after they submit the form, you're ensuring that they understand what they signed up for and won't report you to their email provider as a "spammer" when they start receiving your messages. 

(Although, to be honest, I've spoken with other marketers about this and we all agree that, while this should work in theory, it doesn't in real life for some reason. Even those that confirm often forget that they signed up in the first place...so the jury is out on this one.)

3. Finally, some believe that requiring subscribers to confirm a second time will increase the chances that email providers (Yahoo, Gmail, AOL) actually deliver your messages. For the longest time, this has been a deciding factor.

Recently, however, I was surprised to learn from our own email marketing provider that double opt-ins have only been shown to increase deliverability by .5-1%, so I'm not sure if that's much of an advantage.

The Cons of the Double Opt-In

The biggest downfall of the double confirmation process is that it reduces the number of people who actually make it on your list. Also, it usually takes an extra step or two to set it up the first time around.

1. Most email marketing providers report that roughly 25-30% or so of subscribers will not complete the confirmation process. This is either because they never saw your confirmation email or they deleted it before even reading it, thinking it was a redundant message or spam.

That's a lot of subscribers to lose. While it may improve the overall quality of your list a bit, it's a big sacrifice to consider.

2. If your confirmation email gets lost or slips by the new subscriber, they could become kind of irritated that they signed up for something and never received it. I've had this happen a few times myself. The poor souls didn't even know that they had missed something, so they're sitting around wondering when your newsletter or free gift is going to arrive!

This, in and of itself, could result in a loss of followers, simply out of pure frustration.

3. Depending on the email marketing provider you use, setting up the double opt-in may require a few extra steps. It's not really a big deal usually, but it does add some time to the whole set up process.

Update for Canada

Canada has tightened up their regulations, as have many other countries, so it's your responsibility to always check with the authorities in any country where you deliver email to ensure that the opt-in method you choose is compliant with that nation's laws.

My understanding (but I'm not a lawyer) is that Canada requires a double opt-in process along with a number of other guidelines.

As always, seek the counsel of your attorney and check with the anti-spam and email laws for any countries you serve. Also keep in mind that if your website is online, technically, anyone could sign up for your email list...even if they aren't in a country you serve.

The Verdict

You may not like it, but I'm going to make the same recommendation I always make...which is, test it. To find out which process is the better fit for you, its always a good idea to give it a try first and see what happens. No one can tell you how it's going to play out in your unique business, so a little experiementation can go a long way.

For myself, I used the double opt-in process for years. I found that roughly 10-20% of subscribers weren't able to receive the information they requested because of this. So, now, we mostly use a single opt-in process, depending on what the individual is subscribing for. If they're signing up for something that will involve a lot of email messages, like an event, then I usually add the double opt-in process just to be certain they actually want to get that volume of messages from me. If it's a weekly or bi-weekly newsletter, I'll go with the simpler one-step process.

What's your 2 cents?

I'm curious what your experience has been with the double opt-in. Love it? Loathe it? We could all benefit from your insight, so please share your advice or observations in the comments below...