Should You Use Double Opt-In On Your Mailing List? Pros, Cons, And A Potential Better Way

Is it still important to use double opt-in? Let's talk pros and cons... and then present some best practices and a potential alternative that might be better.

Back in the “old days” of email marketing, it was considered standard advice to always use double opt-in when building your email list.

Today, I think it isn’t quite so clear.

Why might you want to consider sticking with single opt-in instead? What are the trade-offs?

And if you DO go with single opt-in, what strategies can you use so you don’t end up with a dirty list?

Let’s answer this once and for all.

Double Opt-In Versus Single Opt-In

First, in case you don’t already know, let’s define the terms.

Double opt-in means that you are throwing an interim step into a person’s subscription to your email list. That interim step gets them to click on a link which confirms they actually want to receive emails from you.

So, with double opt-in, it works like this:

  1. Person fills out the opt-in form and submits.
  2. Person receives an email asking them to confirm their intention to subscribe.
  3. Person clicks the link, which then officially subscribes them to the list.

This means that you have no ability to email that person anything until they confirm themselves. Some systems allow the confirmation email to be re-sent if they don’t respond, but the entire point here is that you’re not emailing them anything until they confirm they’re real and actually want to be there.

Single opt-in is the opposite. There is no interim step. It is just:

  1. Person fills out the opt-in form and submits.
  2. They’re subscribed.

That’s it.

The Pros Of Double Opt-In

I know you’re probably more interested in the cons. But, the pros should be fairly obvious.

Double opt-in means you have a cleaner email list. It means the email list is more valuable. Each confirmed subscriber means:

  • They are a real person with a real, valid email address.
  • They actually want to hear from you.

This is email marketing gold right here.

Clearly, many companies agree. One article by Sumo reported that almost 80% of major sites they tested were using double opt-in. Email list health is definitely something companies are taking seriously.

There’s no doubt that bogus email addresses are a fact of life online. Sometimes you have bots going around and submitting opt-in forms. Sometimes you have people cluttering up your system with bogus email addresses or “junk mail” addresses just because they want your lead magnet and have no interest in ever hearing from you ever again.

These things happen. And frankly, if they have no intention of ever doing anything, no desire to hear from you, and only want to collect some freebie from you, then they should go pound sand. From a business perspective, they are rather useless.

Harsh, perhaps. But, true.

Double opt-in means a cleaner list with higher degree of interest and intention. It means a way more valuable email list.

The Cons Of Double Opt-In

So, why would you ever want to turn it off and go back to single opt-in?

An old article from GetResponse says it best when they report that marketers see a 20-30% faster email list growth when they use single opt-in.

The exact number may differ in your case, but that means that 20-30% (or even higher) will just not click on the email confirmation to officially become a subscriber.

Why might that be? There are several potential reasons:

  • They entered an invalid email address, so will never receive the email.
  • The confirmation email got caught in their spam filters, so they never get it.
  • Their level of intention was really low, so they just don’t bother to go check their inbox.
  • Your system was too slow to send the confirmation email, so they gave up and stopped caring.
  • They might not really have known they even needed to confirm anything.

Regardless of the reason, there’s absolutely no doubt that you will see your fair share of people who never confirm their subscription after submitting the opt-in. It can hurt to watch those new people come in and not be able to email them anything.

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So, What’s The Right Answer?

If there was one “right” answer, everybody would be doing it the same way. Clearly, they’re not.

This is a case of quality versus quantity.

If you want to maximize the number of leads, go with single opt-in. Definitely employ a strategy to keep the list clean, though. More on that below.

If you want to have the cleanest, most valuable list, then stick with double opt-in. Perhaps your system will allow you to personalize the process and make it more seamless for people.

With that, let’s talk best practices…

Best Practices & Tactics To Manage The Subscription Process

Let’s talk about some specific tactics you can use depending on which option you choose to go with.

#1: Personalize The Confirmation Page

After they fill out an opt-in form, you need to send them to a page. We often call this a “thank you” page, but the text on there is totally dependent on the purpose.

If you are using double opt-in, then this page should give them specific instructions on what to do next. My recommendations are:

  • Keep the text really personal, as if written by a friend. Don’t sound corporate.
  • Tell them WHY you need them to check their email and click on the link.
  • Be sure to incentivize and tease them (again) on the benefits of doing so. Realize that the conversion is not yet complete until they actually confirm. So, continue to excite them about what they’re going to get. The stronger you can make that tease, and the more important it seems for them to do it right away, the higher the conversion rate to full subscriber.
  • If possible, consider including a video on the page so you can make this a personal message. You might even consider using Presto Player (see my Presto Player review) and use the silent auto-play capability so that you can autoplay the video without blasting their speakers.
My current welcome page as of this writing

The key here is that your confirmation page is part of conversion funnel to being a subscriber. In essence, you’re selling them on taking the next step and confirming their subscription.

