List-Building Hall Of Shame

Dear Email Diva,

I am looking at several "opt-in" options for lead generation business in the United Kingdom.

There is the typical example, which has policies at the bottom as required by U.K. law. However there is no opt-in/opt-out check box for consumers.

There is then another example, which has a pre-checked opt-in box, but it is clearly labeled and just above the submit button.

I am looking for any research that shows the level of registration of consumers when given an opportunity to opt out vs. no opportunity to opt out, with the exception of not pressing the submit button. In a perfect world, we would be able to generate white list data and have a high conversion rate. Are the two points mutually exclusive?



Jeremy W. Leonard

Fulltime Thinker * Occasional Savant

Dear Jeremy,

While the Email Diva loves your email signature (fulltime thinker, occasional savant), I am appalled by both of these practices. In the first, the customer has no choice but to opt in to enter a sweeps to win a Ferrari. In the second, there is a pre-checked box that, if missed by the customer, opens up his or her personal data (including financial!) for resale to anyone. Neither option will deliver a white list.

From the invaluable Wikipedia: "A whitelist is a list of accepted items or persons in a set. This list is inclusionary, confirming that the item being analyzed is acceptable. It is the opposite of a blacklist which confirms that items are not acceptable. An e-mail whitelist is a list of contacts that the user deems are acceptable to receive email from and should not be sent to the trash folder."

The users in these cases have no control over the email they will receive, so they cannot, by definition, have deemed it acceptable. Their names will be sold indiscriminately, and they will receive volumes of unsolicited email. They will not think: "Oh, yes, here is the email from Acme Company that I was expecting after entering that sweepstakes or applying for the payday loan." They will think, "Damn spammers." A great first/brand impression for the unlucky emailer that purchases their name.

If your goal is simply to build an email list for resale, then the sweepstakes is by far your best option. You will undoubtedly get more people to opt in when they don't have a choice than when they do, and when you provide an incentive. In your example, where the customer does have an option, they will frequently overlook that pre-checked box and opt in by default. Some will pay attention, so the list will not grow as quickly.

Plan on a huge percentage of false email addresses and addresses for dummy accounts that are never monitored. The unsuspecting firms that buy this list should plan on a lot of spam complaints that will damage their reputation with ISPs, put them on blacklists and severely impact their ability to get any email delivered. While their reputations are being ruined, they will enjoy low response rates from this bottom-of-the-barrel list data.

You will also be damaging the reputation of legitimate email lead-generation list firms. We beg you: don't pee in our pool.

Bad luck to all who follow these practices!

The Email Diva

Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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