The Pros and Cons of Using a Double Opt-in for Email Marketing

Mike Arsenault
July 21, 2021
minute read

Email marketing is still the most profitable marketing channel available, even in 2019. There are many competitors, but so far, none beat the ROI of a good email program.

However, there’s a bit of a push-pull involved with maximizing your email marketing profits. It’s a balance between having the largest email list and having the highest quality email list.

Intuitively, email marketers often default to the position that sending more emails is always better. However, this isn’t always the case. Here’s why:

  1. People use fake email addresses all the time.
  2. People make mistakes when they enter their email addresses.
  3. Some people even give spam trap email addresses.

Emails to these email addresses are guaranteed to go unopened. And, you still have to pay to send the emails. So, collecting more email addresses and ramping up your send volume won’t improve your email marketing performance by itself.

You also need to focus on ensuring that your email list is full of active, engaged subscribers. That’s where using a double opt-in enters the equation.

What is double opt-in?

Before we proceed, it’s worth noting that you must have some sort of opt-in for your email list. Sending emails to people who haven’t opted to receive them violates the CAN-SPAM Act, GDPR regulations, CASL, and potentially other laws. So, clearly not in your brand’s best interest to do.

Now, have you ever submitted your email to subscribe to an email list, and then had to click a link in a confirmation email to prove that you really wanted to subscribe?

That’s a double opt-in. The double opt-in process requires new subscribers to opt-in to your email list twice:

  1. Entering their email address on your email collection form is the first opt-in.
  2. Clicking the link in the confirmation email is the second opt-in.

Now, to an astute marketer like yourself, this may seem like a bad idea at first glance. The double opt-in adds a step to your signup process. Some people just aren’t going to go through the second step, and won’t complete their subscription.

But, this actually has benefits. Here’s why you should use a double opt-in.

Double opt-in vs. single opt-in

When it comes to collecting email addresses, you have two options: single opt-in and double opt-in.

Many businesses use a single opt-in because it builds a larger email address faster. If your only goal is to build a large email list, then single opt-in is the clear winner.

But, the ultimate goal of building an email list is to get conversions. Building a massive email list that doesn’t convert is a waste of time and money.

So, you want to build a list of engaged subscribers, who are most likely to convert.

And, that’s the problem with single opt-in: it does nothing to screen out fake and incorrect email addresses, spam traps, and people who are going to immediately unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam once they’ve downloaded your lead magnet.

That’s why a double opt-in is actually better. You may get fewer new subscribers using a double opt-in process. But, here’s what you don’t get:

  1. Fake email addresses. Fake email addresses artificially lower your performance metrics like open rates and click-through rates because the emails never reach anybody. This makes it harder to trust your metrics when deciding if you need to tweak your subject lines or email content.
  2. Invalid email addresses. This reduces strain on your email validation resources, and helps you retain subscribers who would have been lost because they made a typo in their email address.

With a single opt-in, people who make a mistake in their email address just never get the freebie they signed up for or receive any emails from you. They don’t understand why they never received an email and leads to a bad customer experience.

  1. Inactive subscribers. The added step in the subscription process screens out people who aren’t interested in your brand and don’t actually want to receive any emails from you. This reduces spam complaints and unsubscribes.

As you can see, using a double opt-in is all about building a quality email list that achieves high deliverability rates and generates conversions.

Double opt-in best practices

Now, a double opt-in process can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Since there are additional steps in the subscription process, you will lose valuable subscribers if those steps are unnecessarily hard.

So, it’s important to optimize your double opt-in, and ensure the process is as frictionless as possible.

As you streamline your double opt-in subscription process, remember there are at least five things you need to optimize:

  1. Lead capture form
  2. Lead capture thank you page or “almost finished” page.
  3. Confirmation email.
  4. Confirmation thank you page.
  5. Confirmation thank you and/or activation email.

Here are a few tips on optimizing each step, so your double opt-in process screens out people who you don’t want on your list, rather than deterring the people you do.

Lead capture form

There are a lot of ways you can tweak and optimize your lead capture form.