The biggest mistake people make with this page is to make it completely mechanical and boring. They just say “thanks!” and tell them to go check their email, just assuming they care enough to do that.

#2: Personalize The Confirmation Email

If you’re using double opt-in, customize that outgoing confirmation email as much as your system lets you.

Make it stand out. Keep it personal. Keep the same tone as you do on your confirmation page (see above).

Be sure to, again, remind them of all the awesomeness they’re going to get once they click that button.

#3: For Single Opt-In, Build Your Own Confirmation Process

If you decide to go with single opt-in in order to keep more control and maximize your numbers, you can still build some marketing automation to build your own confirmation process.

It isn’t the same thing as full double opt-in because they will technically be a subscriber immediately. You can send them anything you want. However, you will want to treat the subscription with kid gloves until you know they’re real.

Emailing bogus or unresponsive emails repetitively can harm your sender reputation and your delivery rates. I don’t recommend it.

So, a potential approach might be:

  • After opt-in, you put them onto a new-subscriber sequence. You tag them as a “Pending” subscriber.
  • That sequence sends them an email that you can customize the way you like. You can even extend the sequence such that you email them 2 or 3 times in case they don’t respond right away.
  • If, at any point, they click on the link(s) in those emails, you take them to a welcome page. You remove the “Pending” tag”. And you begin your official welcome sequence.
  • When you send out your standard emails to your list, you exempt all subscribers with the “Pending” tag.
  • If they reach the end of the “New Subscriber” sequence and they still don’t click the trigger link to confirm, you unsubscribe them automatically. Or, optionally, you segment them so that you can at least treat them differently than the people who actually responded.

By doing this, you get most of the same benefits of full double opt-in, but it allows you to take control of the process. Most email systems have very rigid systems for double opt-in that don’t provide as much flexibility. The above setup allows you to do things differently.

#4: Keep Good List Hygiene

One of the core fundamentals for having a good email list is to clean it periodically.

This applies to all email lists (even those which use double opt-in), but I would say it is even more important for single opt-in lists.

I would definitely set up a re-engagement email sequence. If your lead goes 60-90 days without opening or clicking on anything, they should automatically enter a re-engagement sequence and be treated differently.

Also, keep in mind that open metrics are notoriously unreliable. Clicks are much more reliable.

Here’s What I Do

I do not use double opt-in at this time. I use single opt-in. I use certain internal automations to maintain a clean list. For instance:

  • I use a re-engagement sequence to engage people who are unresponsive on the list.
  • I use a “Pending” tag for brand new leads and use an automation similar to #3 above.
  • Since my subscribers also become members of the community and have login profiles on this site, I can also tie activity of login or on-site activity to their status. Even if my system isn’t tracking their inbox activity accurately, if they log in with that email address I know they’re real.
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Summary

Double opt-in versus single opt-in is a balancing act between quality and quantity.

And we want both so that’s why this can become a confusing matter.

Quality is extremely important, though. Email engagement is VERY important for overall deliverability. It doesn’t matter how big your email list is if most of them never even look at your emails. They might as well not even be there at that point.

So, you want to use some kind of double opt-in.

Either the built-in standard method, or build your own onboarding and re-engagement system using marketing automation.

Need some help building the backend automations to make this work? I can do it for you. Click here to learn how you can get me involved.

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Responses

  1. A subscribe form that I set up a few weeks back now generated 30 unconfirmed subscribers and no confirmed ones. But most of them look suspicious with weird email addresses.

    I guess legitimate people will not subscribe to my list unless I make 6 figures per month and offer them a free blue print so they can copy my technique?

    Sorry, but that is the way it seems.

  2. Great post. I use the IMMailer on my own site and I use the built in feature for double opt in and it works fine. I send with another service but I use it for the autoresponse and export the “master” list to import into my other service.

    Double Opt In Works great and not many people get left behind like you would think.

  3. I’ve found that you can also test by source. Segment the new names on your first mailing and see where the unsubscribes/complaints come from. Find out who needs to be confirmed.

    I like to do a negative confirm; i.e., a welcome email that says if you subscribed by mistake you can easily get out now; otherswise do nothing and we will keep you on the list. Tone is important.

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