- Fri 04/08/2016 11:29

The Benefits of Confirmed Opt-In vs. Single Opt-in

For the past 25 years I have been preaching the value of confirmed opt-in to everyone that manages an email list.  And for the same amount of time I see the look of pain in the eyes of many of the same people when they hear that phrase "confirmed opt-in."   I think the time has come that I write about this issue because there is so much misinformation going around that the idea of confirmed opt-in is getting a bad reputation.

In the beginning of email list management there was just single opt-in.  This type of email subscription process is where someone either emails a message that says "subscribe" into a mailing list system or enters their email address on a web form and they are instantly added to the mailing list with no questions asked.  It worked great for many years until the evil-doers decided to start adding random addresses to mailing lists in hopes that it would cause the list manager problems, which it did.  It also opened the door for people to accidentally misspell their email address which meant they would never receive email from the marketer.   In other words single opt-in was sloppy and it allowed lists to become filled with bad email addresses and often caused the sender to get blacklisted due to a high bounce rate or high complaint rate (from people who never asked to be on the list.)

Then came confirmed opt-in, the easy cure for sloppy mailing lists.  There was one problem - confirmed opt-in required the subscriber to click on a link in an email they received to "confirm" their subscription.  Seems pretty simple, right?  Who wouldn't want to click on that confirmation link?   About 12 years ago the washout rate of people who did not want to be bothered to confirm their subscription was pretty high, almost 35% and in some cases 50%.  That meant almost half the people who subscribed never confirmed so they were never added to the list.   Many publishers and retailers did not like that high washout rate so they switched back to single opt-in and took their chances with their list becoming cluttered with bogus email addresses.  They figured it was better to have 10,000 new subscribers with 10% bad address/complaint rate than have 10,000 subscribers and lose 50% to washout.  The math seemed right but the results from a single opt-in mailing were pretty revealing.  Almost every mailing caused at least one blacklist to be set-up against their IP address or domain and the junk-to-inbox ratio was very high because the number of bounces exceeded the limits set by the Internet Service Provider.  Single opt-in did not work well then, and it definitely does not work now.

The washout rate these days is only about 10% because so many mailing lists use confirmed opt-in and subscribers expect to receive that confirmation email.  You should be concerned with the 10% who do not confirm.  If someone subscribes and refuses to confirm their subscription do you think they are really interested in your product or service?   No, they are not interested.  Those 10% are considered tire kickers or browsers and they rarely, if ever, intend to buy anything from you anyway.  So sending email to those 10% will usually get you nothing in return.  In fact we found that many of the people in that 10% group are the ones who will complain or flag your mail as spam - instead of unsubscribe like normal people do.  So you really should not be concerned about the washout rate because your goal should be to get engaged subscribers or people who actually care about what you have to sell or say.   You can always send one confirmation reminder to people who don't confirm but after that - just delete them because they are not interested.

How do you switch from single opt-in to confirmed opt-in?   First, get your email marketing vendor to make the switch on their end.  It's usually a push of a button and the process is complete.  The next time someone subscribes they will receive a "please confirm your subscription" email with a confirmation link listed in the body of the message.   The next step should be to send a message to your list members explaining that you are updating your list and are asking members to click on a link to re-confirm their subscription.   Nothing fancy, just ask them to click to confirm their subscription.  Yes, you will lose some people in that process but are those people really interested in you?  Chances are, no.   With a re-confirm email you generally want to give the person three (3) tries to confirm their subscription over a six week period.  This is because some people may be on vacation when your first re-confirm email goes out or they may be out on travel or away for various reasons.  You don't want to kick people off your list without giving them a chance to confirm.   Craft three different re-confirm messages that have an increased sense of urgency with the last message being a "you are about to be deleted" warning .  After the third message is sent, wait one week to give people a chance to re-confirm, and anyone that did not re-confirm should be moved to a different list in your account, often called an "inactive" list.  Many marketers will try to get people on that inactive list to re-confirm in three months and will then delete the inactive list entirely.  What you do with that inactive list is up to you but definitely do not send marketing messages to them if they have not re-confirmed their subscription.

The bottom line is to always use confirmed opt-in and not worry about the washout rate.  You want your subscribers engaged, interested, and eager to receive and read your messages.  You will find a much higher response rate and a much lower complaint rate with a confirmed opt-in list.   

John Brogan