Is a Double Opt-in Email List Better than Single Opt-in?

February 13, 2014

The most valuable type of lead for an online business is an email address. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and the dozens of other social media ‘followers’ and ‘fans’ aren’t even close to being as valuable to your bottom line as an email subscriber. For one of my online newsletters – in the financial industry – we value each double opt-in email to be worth nearly $19.  A Twitter follower is valued around $0.70 and a Facebook fan about $0.90.

Building a quality email list takes time, and most importantly, skill. First and foremost, the best way to build a high quality and engaged email subscriber list is to produce high quality content that people are eager enough to want to have emailed to them. Assuming you, or your content team, are fantastic writers and authorities in your respective industry, let’s discuss the best option for building a profitable email list.

If you’re not an expert on the subject of your content, you’re doomed for failure and shouldn’t waste your time reading this. Never try and build a content site based on what you think people want to know. Build a content strategy based on subject matter YOU know better than anyone else (read my article about creating a niche within a niche).


Why Double Opt-In Is Better When Building An Email List

One of the biggest debates in email marketing is whether a double opt-in list is better than single opt-ins. For a single opt-in to take place, all the subscriber needs to do is fill out an email capture form. Immediately after that, they will get the freebie offer, and no email needs to be opened in the process. However, with the double opt-in, the subscriber needs to take the extra step of clicking a link in a confirmation email that they get after submitting their email address. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but after reading this article you will realize that double opt-in is a safer business move.


Why People Think Single Opt-In is Better

With single opt-ins you will avoid the annoyance of people not getting on to your list simply because they ignored the confirmation email, or because it may have been lost in the bowels of their inbox (also known as the ‘junk folder’). Consequently, because of the lack of effort required from the subscriber, list sizes with single opt-ins are usually larger – but larger is not always better…

You can measure the success of your business or website in a variety of ways, such as number of visitors per month, conversion rates, email open rates and the like; but when all is said and done, the most important statistics is how much profit you are making. A double opt-in list is much more profitable than a single opt-in even twice its size… let me explain.


The Drawbacks of Single Opt-Ins

The biggest problem of single opt-in lists is that user engagement is statistically much lower than a double opt-in list. Because the extra step of making people click the confirmation link is not there with single opt-in, you can almost guarantee this type of subscriber won’t be as engaged as one you make go through a couple steps to get your goodies. If someone is willing to put in the effort of filling out an opt-in form, then opening their email to confirm your offer, that person is likely going to be a more engaged subscriber.

The extra subscribers you get from a single opt-in might only be there simply to get the freebie that is being given away, and they may have no interest in ever opening your emails. If they’re not going to open your emails, they’ll do nothing but hurt your business. You see, a poor open rate for your emails, and a general lack of interest (which can be measured by low click through rates and high bounces) will lower what is called a ‘Sender Score’. If your emails have low user engagement, your online email marketing provider (iContact, Constant Contact, MailChimp, Aweber  etc.) will likely put you in a ‘group’ of newsletters that don’t perform well (meaning you have a low Sender Score). If your Sender Score is low, essentially what it means is that only a certain percentage of your entire list will be sent your emails. You may think your entire list is getting your newsletter, but believe me, if your Sender Score is low, only a fraction of your subscribers are receiving the email.

The reason online email marketing providers monitor sender scores is to protect their own delivery rate, which is the foundation of their business. If they allow anyone with a database of ‘subscribers’ to use their service, it increases their risk of being blocked by major email providers (Gmail, Hotmail etc). And, if they are blocked by a major email provider, every customer they have is negatively impacted. It is a risk they simply can’t take. So, as a preventative, they monitor your subscriber (user) engagement to determine which group your newsletter will fall under (high quality lists get higher delivery rates, whereas low quality lists get a lower delivery rate).

To keep your newsletter engagement high, it is recommended you – periodically – conduct a list clean up. If people are not responding to your emails (responding means: opening them), you simply remove them. But before removing them, send them a re-engagement email – which should directly ask them if they still want to be a part of your newsletter. If they don’t open that re-engagement email, then remove them from your list because they are only hurting your Sender Score. I like to clean out any subscribers on my lists that haven’t opened an email within the last 90 days. A good subject line to use for a re-engagement letter is ‘Are You Still Alive?’. It gets people’s attention, and has generated some pretty hilarious responses.

Always remember: unresponsive subscribers are bad news because they will impact your email statistics negatively, and as a result your online email marketing provider can shut you down.


Beware of Malicious Competition

Another drawback that might not seem very plausible at first, but it does happen, is the sabotaging of email lists by competitors (happened to a friend of mine with a very valuable subscriber list). This happens when malicious competitors submit fake email accounts to your subscriber list. Once you send out a newsletter, the shady characters hit the spam button in all their fake accounts. Most email marketing providers allow 1 spam report per 1,000 emails sent, so there is little tolerance for this. These nefarious competitors are well aware that their activities can drive your spam rate up drastically, and as a result get you in trouble with your ISP, or email marketing provider.  Although it is malicious and totally unethical, there are bad apples in this world willing to do some reckless things to get ahead. A double opt-in list lowers the chances of this type of thing happening.


Advantages of Double Opt-Ins

The only thing that double opt-ins require, in addition to single, is the clicking of a link in the confirmation email. This simple, extra effort required from your subscribers can prevent a lot of headaches. Here are some of the advantages you can expect with a double opt-in list – derived from a database of Mailchimp’s 30,000 users that have sent at least 10 campaigns:

Higher open rates:  29% of people on double opt-in lists opened their emails, compared to 17% on single.

