double opt-in vs single opt-in

In the halls of e-mail marketing conferences and across the web, this debate has been raging for years. Which is the better option for your list-building? Single or Double Opt-In?

Let's wade through it together.

Let's Talk Basics

I hate spam. You hate spam. We all hate spam. And no, we're not talking about the delightful packaged lunch meat (although opinions on that range as well). We're talking about unsolicited email communications, of which the internet is famous for.

Everything ranging from dubious claims made by Nigerian princes to, yes, email marketing by legitimate companies can be considered “spam” if the communication is unsolicited or undesired.

The big difference between single-opt in and double opt-in is:

  • Single opt-in requires only a single input. Your customer enters their email address into your opt-in field and clicks “submit” or “join.” Boom, they're added to your list.
  • Double Opt-in requires an extra step. The process above is followed in the same way except instead of being automatically added to your list, they receive a one-time email prompting them to confirm their addition to your list.

Which Is Better?

Everyone wants a clean list. That is, you don't want a bunch of names on your list which are going to be angry they were subscribed, opt-out, and report you as spam. Most mass e-mail programs (such as Mailchimp, Constant Contact, etc) may ultimately penalize you if your communications are marked as spam too often. In the worst-case scenario, whole email providers such as Gmail or Yahoo may black-list you from sending communications to their users.

In other words, this is definitely something you don't want to happen!

Regardless of which option you choose (and they both have merits which well discuss next), the bottom line is this: No one like a spammer. Don't be “that guy.”

Why Single Opt-In Works Best

The biggest feather in single opt-in's cap is this: it's quicker and easier. You're not requiring people to take the extra step of confirming their subscription to your list so entering their information once is all that's needed.

With double-opt in, the customer has to take the extra step of confirming. This confirmation email can be missed, ignored, accidentally deleted, or ironically wind up in a spam folder. As a result, this person doesn't get added to your list.

This may not sound like it's a complicated process. In truth, it isn't. However, you'd be amazed at how often the second step in the process doesn't get completed.

“Marketers generally see about 20-30% faster list growth when they use single opt-in.”

Pam Neely –

Why Double Opt-In Works Best

The biggest benefit of double opt-in over single opt-in is the quality of your list. Here's the truth: people sign up for all sorts of things online and sometime don't even really know what it is they're signing up for.

It's not your fault, but it is your problem if you have a less than enthusiastic list of email addresses you're marketing to. Double-opt in “forces” the customer to confirm that “yes, I really want to receive emails from you.” As a result, you'll have a higher quality list of engaged customers.

Double opt-in has some additional benefits as well. By prompting customers to take the second step in the process, you also clean your list of fake names, misspelled email addresses, or additional typos. Again, the result is a higher quality list which has been scrubbed of errors.

Long-term, double-opt in tends to have higher conversion and click-through rates as well. The trade-off is that your click-through rate may be double what it is of a single-opt in list, however the number of customers on the list is likely lower as well.

For example:

  • 2% of 100 contacts is: 2 people.
  • 1% of 500 contacts is: 5 people.

The Verdict

The question of double opt-in vs single opt-in comes down to the age-old question of quantity vs quality. A single opt-in solution will likely grow your list more quickly, but with lower quality. Double opt-in may be a slower process but will result in a higher quality list.

Both methods have merit. If you want to grow a list quickly, single opt-in may be the way to go. For a slow and steady process, choose double opt-in. To be fair, marketers in general are split on this decision. Both sides agree that each method has its pros and cons; some of which we've outlined above.

However, it does come down to quality vs quantity. The question then is what are you trying to accomplish? Grow your list quickly or grow your list with higher quality leads.

The choice is yours!

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