New Research in the Epic Battle Between Double and Single Opt-in
by Pam Neely last updated on 0

New Research in the Epic Battle Between Double and Single Opt-in

“To confirm or not to confirm, that is the question.” from Shakespeare’s lost manuscript, The Opt-in Dilemma*

Email marketers are generally agreeable people. But there is one email marketing issue that divides us: Double versus single opt-in. Some of us think double opt-in is unnecessary. Others think single opt-in creates a less responsive list. While I can’t resolve the dispute in one post, I do have some new information to help you make the decision for yourself.

For you newbies, the difference between double and single opt-in is about sending or not sending a confirmation email after someone signs up for your list. With single opt-in, all someone has to do is to fill out your opt-in form and click “submit”. After that, they’re subscribed.

With double opt-in, the user will fill out your opt-in form and click “submit”. Then they have to check their email, find the confirmation email you sent and click a link in that email. They are not subscribed until they have clicked the link.

Things you should know about Opt-in process:

The hazards of adding an extra step

Every time you add an extra step to any process, your conversion rate goes down. It doesn’t matter whether it’s someone opting into your list or someone placing an order. Every extra step you make them go through reduces how many people finish the process. Want to get as many people as possible through your conversion process? Then remove all the obstacles you can. Make each remaining step as simple, frictionless and fast as possible.

If you look at the double versus single opt-in question through only this perspective – that adding any extra step hurts conversions – then single opt-in wins. Double opt-in, with its extra step, will cost you new subscribers.

How many subscribers? It depends on several things, which we’ll address in a moment. But marketers generally see about 20-30% faster list growth when they use single opt-in.

20-30% is a big chunk of a list. That’s basically the average rate of list churn for a list over the course of a year. To lose 20-30% of your list growth, you’d better be seeing some upside on the back end.

The long-term benefits of double opt-in

Double opt-in lists have been shown to get up to double the clicks and double the opens of single opt-in lists. They also get half the hard bounces and half the unsubscribes of single opt-in. Double opt-in lists keep you from adding a spam trap to your list. They tend to reduce spam complaints, too, though they won’t eliminate them. All these reasons are why double opt-in is the default setting in your GetResponse account. It’s why GetResponse recommends double opt-in.

Basically, double opt-in creates a higher quality list long term, though it will indeed slow your list growth compared to using single opt-in. Ultimately, the whole double versus single opt-in debate comes down to quality versus quantity. Do you want a larger list, or a more responsive list?

There are other, smaller downsides to single opt-in, too. Some of the names added to your list may be fake, or may have typos. It gets complicated. So let’s give you a comparison of the pros and cons of each option. Let’s walk through how the same list might perform if it was single opt-in or double opt-in.

Example of Double Opt-in vs Single Opt-in - subscribers
Example of Double Opt-in vs Single Opt-in - clicks

I hope that illustrates why double opt-in is the better choice long term. But I know that some of you single opt-in proponents are not going to be sold on those calculations. That’s fine, and fair. We welcome your comments and are expecting some dispute.

Two marketers who support using single opt-in

Maybe I seem partial to double opt-in. To try to be fair (or fairer) to both sides of the argument, here are two perspectives from two very smart marketers who prefer single opt-in.

Robert Tyson has tested (editor’s note: the link to this research is unfortunately no longer available) double vs. single opt-in over several months with thousands of subscribers. 23.6% of his double opt-in subscribers never confirmed. This is on target with what other marketers have reported; it’s a common drop-off. He writes, “My open/clickthrough rates from single opt-in subscribers are NOT worse. In fact if anything they’re BETTER!” Unfortunately, he does not give specific figures, but it shows that while best practices are helpful, there’s nothing as good as testing for yourself.

Jeanne Jennings has her own blog and also writes for Clickz. She believes double and single opt-in both have their place, but she leans more toward single opt-in. Jennings believes double opt-in is really only necessary if:

  • You’ve experienced deliverability issues in the past
  • You are potentially a target for malicious intent
  • You don’t feel you can adequately police the single opt-in requirement internally

Desperately seeking research

There are many other marketers who support single opt-in, but when they write about it, they share anecdotal evidence, or refer to their own lists. It’s surprising, but despite all the email marketing research studies we have, almost none track double opt-in versus single opt-in use. The most recent research I found was from MarketingSherpa in September 2012, showing that 39% of marketers were using double opt-in, which Sherpa referred to as an “opt-in only subscriber list”.

Because there was so little information about what real marketers were doing now with double and single opt-in, I decided to do my own research. So I put together a list of 50 well-known marketers from affiliate marketing, email marketing, content marketing, and social media marketing. I signed up for their email lists, taking very careful notes about their signup processes. Here’s what I found: about 2/3 of these marketers – 64% to be exact – use double opt-in.

