It’s a question that email marketers have been asking for almost as long as we’ve been sending emails.  

Should I collect every email that legitimately comes my way and maximize the size of my lists? Or should I adopt a double opt-in strategy and risk losing potential subscribers with an additional step in the sign-up process, but guarantee the quality of my lists? 

A single opt-in strategy can indeed help you build your lists approximately 20-25% faster than a more robust double opt-in process. But does this growth come at a cost?  

If you had asked me a few years ago what my preference was, I’d have erred on the side of the single opt-in. However, as the email marketing industry matures and everyone is more focused on best practices and personalization becomes more important, I’m now firmly in the camp of the double opt-in.   

But before we dig into the pros and cons of the double opt-in strategy (and I’ll be honest, they are mainly pros), we should first explain to anyone new to the world of email marketing what we mean by single and double opt-in. 

What Does “Double Opt-In” Mean?

The double opt-in process is defined by the act of adding new subscribers to a mailing list only after they have: 

  • They complete an online subscription form
  • A confirmation link is sent directly to their inbox after they complete the form
  • They confirm their intention to subscribe via the confirmation link

(Seems pretty lengthy, right?! And it relies on the subscriber completing a bunch of steps.) 

This approach is compared to the more straightforward “single opt-in” strategy, which just requires a user to enter their email address and check a consent statement which they may or may not have read. 

By requesting a double opt-in, the email marketer can confirm that the subscriber’s email address is genuine, their inbox is monitored, and they are 100% sure they want to receive future email sends. Essentially, the double opt-in process guarantees the quality of a list’s subscribers by removing any fake data and potential “tire kickers” before the relationship between the marketer and subscriber is formalized. 

What Does the Law Say?

It’s not currently a legal requirement in the United States to pass all of your subscribers through a double opt-in process before adding them to your lists. However, in the international digital economy, where you can never truly be sure where your subscribers reside, there is a whole raft of global privacy laws that you should comply with. Applying a double opt-in strategy will undoubtedly help with this. It’s also important to remember that email marketing laws are in a constant state of flux even here in the US, and things can change quickly. Therefore, adopting a double opt-in strategy now could potentially save you a lot of work in the future.  

Unfortunately, compliance isn’t always cut and dry and is often prone to legal interpretation. For example, in the European Union and the UK, GDPR and UK GDPR doesn’t insist on the double opt-in process. However, in Germany (which is part of the EU), the courts have ruled in several cases that the single opt-in process, even when accompanied with a checkbox consent statement, does not suggest that explicit consent (as required by GDPR) has been given. As a result, double opt-in subscriptions are now the norm in Germany.  

Australia and Canada are other territories where you really should be applying the double opt-in process to confirm consent. Both countries require email marketers to gain express consent from their subscribers to join a list rather than the implied consent required in the US. The real challenge is, how do you identify if a subscriber is in the US, Australia, Canada, the EU, the UK or anywhere else in the world without potentially asking too many questions and making it more difficult to subscribe? With so many people accessing the internet via VPNs masking their geographic location, even IP addresses cannot be trusted.  

But legality isn’t the only thing that should steer your email marketing and marketing automation campaigns. 

Email Marketing Best Practice

In many ways, the implementation of regulations like GDPR forced us to become better email marketers. This is because when you boil down the various email marketing regulations, you’ll find that the rules look a lot like email marketing best practice. 

Even if we were still living in the “Wild West era” of email marketing regulations, the very best and most successful email marketers would already be adopting strategies that looked a lot like those mandated in regulations like GDPR.  This almost certainly includes the double opt-in process. 

Email Marketing Vanity Metrics

Despite the double opt-in process looking a lot like email marketing best practice, many email marketers are still not convinced by the strategy.  

One of the main reasons why many email marketers continue to shun the double opt-in process is because they fear how it will impact their list growth. They still believe a big list is a good list, which isn’t always the case. 

There is no doubt that including an additional double opt-in step in the subscription process can negatively impact subscriber acquisition. However, what you lose in terms of quantity, you will almost certainly gain in quality. 

The double opt-in process will improve: 

  • Deliverability (reducing your bounce rate as well as reducing the risk of being added to blacklists or spam traps)
  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates
  • Conversions

Positive Lead Flow

When you include a double opt-in with your subscription process, you confirm that the subscriber is genuinely interested in the information you are going to send them via your email and marketing automation campaigns. If you are, as you should be, only interested in sending the right email to the right person at the right time, a double opt-in subscription process guarantees this.  

Suppose your campaigns are designed to identify red hot leads and guide potential clients down through the sales funnel. In that case, the double opt-in process is a great strategy to weed out those cold and lukewarm leads at the very top of the tunnel that potentially waste your time and cost you money. 

A double opt-in subscription almost guarantees future engagement. However, if a subscriber is not willing to invest in the time to confirm their subscription, will they ever have the time or the inclination to engage with your future marketing assets or potential contacts by your sales team? 

What About the Subscribers You Lose?

There will undoubtedly be potential subscribers you lose via the double opt-in process. However, the value of those lost subscriptions will be limited compared to those willing to invest in confirming their engagement. 

It’s also important to remember that just because someone has not completed their subscription doesn’t mean they are not engaged or can never be reached. 

Re-targeting via social media marketing is an excellent way to keep your organization in the spotlight while potential subscribers decide whether or not to come on board. This perhaps best demonstrates how combined use of social media marketing and email marketing work together to introduce people to your brand and then formalize the relationship. 

Start Your Email Marketing Relationships the Right Way

You shouldn’t think of the double opt-in strategy as a barrier to your email marketing success. Instead, you should think of it as the perfect way to ensure that both the marketer and the subscriber are fully committed to the journey ahead. If email marketing success is based on the relationship that marketers have with their subscribers, making sure everyone is signed-up and understands where they are going will make for a much smoother experience. 

Need help building your relationships with your subscribers with a double opt-in email marketing strategy? Contact us at   

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