Bounce Rates: One stat that you need to keep as low as you possibly can is the bounce rate. A bounce is simply when the email servers of the recipient denies delivery of your email. A newsletter can bounce if the recipient’s address is fake or no longer in service. It can also bounce if the recipient’s email is full (uncommon, but does happen). No matter the reason, it will look really bad if your bounce rate is high and will certainly get you in trouble with email distribution providers such as Aweber and Mailchimp. The survey suggests that you can expect a 48% decrease in bounce rate if you are using double opt-in.


There Are Also A Few Disadvantages with Double Opt-in

As good as double opt-ins are, there are a few disadvantages as well. One that was already mentioned earlier is the fact that the email list size will be smaller. Another one is that the confirmation email may not reach the inbox of the subscriber. This could prevent genuinely interested people from joining your list.

In order to somewhat reduce this problem you need to nudge your subscribers, immediately after the initial subscribe form is complete, to check their spam folder if they do not get the email.


Train Your Subscribers to Open Your Emails

One of the great things about the confirmation link email is that you get to condition your subscribers to open your emails. With single opt-in subscribers, they get the freebie without having to ever open your email – this is the big disadvantage, because they don’t go through the process of being forced (politely) to open at least one email. Don’t allow your subscribers to be lazy… lazy people won’t buy anything you sell.

Another thing you can do that will increase open rates is add cliffhangers at the end of each email that will leave the readers waiting for and expecting the next one. Think of yourself as a novelist when writing emails. Every email is a new chapter in the book.


Which One Should You Use

Try experimenting with both single and double opt-ins, because for any business out there testing is an integral part of improvement. However, when conducting the testing, don’t sacrifice too much time and resources: as soon as you get a decent sample size (150 in each list), review the results and make changes to your set-up accordingly.

Stay hungry,
Aaron Hoddinott signature





Like all of you entrepreneurs and investors out there, Aaron has been in the trenches. He is the founder of an influential online media and PR company. From oil wildcatters to mining prospectors, tech gurus to medical doctors, and even celebrities, Aaron has helped market and expand brand awareness for a diverse range of publicly traded companies ran by entrepreneurs from all walks of life.

  • I think there’s one good subject here as well.

    Launch pages and sign up forms. Launch pages are designed to be short enough to catch the attention of a viewer, and give them a brief look into what he can expect – and capture a lead as well.

    I like your points on double opt-in. And my mind is single opt-in should be avoided. Yeah, there may be people that will forget to confirm the subscription, and there may be those that will be lazy enough that won’t like the additional step. But the ones that you do get are more qualified (with more interest) and you’ll have a cleaner list as well.

    My suggestion to use double opt-in is be clear about the next step, tell them (you have the right to do so:)) to confirm the subscription and to check their spam box and unflag it as spam.

    One thing to add to the drawbacks of single opt-in is:
    – if your list is filled with people that won’t engage with your emails, they mess up your data. Email marketing contains of a lot of A/B testing, and if the results are worse because your list is filled with people that aren’t interested in the first place, it will make you think what you’re doing with emails isn’t that good. (while your actual email marketing in terms of frequency and content might be great)

    • Ratko,

      Great points!

      And don’t forget the value of native ads. One step further than native ads is actually writing content that covers sub topics to your free giveaways. For example, if you are giving away a free Ebook about building your own ant farm to anyone who signs up for your newsletter, write a half dozen articles about ant farm equipment, best practices etc. with links within the articles going to your landing page for the free building your own ant farm Ebook.

      Without question (I’ve split tested it to death), double opt-in lists are more engaged, with a click through and open rate nearly double (no pun intended) that of single opt ins.

      Given that double opt-ins are so much more engaged, they will also improve your email sender score, which over the long term is invaluable. If you are not familiar with what a sender score is, Google it. Super important stuff for anyone with a newsletter.

      Yes – be very clear about the next step if it is a double opt-in. And let them know that there is high probability the confirmation email you just sent them is likely in their junk folder.

      • I fully agree with you. I think that’s the basis of content marketing:) But you explained is something that should be treated as valuable, I say it because I tend to forget that content marketing is actually about that:)

        But in short – create articles that suit your target audience, that solve their issues, and provide an incentive that would get you their contact info. I agree, promote your incentive (free eBook or checklist or whatever) through each article, that way the articles are baits and you’re reeling them in with your incentive.

        Yes, I’ve read the Sender Score in your article, and I’m aware of it;)

        Just want to strengthen my point and yours, I think the majority of people is about numbers. When you’re a business owner, you want a high stream of traffic and leads. It is a numbers game, how much money you earn, but it’s not the game of having as many leads if none of them convert. In my opinion, I’d rather have 10 leads that have a conversion of 50% rather than 100 at a conversion of 2%.

        • Absolutely. It is engrained in us to look at the number of subscribers. But I suggest taking the quality over quantity approach. I also believe that the rules governing how we email subscribers will change and become stricter – meaning we will be forced to use the double opt-in method at some point. So why not start now?

          For one of my other sites, companies that want to advertise in my newsletter always ask how big the ‘list’ is. While it is large, I always advise them to ask a better question: What is the engagement of the list? Simply building a big list of email addresses on its own means very little to your bottom line. I’ve seen a list of 500 grossly outperform one with over 100,000 email addresses.

          • I’d like to quote two things you’ve said:)

            “But I suggest taking the quality over quantity approach.” – I think this is the right approach. In my mind, when looking a particular process to achieve some goal, the approach should be: “How can we qualify it? And then, how can we quantify our process?”

            “What is the engagement of the list?” – I think this is the question that should be asked by each type of marketer. Especially social media guys. I’ve read an article on a certain company that focused only on how to raise their engagement on twitter. And then on how to convert that engagement, and it’s done wonders for them. (would have shared it, but I can’t remember their name:D)

            Again, I agree, we would all like to have the whole world as our target audience, but we need to focus on how to approach one person then quantify it to the rest.

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