As an email marketer, I would rather have 100 customers who open and engage with my messages than 10,000 who don’t.
(I’ll pause a moment here while you imagine your CMO’s head exploding if you ever said that in a team meeting.)
Kidding aside, we marketers have always focused our acquisition efforts on adding massive quantities of email addresses to our databases. Today, we’re finally beginning to understand that the focus must shift to quality as well. A strong database isn’t just numbers but what those numbers do for your email marketing and your company.
‘Should I confirm opt-in?’
This question keeps coming up whenever I talk with marketers. The answer depends on your email and business goals as well as your organizational structure.
Confirmed opt-in (or COI; also “double opt-in”) is the process in which a person who signs up to receive your email must respond to a confirmation email (usually by clicking a confirmation link) before the email address gets added to the database. The email address doesn’t go into the database until the owner clicks that link.
You’ve most likely run into COI, either as a marketer or as an email user. Here are a couple of examples:
Adestra COI process: Adestra uses a three-part confirmation process. If you sign up for our newsletter, you see this confirmation screen after you enter your email address and click “Sign Up Now:”
This is the confirmation email, which goes out immediately afterwards:
And this is the confirmation screen you see on the website after you click the email confirmation link:
COI: the challenges and benefits
The biggest downside to using COI is that you’ll add fewer addresses. Not everybody who starts the opt-in process will take the extra steps to find the confirmation email, open it and click the link.
Statistics vary, but generally you’ll lose 20% to 30% of your potential subscribers compared with single opt-in, in which subscribers submit their email addresses but don’t have to confirm them before they go live in the database.
The upside is that you get only the people who truly signed up and clicked. No inadvertent or fraudulent opt-ins. That can reduce list churn and waste less money spent on acquisition.
Having a confirmed opt-in list is the gold standard among blacklist providers like the Spamhaus Project. It validates your position that each email address has a real person behind it, someone who provided it and does want your email.
COI? SOI? How to decide
The opt-in process you choose is a business decision. You don’t base it on “best practices” or what someone else tells you to do.
Answer this question before you decide whether single or confirmed opt-in is the right path to take:
What kind of email list do you want?
Yes, COI is the gold standard. But Single Opt-In (SOI) is the standard most customers are used to seeing. Estimates vary, but between 60% and 75% of permission email marketers use Double Opt-In (DOI).
COI is more common in these scenarios:
- When email is an at-risk channel for a company, such as a gambling business. It’s even more important that their emails get through and that they weed out emails from “junk” accounts.
- When fixing deliverability issues, such as high hard-bounce rates, spam complaints or blacklisting.
- If it’s imperative for an email list to be as clean as possible. Financial services is a prime example of a vertical where COI is more prevalent. These companies can’t afford to have their emails end up in the spam folder. They also must validate that the email recipient is the same person who opened the account.
Want more details? Both Spamhaus and M3AAWG (the Messaging Malware Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group) have produced great thought leadership on using confirmed opt-in.
Executive buy-in, test data are crucial
Go back to my question above before you commit to SOI or COI. Do you need to build a big list fast? If so, confirmed opt-in is not for you. Is quality more important than quantity, and are you willing to add validation? Then COI makes sense.
Besides being a business decision, setting your permission level is an organizational decision. Your entire organization must be comfortable with it. You’ll need to back up your choice with serious data showing the short-term and long-term impacts.
Testing single and confirmed opt-in can help you see how many new acquisitions confirm their requests. Depending on the kind of business you have, you might see far less degradation between sign-up and clicking the confirmation link.
Look beyond these stats as well. Segment out your COI customers, and look at their performance over three months to see how they compare to your customers acquired with SOI.
What do these customers bring to your business? Are they truly better buyers? Are they more active, more loyal, engaged for the long term? Some studies say click and conversion rates are higher on COI lists; does that hold for your list, too?
Why validation matters
In an industry where too many people think of email as a mass-communication channel instead of a 1-to-1 conversation, it’s counter-intuitive to use an acquisition plan that seems to limit your ability to add new subscribers. But in the long term it can yield more high-value customers and reduce the churn and waste that depletes your acquisition resources.
There’s no one best way to add subscribers (aside from using permission, naturally). The right way is the one that makes sense for your email and business goals and which your organization supports, backed up by data.
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