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Double Opt-In for Email List Subscription: Necessary or Not?

Is it necessary to protect your list from spam, or is it just a nuisance that’s turning off potential subscribers?
double opt-in

When you start up a new digital tactic like email marketing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the best practices and requirements. But are all the recommendations out there really worth listening to? Let’s talk about double opt-in as an example. It it necessary to protect your list from spam, or is it just a nuisance that’s turning off potential subscribers?

What It Means to Opt-In to a Mailing List

As a starting point, let’s get clear on what we mean by the term “double opt-in” by first covering what “opting-in” means. When someone agrees to join your email list, they are “opting-in” to the list. In other words, they are giving you their permission to send them marketing messages. That permission is valid until the individual decides to unsubscribe from the list, at which time you no longer have legal permission to use that address for marketing purposes. 

Single vs. Double Opt-In

Even if you don’t work in digital marketing, you are likely already familiar with how opting-in works from your own personal time spent on the internet. When you land on a website that offers something interesting to you, there’s a form you can fill out to join the mailing list and receive ongoing messages. There may also be a sign-up form specifically for subscribing to a newsletter. That’s the opt-in form, and businesses like to collect as many email addresses as possible through these means to grow a large list and have a quality database of leads.

The standard process that we described above for joining an email list is known as a single opt-in, meaning there is only one step in the process. The information is entered into a form, the user clicks a button to submit it, and that’s it. There are no further steps required to finish the action. 

As you might have guessed, a double opt-in is different. With this approach to collecting email addresses, there is an additional step added to the process – the user has to do one more thing before their subscription will be confirmed and their address will be added to the list. This additional step is typically an email that is sent to the user, with a link that will confirm their joining of the list. Only when that link is clicked or tapped will the process be finished and the email address will be added. 

The Downside of Double Opt-In Email Subscription

Now that we know what a double opt-in is, let’s move forward by looking at why you would want to avoid this approach. As you probably know just by using the web regularly, double opt-ins are not as common as single opt-ins, generally speaking. So, why is that? 

The primary goal for most digital marketers is to grow their list as big as possible, as fast as possible. With that in mind, it makes sense to avoid the double opt-in and make the process of joining the list as easy as it can be. Even if the follow-up step with the double opt-in is an easy one, some percentage of users simply aren’t going to follow through. So, if a double opt-in system is enabled, you can be sure that your rate of growth for the list is going to be lower than it would have been if you went with the single model. 

Double opt-in downside

The Upside of Double Opt-In

Knowing that it is going to at least partially hamper the growth of your list, is a double opt-in system worth it? The primary motivation with this technique is to improve the quality of the email list as a whole. While it’s great to have a big list, it’s arguably more important to have a quality list of people who are genuinely interested in your brand and want to interact with it moving forward. 

Think about it this way… Would it be more profitable to have an email list of 1,000 people who love your products and services, or a list of 10,000 people who are indifferent? Almost certainly, you would fare better by having the smaller list in this case, as you would be reaching people who are ready to receive your message and take action. 

Using a double opt-in strategy can help improve the quality of your email list because it will weed out some of the people who weren’t really that interested in the first place. For someone to go into their email account and click the confirmation link to join the list, they must be at least somewhat interested in what you are selling. This will lead to a list that is of a higher quality, and will hopefully perform better in terms of standard email marketing metrics like open rate and click-through rate. 

Double opt-in strategy

Stopping Spam In Its Tracks

Another related benefit of using a double opt-in is having the opportunity to weed out some spam form submissions. When you have a form on your website that anyone can fill out, you can be sure that the occasional bot will come by to fill it out with spam and submit it to your database. While there are some methods you can put in place to help cut down on how much spam you get – such as a CAPTCHA system – there will still be some making it through. 

Is that spam a big problem? It can be. If you have too many spam addresses in your email list, you are going to have rather low open rates when you send out emails. That makes sense, of course, as the spam bots aren’t going to be opening any messages, so you’ll always have a certain percentage that are sure to go unopened. If you can cut down on spam and clean up your list, the open rate should improve, which is good news for the deliverability of your messages and how they are seen by email providers. 

Using a double opt-in stops many of the spam form fills because there won’t be anyone around to click the button in the confirmation email. Without a confirmation taking place, the email won’t be added, and you’ll be left with a better list. 

Email Best Practice or Personal Preference?

So far, we’ve presented some pretty clear arguments both for and against using a double opt-in. The quality of your list is going to improve thanks to a double opt-in system, but the size will likely shrink. Conversely, you can build a huge list with just a single opt-in, but that list might have quality concerns. 

Which one should you choose? Both are viable, so there is an element of personal preference involved here. As a starting point, consider using a single opt-in just to get going and see how many emails you can collect. Along the way, monitor the condition of your list and pay attention to any quality concerns. If the list is struggling in some of the key metrics like open rate and click-through rate, it might be worth switching to a double opt-in for a while to see if that leads to some improvements. 

Other Keys to Successful Email Marketing

The opt-in phase is just the gateway to the email marketing journey. There are many other important points along the way that you’ll need to master if you are going to get the results you desire. So, before we wrap up this article, let’s look at some of the other keys to finding success in email marketing. 

  • Write great subject lines. There is no substitute for a quality subject line that grabs the attention of the reader and offers something that they simply can’t resist. Without a compelling subject line, your emails are going to be headed to the trash bin more often than not. There is an art to writing good subject lines, so it can take some practice – but just remember that you always need to deliver on whatever promises you make in the subject. Don’t mislead your potential customers or they will have a hard time trusting you again. 
  • Offer something of value. The people on the receiving end of your messages are doing you a favor – they are allowing you to send them marketing messages directly to their inbox. They don’t have to do that, so you should respect their time by offering something of value in your emails. Sometimes, that will mean a discount on a product or service that you sell. In other cases, however, it could just be some information, such as a tip on how to solve a problem that relates to your industry. Whatever it is, make sure the reader is getting something out of the experience. Not only is this just a good business practice, but recipients will be less likely to unsubscribe if they enjoy getting your messages. 
  • Include a call to action. What do you want people to do after opening and reading your message? The next action should be as clear as day to anyone who opens the email, and they shouldn’t even need to read all of the text to determine what you’d like them to do. Often, there will be a button that takes them to a product page on your website, but that’s just one option. You could simply include a link that goes to a blog post you wrote that covers the topic of the email in more detail. Whatever it is, always have a clear CTA and leave no doubt as to what should happen next. 

We hope the information above helps you decide how you are going to collect emails for your list. As mentioned above collecting emails is just the start – you then need to write and send quality messages that deliver value and serve the goals you have for your business. It’s true that email marketing can be quite a bit of work, especially at the start, but it can pay off in a huge way if you stick with it. Good luck!

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About Julie Mamula:

Julie Mamula helps execute campaigns and strategic deliverables in a timely manner and at an exceptional level. She loves using the many concepts and strategies that she’s learned in her 25 year tenure in marketing to make clients’ strategies more successful.

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