Double Opt-in, Redux

My column, “Are You Really, Really Sure?” on the use of double opt-in versus single opt-in to confirm e-mail recipients new to your list generated quite a bit of controversy.

In the blogosphere, Rebecca Lieb, VP at Econsultancy and ClickZ Experts columnist, represented the argument for double opt-in. On the other side, Sara Ezrin’s made a case for single opt-in.

Representing those in the trenches, the comment such as the following was typical:

    I worked for a $.75bn company and generated around $30mm/annually through the email channel w/ SOI maintaining an average bounce rate of less than 1%, a fluctuating complaint rate rarely above minimum acceptable, and an 89-92% average deliverability quotient. If I’d have told my C-anything that we needed to switch to DOI he’d have thrown me out. If I’d have told my C-anything that our ESP insisted on DOI he’d have told me to find another one or start building in-house tools.

Whatever side you fall on, one thing is clear: Single opt-in is by far the accepted standard by most e-mailers today. Both at the Direct Marketing Association’s Email Experience Council conference, (where the vast majority of the audience agreed that single opt-in was the “best practice” during our keynote debate on the topic), and the real world data that my company collects each day, single opt-in is the most practiced method of list management.

Instead of debating the issue further, I thought it would be instructive to show some examples of double opt-in to illustrate best and worst practices — and lessons learned — when it comes to actually using a double opt-in form:

Be Careful When Using Graphics

Retailers such as Lowe’s and Bealls use nicely designed graphic images in their double opt-in e-mails. Bealls goes further and offers two “10% off” coupons as thanks for clicking on the double opt-in link. But what if the recipient’s e-mail browser has graphics turned off by default, something that occurs more frequently these days. Will the recipient see the double opt-in request? You must design and test your e-mail so that the call to action is clearly visible when graphics are turned off. Best practice would dictate using a program like Pivotal Veracity, which lets you see exactly how your e-mail will render in various e-mail browsers such as Outlook, Hotmail, Yahoo, and AOL. This is an absolute must for double opt-in e-mails that contain graphics. Don’t stop there: you also must consider how your e-mail will appear on mobile devices because more people are using Blackberrys and iPhones to view their e-mail inboxes.

Ensure That the Double Opt-In Instructions Are Clear and Concise

Take a look at this double opt-in message from Sally Beauty Supply:

    Thank you for your request to be added to Sally Beauty E-mail Updates.
    We add names to our list only after verifying the recipient’s permission, which is why we are sending you this address confirmation request.
    To confirm that you would like to receive our future emails, please click here. If the link is not clickable, please cut and paste this URL into your web browser:
    (Link omitted)
    To copy/paste: please highlight the link using your mouse and click Edit then Copy from your email program’s menu options. Then, start your web browser (the program you use to visit web sites) and click in the area you would normally type the web site address (such as Click Edit and Paste from your web browser’s menu options. The confirmation link above should now appear in the space where you would normally type a web site’s address. Hit the “Enter” key and you will be taken to a web page that shows your address is confirmed for this list.
    If you would prefer to remain off of this list, there is no need to reply or click the link above. This link will expire automatically in 14 days. If this message was sent to you in error, please accept our apologies. We confirm addresses prior to adding them to our list to prevent forged or unwanted list sign-ups.

Try reading those instructions out loud. Then ask yourself: “Is this type of e-mail helping or hurting my chances of getting someone to sign up for my list?” If your instructions are overly complicated and confusing, people will just pass it by.

Make Sure You Tell E-Mail Recipients Who You Are

Check out this double opt-in e-mail:

    You (or someone else) has subscribed to our mailing list. We need to verify your e-mail address to make sure that you were not subscribed unwillingly.
    To confirm your e-mail address and receive future e-mails from the mailing list, you can go to the URL below:
    (URL omitted)
    Optionally, if you would like to be removed from the mailing list, you may unsubscribe at the following URL:
    (URL omitted)

Who is this double opt-in for? The sender’s name is never mentioned. It’s

So how many people do you think double-opted in to that list?

Until next time.

Bill McCloskey is off today. Today’s column originally ran on Feb. 26, 2009.

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