No Double Opt-In. No Email List

Once, there was a magical time when you could scan all your business cards into an Excel list, load the email addresses into the BCC field of Outlook and hit them all with your newsletter.

You could even take that same list to an email marketing platform, load them up and hit the list again, except that this time, each newsletter was personally addressed and there were statistics about who opened what and who unsubscribed.

Yes, it really was a magical time!

Email marketing really was about break, or break through: scrape email addresses from wherever you could, smash your list and try it all again next month.

So what happened?

I’ve been a bit detached from email marketing the past few years.

I mean, I know the world has been trying to tighten down on SPAM and certainly,  I am most impressed by the SPAM software we have at work and its effectiveness.

I also know all about Blacklisting and Whitelisting, and that building a reputation with the likes of Yahoo Mail (and handing them a bundle of cash each month to remain on their Whitelists) is critical to getting emails through. (In fact, so expensive and time consuming is Whitelisting that it simply isn’t feasible today, except to use established email marketing platforms.)

What I didn’t know – being so detached from email marketing as I was – was that today, list generation and list management is so tight and onerous, it’s just not fun anymore.

The good old days of adding everyone you met at a tradeshow to your email list is way, way over.  

It seems that while I’ve been dozing, people – especially the email marketing platform people – really have been trying to tighten up SPAM and based on my recent experience, they’re pretty serious about it too.

Double Opt-In

When you talk to clients about double opt-in, they initially go blank, and then typically reject the idea; double opt-in is seen as arduous and entirely likely to lead to reduced subscriber rates.

And frankly, clients are probably right.

Double opt-in is exactly as the name suggests: users (subscribers to your email database) opt into your list twice. Initially, by subscribing to your list (newsletter) and then again, by confirming their subscription via an automated confirmation link you send them by email.

If the user fails to click the confirmation link, they haven’t opted in a second time and so they’re not on your list.

While it’s possible that you initially subscribe the user to your list (say, over the telephone: “Do you mind if I add you to our awesome email newsletter list?”), unless the user receives the confirmation email and link and subsequently clicks that link, they have not double opted in.

The user has the last say, and they cannot end up on a list they did not specifically and knowingly want to be on.

Is it really that important?

You betcha.

Because in simple terms – such is my recent experience – if you can’t categorically prove to your email marketing platform that every single user on your list is either a genuine customer or joined the list via double opt-in, they’ll refuse your list flat-out.

No questions asked.

The double opt-in provides you and them with effective proof (a paper-trail if you will) that the user legitimately and knowingly joined your list and accepted your terms, so that in turn, when the user complains or leaves, you can’t be accused of SPAM; this same paper-trail is proof to the ISPs that might try to blacklist you, or Spamcop, a service acting on behalf of the ISPs to identify and block SPAM.

Simply put, if email marketing platforms are in any way associated with SPAM or spammers, they risk every one of their clients and the deliverability of their campaigns, and so today, they won’t even take the risk.

Now, most of this probably isn’t news to you except for my final caveat: plead, argue, fight and do whatever you can to prove the legitimacy of your list but it will make no difference.   Where a year ago there might have been wriggle room and email marketing platforms might have considered the merits of your list against other criteria, the rule today is very clear.   

No double opt-in, no list.

Repeat after me.

No double opt-in, no list. (Repeat 8 times).

What now?

The first step is to ensure that wherever emails are collected by your business, there exists a double opt-in process.

No excuse. It’s black and white.

Your web developer should be able to implement such a solution quite easily (generated by what is known as an ‘auto-responder’), and if you integrate your website directly with your email marketing platform – e.g. MailChimp, Aweber, Vision6 – they should do it for you as part of their service.

The second step is to clean your list, by emailing those users that did not double opt-in to ask them to do so (and take them off the list if they do not confirm). Yes, cleaning your list will significantly cull your list, though that is the price for your past list sins; if you want to play ball, you have to scrub your list.

Alternatively of course, you can try to find a provider that will accept your list and there are plenty out there.

Except that any such provider will have a greatly reduced delivery rate than those providers that are strict by the rules. In turn, your campaign will be more expensive and less effective: less of your emails will be delivered and so the cost of delivery will be greater.

The abovementioned approach is surely only short term, and the candle is clearly burning from both ends. Time is running out for your dirty, email list.

Repent, or forever be damned.

It is all very draconian though in light of killing SPAM, it is a regulatory step we needed to take.