We’ll be the first to admit that many email marketing “best practices” are basically BS, but is double opt-in one of them?
We’re about to open Pandora’s inbox on this controversial topic, but first: a refresher.
What Is Double Opt-In?
Double opt-in (DOI), as defined succinctly by Litmus, is the subscription process where a new email address is added to your mailing list only, “after the email address owner clicks a confirmation link in a subscription activation or opt-in confirmation request email that’s sent to them after they opt in via a form or checkbox.”
Also referred to as confirmed opt-in, double opt-in differs from single opt-in (SOI) in that it involves the subscriber actively confirming that they do indeed want to receive email communications.
So what’s inherently problematic about an active confirmation? After all, as growth marketers, aren’t we supposed to encourage informed customer consent?
Of course, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that DOI is a good strategy for your business.
Let us explain.
What’s the Deal With DOI?
Considered by many in email marketing to be an archaic strategy, used in the days of legacy ESP technology, the subject of double opt-in has resurfaced in light of new data privacy regulations, such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which goes into effect on Jan. 1.
And putting aside the concern about legalities, the practice is still very much alive and well in certain industries: In fact, Iterable’s recent report on news and media found that 50% of leading publications used double opt-in to confirm newsletter subscribers—often in lieu of a warmer welcome campaign.
In the court of public opinion, research confirms that email marketers remain divided on the topic, with 53.5% in favor of SOI and 46.5% in favor of DOI.
Double opt-in is a conversation often revisited among members of Women of Email: Here are a few comments to highlight the differing viewpoints.
“I’ve worked with e-commerce clients that were losing almost 90% of their opt-ins due to a double opt-in process. As long as there are no deliverability concerns and you are capturing permission the right way I don’t see why it would be necessary.” ~ Emily Keye, Director, Strategic Services, WhatCounts
“[DOI] will give you a stronger list of subscribers who really want to subscribe. It will reduce your sign-ups, but that’s the point. Double opt-in provides more quality leads. Depending on your business, it makes sense.” ~ Samantha Iodice, Director, Digital Solutions, Brierley + Partners
“DOI may be the way of the future, and it’s easier to build the bridge now. I think, to a point, people expect it.” ~ Lauren Kremer, Lead, Marketing Operations
“If you email from the U.S. to the U.S., then GDPR isn’t an issue. Even so, DOI is not a requirement of GDPR. If you’re a respectable brand (unless you have a long-term deliverability issue) then you shouldn’t need to use DOI.” ~ Kath Pay, Founder, Holistic Email Marketing
So when it comes to DOI, should you enact it in your email marketing program?
4 Reasons to Reconsider Opting In to Double Opt-In
1. First off, it’s not required by law.
Indeed, data privacy regulations like GDPR are mandating that businesses only market to consumers that have provided ‘informed consent,’ but DOI isn’t the only method of achieving this.
Article 4 of GDPR states that consent must be freely given, informed and unambiguous—DOI certainly adheres to this definition of consent, but you can comply without sending an additional email. You can require subscribers to select a checkbox after reading clear language that tells them how their data will be used for marketing purposes.
And as long as you make it as easy to withdraw, as to give, consent (through unsubscribe links and preference centers), then you can consider DOI to be overkill, legally speaking.
2. DOI can significantly reduce your reach.
We all know what happens when you add friction to a signup process, and double opt-in has been found to reduce subscription confirmations by up to 40%. How would you like to explain to your CMO that your brand isn’t hitting its KPIs because you’re purposely forfeiting list growth?
Sure, you’re likely to experience higher engagement rates and lower unsubscribe rates with DOI, but open and click volume is more meaningful than open rates and CTR when it comes to increasing conversions.
In other words, your total performance will be lower because you’re reaching fewer people. And if you’re sacrificing the opportunity for more sales, then let’s just say your email list won’t be the only thing on the chopping block.
3. DOI isn’t a silver bullet for poor deliverability.
If you’re a repeat offender in the eyes of ISPs, double opt-in is often recommended or even required in the case of blacklisting.
But if things have gotten that bad, then the underlying issues are often much larger than your lack of opt-in confirmation. If your frequency is outrageously high or your content is considered spam, then DOI is not going to save your brand.
Ask yourself: Why would anyone be surprised by receiving email communications from your company?
If you’re working with third parties, whether through content syndication channels or through sweepstakes partners, consider building a targeted welcome campaign that recognizes how they signed up for your promotional emails and thanks them for their participation.
4. There are better ways to keep your list clean.
But what about spam traps, you may ask? Proponents of double opt-in will often point to the risk of malicious signups or finger-fudging typos, but DOI isn’t the only method of maintaining good list hygiene.
To ensure email addresses have been entered properly by real people instead of bots, you can require a double address entry or a reCAPTCHA. This places the onus of confirmation on the signup page, not the inbox.
And if you’re particularly concerned about the issue of bad actors, you can use an email verification tool or invest in deliverability services for extra protection.
Final Thoughts on Double Opt-In
It’s important to note that every business is different, so our answer to anyone’s particular situation will always be, “It depends.”
However, we hope that if our reasons listed above outweigh your concerns, that you rethink following a ‘best practice’ because you heard that you have to or that everyone else is doing it.
There are only two real rules of marketing: (1) Be legal and (2) be relevant. As we’ve demonstrated today, you can definitely follow these rules without double opt-in.