Few issues in web marketing generate such intense debate as the classic "Should you use double opt-in or single opt-in when acquiring new email subscribers?" Before revealing my personal position on this issue, I want to walk you through as many of the important considerations so YOU can make the best decision for your business and your email marketing setup. After all, what works for one business is not always the best approach for every other business. So let's find the best answer to this question for you...
What Is The Difference Between Double Opt In Vs Single Opt In?
First, let's start with some definitions so we're all on the same page.
Single Opt In = a new email subscriber signs up on your website and provides their email address and then immediately begins receiving your email marketing messages
Double Opt In = a new email subscriber signs up on your site and provides their email address, but must FIRST go to their email account and click a "confirmation link" before receiving any of your email marketing messages
While there are some slight exceptions to these two definitions, this is generally how they're defined. Single opt-in basically means you just need your subscriber's email address to begin sending email messages. Double opt-in requires that each subscriber provide a second confirmation/approval by actually acknowledging your very first email to them.
The Pros And Cons Of Single Opt-In Email Marketing
The greatest advantage of the single opt in approach should be pretty obvious -- it's easy, fast, and less of a headache for you and your prospects. You get immediate results (more subscribers) and your subscribers get instant gratification too (the emails start showing up without a hitch).
Most who argue for Single Opt In will say "Why should I make my subscribers confirm something they've already confirmed?" This is the classic argument, and there is a lot to be said for just making things easy. This is the Internet Age, after all, and everybody wants instantaneous results, right?
There are, however, a handful of important problems with single opt-in email marketing.
First, a certain percentage of your new subscribers may provide "fake" or bogus email addresses just to get a peek at what you have inside. If you're offering some kind of Lead Magnet like a free downloadable, for example, some folks will just fake opt in to try and get your downloadable for free and without any marketing strings attached. These people are obviously of no value to you and a "Confirm Your Email" firewall is the best way to stamp them out.
Second, believe it or not some of your opt-ins will punch in the wrong email address. Maybe they leave off a letter or misspell their last name -- we're all only human, and we humans make mistakes like it's our job. You can help your subscribers fix these errors immediately by asking for email confirmation and even redisplaying their typed in email address on your opt-in thank you page. Without this kind of double confirmation in place, you could be missing out on lots of marketing opportunities because of simple human error.
The Pros And Cons Of Double Opt-In Email Marketing
Double opt-ins come with their own advantages and disadvantages, too. The greatest PRO of double opt-in is once your subscriber verifies his or her email, you know you've got an actual, working email address to market.
Proponents of single opt-in like to say "But double opt in is just asking subscribers to confirm something they've already confirmed" but the truth is an opt-in is not really a confirmation at all. The difference between the two is something like saying "My home address is 12345 Main Street" (single opt in) vs. saying "My home address is 12345 Main Street AND yes I do actually receive and open the mail I get at that address" (double opt in).
Perhaps most importantly, confirmed emails are much more valuable than unconfirmed emails. If you're planning to build long-term Email Marketing success, you need quality subscribers much more than you need QUANTITY. If it's simply "too much trouble" for your prospects to confirm their email, they're likely not the best subscribers for you anyway. Plus, asking your subscribers to confirm their request to be on your list is a very powerful way to tap into what Robert Cialdini calls "The Commitment Principle" in his awesome book Influence. Get your new subscribers to make a commitment to you and your business, and you'll be far more likely to retain them over the long haul.
The greatest disadvantage of Double Opt-In email marketing is the technical headache you will often have on your hands. Some of your prospects may never receive the email requesting their confirmation (for a variety of reasons) and will either become frustrated OR disappear altogether.
An Alternative Option - Do Both!
If you're using Infusionsoft (which we use and highly recommend for small business), there is a clever way you can actually do both if you so choose. This involves sending all of your new opt-ins a confirmation email request but then also sending all new opt-ins your first marketing messages regardless of confirmation. This is easy to setup inside your Infusionsoft Campaign Builder by connecting your web form goal with an email confirmation sequence AND the very first sequence in your marketing campaign (using a decision diamond).
The advantage here is you do get a percentage of your subscribers to confirm their email, so you can immediately measure which prospects are the best. (Generally, someone who confirms their email is a higher quality email marketing subscriber than someone who does not.)
Again, this is a feature I know works well in Infusionsoft, but most other email marketing tools I've used do not offer this flexible option. (If yours does, please let me know in the comment box below.)
Which Opt-In Option Is Best For Your Business?
Personally, I'm a much bigger fan of Double Opt-In for the reasons I've outlined above. I firmly believe the future of "Good Marketing" is going to involve focusing on your highest quality prospects and building lasting, strong, committed relationships. The early days of web marketing were more about quick returns and easy profits. Today, it's much more about quality engagement.
Plus, there are a few other little factors that may eventually come into play. For example, there is some talk of applying taxes to email marketing or any email sent for commercial purposes (in other words, adding stamps and postage costs to email). This may still be years away, but it's still smart to begin thinking about the future if you plan to be in business for very long. Why risk sending email to unconfirmed email addresses if a tax is levied each time you do so?
In addition, some email marketing software platforms prioritize Confirmed Email Addresses on broadcasts over Unconfirmed.
Finally, it's proven that confirming email address of your prospects with Double Opt-In generally increases deliverability rates, open rates, and click-through rates. Again, this all goes back to focusing on your most engaged email subscribers and "trimming the fat" off your list.
Essentially, it boils down to this -- single opt in is a short term strategy that has a lot of good short term benefits. Double opt in, on the other hand, is a long term strategy that has tons of long-term benefits. The easy way to make a decision is to first decide what kind of marketing strategy you want to have -- one that's more focused on immediate results, or one that's more focused on the long game.
What do you think about double opt in vs single opt in for email marketing? I'm always interested to discuss this issue openly, and I'm always looking for more (and better) arguments for either side of the coin. Please do leave your comment below.