Email Focus: The Ups and Downs of E-mail Opt-ins

Which method is best depends on your needs -- and the customer's

Before spam, double opt-in and confirmed opt-in were used mainly by a handful of best-practice leaders. Today, their use is growing among companies that are realizing more stringent opt-in policies can help improve both e-mail deliverability and list performance. There are six levels of opt-in being used today, according to Jeanniey Mullen, director of e-mail marketing for OgilvyOne World-wide. Choosing the right one for your communications strategy and goals is as critical as choosing the message itself.

>Double opt-in: Sends an e-mail explaining what the person signed up for and asks him to click on a link to activate an opt-in.

>Confirmed opt-in: Sends an e-mail explaining what the person signed up for and gives a chance to opt out, but does not ask for a response back.

>Multi-channel opt-in: Offers two opt-in boxes, one for the company's messages and another for third-party messages.

>Single opt-in: The box is not pre-checked. Customers must check it to sign up for marketing messages.

>Predetermined opt-in: Pre-checks the box and requires customers to uncheck it to opt out.

>Mandatory opt-in: Automatically opts users in without giving them a choice. When customers build a registration profile, there's an opt-out box on the profile page.

The Benefits

Double and confirmed opt-in provide the most qualified audience of all the options. They eliminate typing errors, people who were only mildly interested, and pranksters. The net result is a cleaner, more qualified list, which drives increased deliverability and response.

"If you use confirmed opt-in, your list should be 100 percent clean and you should see high delivery and no blocking problems," says Derek Harding, CEO of Innovyx, Inc., an e-mail service provider and subsidiary of Rapp Collins Worldwide. "If you do have blockage problems, [then] if you can demonstrate to the ISPs that you are using confirmed [or double] opt-in, you will get approved."

In fact, in an opt-in test for one of OgilvyOne's consumer packaged goods clients, Mullen says, "Confirmed and double opt-in provided the highest amount of deliverable messages." In addition, for a high-tech B2B client, confirmed opt-in names are responding four times better than single opt-ins six months after the test.

...and the Costs

The most common reason for not using strict opt-in methods is that they reduce list size.

"Anecdotally, about 50 percent of the people who get double opt-in e-mails don't click on the link," explains Regina Brady, president of consultancy Brady eMarketing Solutions. "I don't think it's because they didn't want the material; it's because they read the message too quickly and don't read carefully enough. The problem is, once you've set yourself up as using a best practice, you can't go back to those 50 percent you've lost and say, 'Oh, by the way, we sent you this e-mail. Don't you want to subscribe?' "

Notes Innovyx's Harding, "When someone provides an e-mail address as part of an e-commerce transaction, a confirmation is probably not necessary. If they're trusting you with their credit card number, you can have a high degree of confidence that they're going to type in their e-mail address correctly and that they want to receive e-mail from you." With free downloads, "Any time you coerce people to give you their e-mail address to get something in return, you'll have a lot of invalid addresses."

In those cases, he says, double opt-in makes sense.

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