Editor’s note:

According to the latest Email Marketing Benchmarks report] data, the use of double opt-in varies between the industries ranging from 2 to 21% of their entire lists.

On average, subscribers that have been acquired with the double opt-in account for 8.5% of all the email lists.

In reality, this number is likely to be higher, because some of the subscribers we analyzed could have gone through the confirmation process prior to being imported to the GetResponse platform

Here’s who made my list (in alphabetical order), and which opt-in process they use:

List of 50 well-known marketers using which Opt-in process

Now, is this a definitive list of the top 50 Internet marketers? Absolutely not. But it does include many of the influencers and experts in the industry. If you think I’ve left someone off, please let me know in the comments.

The real purpose of this list is not to compile a who’s who of Internet marketing. It’s to show which opt-in process some of the major marketers are using. At first I thought about asking them which opt-in process they used, but I think showing what they’re actually using may be more meaningful.

Of course, even with this survey, the dispute over double versus single opt-in is hardly over. Maybe not all of these marketers have actually tested double versus single opt-in. Either way, what you do with your list is your call. I do hope this information helps you make the right decision for your list and your business.

So much for statistics – why all these double and single opt-in comparisons are suspect

There’s another layer of complexity to all this. It’s in how the rest of the opt-in process is handled. For example, whether or not you send a welcome email can affect your long-term open and click-through rates. So while a double opt-in list will generally get better open and click-through rates, if the double opt-in list skips the welcome email, and a similar single opt-in list uses a strong welcome email, the net results from the two lists will be blurred.

Another factor that can skew your opt-in rates is if you add a name field or other information to your opt-in form. Many of the marketers I surveyed used opt-in forms that included a name field. Just as adding a confirmation email will reduce your opt-in rate, so will asking for more information in the opt-in form. You might be able to switch from single to double opt-in and give up, say, asking for people’s first names, and see no drop in new subscribers at all.

Customized opt-in processes make a difference

Up for another example of how murky these comparisons can be? Consider how the double opt-in process is handled. If someone sets up a double opt-in process and uses the default confirmation page (usually a boring, nearly blank page), they will get fewer people to complete their opt-in process than if they used a customized confirmation page. Their customized confirmation pages will work even better if they have crystal clear instructions on how to finish the opt-in process.

This is something that really popped while I was signing up for all those lists. Almost all the marketers who use double opt-in have customized the page you see after you click the “subscribe” button on the opt-in form. Most of them use screen shots of what their confirmation email will look like in the inbox. Some of them use videos.

If you’re getting terrible confirmation rates – like only half of the people who first opt into your list are confirming – consider optimizing your opt-in process. You’re probably always going to see about 20-30% of people not finish the opt-in process, but any more than that is unusual.

Good news: Customizing your opt-in process is easy

There are two places in a double opt-in process that you want to customize:

  1. The page people see after they’ve clicked the subscribe button on your opt-in form
  2. The page people see after they’ve clicked the link in your confirmation email

Here’s how to customize the page people see after they’ve clicked the subscribe button on your opt-in form:

  • From the Dashboard, go to the “Web Forms” tab near the top of the page.
  • In the web forms list, find the opt-in form people will be using for this opt-in process.
  • Click the “edit” link for that form, as shown here:
Sample of “edit” in Web Forms to customize the page after opt-in
  • In the second tab, labeled “Settings”, change the radio button selection from “Default Thank-you page” to “Custom Thank-you page” (right below). Then paste in the URL of the custom thank you page from your site.
Sample of “setting” of Web Forms to customize the page after opt-in
  • Click the grey “Save Web Form” at the bottom of the screen.

How to customize the page people see after they’ve clicked the link in your confirmation page

  • Find the “Your current campaign” pull-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of your account screen.
Sample of “Your current campaign” in Dashboard to customize the page after opt-in
  • Make sure the campaign you want to set the final confirmation page for is selected.
  • Click the gear symbol just to the right of the pull-down menu. You’ll be brought to the campaign settings pages.
Sample of “gear symbol” in campaign setting to customize the page after opt-in
  • Click the “Permission” tab on the left side of the page.
Sample of “Permission” in campaign setting to customize the page after opt-in
  • Near the bottom of the page, where it says “Confirmation page”, change the radio button selection from “Hosted by GetResponse” to “Custom URL”. Then paste in the complete URL (including http://) of the page you want people to see after they’ve clicked the link in your confirmation email.
  • Extra credit: Customize your confirmation message. The settings for this are right above the “confirmation page” section. You can specify which from email address you want to use, and write your own custom subject line for the confirmation message.
Sample of customize confirmation message after opt-in
  • Click the blue “Ok” button just to the right to save your settings.

What about you?

Which opt-in process do you use? Do you have strong feelings pro or con about single opt-in or double opt-in lists? We want to hear about it. Give us your feedback in the comments.

* No, Shakespeare did not write that.

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