Are You Really, Really Sure?

  |  February 12, 2009   |  Comments

Why double opt-in, once a best practice, no longer makes sense in e-mail marketing.

This week, I'm attending the second annual Email Experience Council's conference in Arizona. Before introducing the keynote speaker, industry icon Stan Rapp, conference host and organizer Jeanniey Mullen said, "The guide to e-mail best practices written in 2006 is out of date. Things once best practices are not best practices now. E-mail is evolving."

Today, we'll look at one of those outdated best practices: double opt-ins.

For a while there, double opt-in was on everyone's list of best practices. Actually, I'm not even sure how the notion got around. What a terrible idea if you want to grow your list!

For those who don't know what a double opt-in is, the formula is as follows: someone signs up for your newsletter, then you send them a confirmation e-mail confirming that they indeed wanted to sign up, forcing them to click on a link in order to confirm that fact. If they don't confirm, they're dropped from the list.

Let's look at all the things that can go wrong.

First, with deliverability the way it is, there's no guarantee they will even see the confirmation e-mail. Many spammers use the ruse of a double-opt in to deliver spam or, worse yet, to deliver malicious software. I've archived hundreds of instances of fake "confirmation" e-mails claiming I signed up for Yahoo groups, credit card offers, and other services, none of which were ever signed up for. The volume of fake confirmation e-mails is large enough for ISPs to consider blocking any e-mail that contains phrases like "please confirm." So there's an excellent chance that your well-intentioned e-mail won't be seen by the person it's intended for.

Or it just might get lost. I use a special Gmail account for business and personal subscriptions that I don't want junking up my work inbox. The volume of spam and other e-mail delivered to the Gmail account is substantial. Because I don't use it for any of my important correspondence, I rarely do more than scan the subject lines when checking it. If you send me a confirmation e-mail for me to click on, there's almost a 99 percent chance I'll never see it because it will have fallen below the fold on an account I rarely check.

And, of course, the e-mail just might get flagged as spam by your e-mail client and go directly into the junk file.

All of these scenarios are likely to happen. If you ask an e-mail marketer working with a client who demands a double opt-in on their programs, they'll tell you tell you the sad truth: double opt-ins make it nearly impossible to grow your list. There are too many hurdles to overcome.

If you're forced to do a double opt-in, at least do it right. I reviewed several confirmation e-mails and it's startling how poorly they're put together.

For instance, a confirmation e-mail from the New York City transportation authority doesn't even mention its name in the confirmation e-mail. You have no way of knowing what you're confirming. A better tactic is to copy what retailer Beall's does: offer a $10 off coupon if you confirm your e-mail address.

But the best practice of all is to just say no to double opt-ins the first place. It's tough enough out there. Why make things harder on yourself and your clients?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill McCloskey

Bill McCloskey is the founder and chief evangelist for Email Data Source, a competitive intelligence resource for e-mail marketers. He was named one of online advertising's 50 most influential people by "Media" magazine and one of the 100 people to know by "BtoB Magazine." He's been a recognized pioneer in interactive advertising for over 10 years.

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