Much of the success of your email capture form depends on when and how that form is presented. A pop-up collection form can be one of the most effective email collection methods. Pop-ups remove friction from the email subscription process because the user doesn’t need to do anything to access the form submission page.

In fact, companies have achieved over 10% conversion rates in their email collection campaigns using pop-ups.

However, your pop-ups need to be relevant and unintrusive. A poorly planned pop-up is irritating and can do more harm than good.

There are two main types of email collection pop-up: welcome and exit prevention pop-ups.

The welcome pop-up displays when a customer arrives at your website (typically after about 30 seconds of activity), and the exit intent pop-up appears when the user does something that indicates they are about to leave.

Both of these are most effective when they offer something that’s relevant and important to that particular customer, and when the messaging fits thematically with your brand and website.

The more you can segment your audience and provide relevant offers in your pop-ups, the more emails you’ll get. It takes a bit of A/B testing and analysis. But, with the right data, you can discover which offers get the best response, and deliver different offers based on user behavior.

Now, the presentation isn’t the only thing that affects response rates. You also need to consider how much information you ask for.

The theory goes that you’ll get fewer email addresses as you require more information on your sign-up form. This is generally true.

However, asking for more information gets higher quality leads. You can segment your email list better and create more personalized content if you know more about your subscribers. That generates more conversions.

For most businesses, asking for first names, last names, and email addresses strikes a good balance between lead quality and emails collected.

However, consider what information is most valuable for your business and sales funnel.

If you can double conversion rates by collecting phone numbers for your sales team, and it only causes a ten percent drop in email subscriptions, it’s absolutely worth it to ask for that additional information.

On the other hand, if you’re offering a discount in exchange for an email, you may not need to ask for anything but the email address. You’ll get all the associated contact information when the customer redeems the offer.

So, collecting first and last names with emails is a good baseline. But, this is also worth A/B testing to find a balance between lead quality and email signups.

Lead capture thank you page

This is also called an “almost finished” page. Optimizing this step is super important because this is where people will usually drop out of the process if things aren’t clear.

Just like the lead capture form, presentation is important for your thank you page, too. It should come up immediately, so users don’t navigate away before it appears. And, it should clearly direct users to their inbox to confirm their subscription.

You can use a thank you pop-up, in conjunction with your email collection pop-up, that way visitors can complete their subscription without opening a new tab or navigating away from your home page. This is the most streamlined double opt-in process since it keeps visitors on-site the entire time.

With the goal of getting people to check their email in mind, there are two major keys to optimizing this page:

  1. Instructions.

    People need to know what to do next. Provide clear direction about what to do, and give information about how many steps are left in the process. That way new subscribers can see the light at the end of the tunnel, which will encourage them to complete the double opt-in.
  2. Branding.

    Make sure you keep your branding consistent all the way through the process. If your “almost there” page is just a plain white page with text, it feels overly transactional. This turns some people off. Create an “almost there” page with your brand colors and voice.

Alternatively, you could use an image of the confirmation email, so new subscribers know exactly what they’re looking for in their inbox.

One last thing: The watch in this thank you pop-up gives the impression that time is running out. This is a subtle, on-brand way to add urgency and encourage new subscribers to confirm their subscription immediately. Adding urgency is a good idea when you need the shopper to take another action.

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Confirmation email

Here are the keys to a great double opt-in email: simplicity and clarity. Here’s what to be simple and clear about:

  1. Who the email is from. Make sure that new subscribers can quickly identify your confirmation email in their inbox.

    One way to do this is to use your subject line to label your double opt-in confirmation email, like this:

    [EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION CONFIRMATION] from {your business name}

    It may not look pretty. But, it’s very clear. Your confirmation email is not the time to get too clever. Yes, make sure it’s on-brand. But above all else, your confirmation email must help subscribers complete their subscription.
  2. What to do. Make the confirmation link big, prominent, and easy to click. Here’s a great example of a solid confirmation email that leads into a new customer activation offer:

Simple. Easy to navigate. The branding colors and layout are consistent with the company website. It’s a nearly seamless experience.

That’s it. Just keep your confirmation email simple, and focus on helping new subscribers complete the process quickly and easily.

Confirmation thank uou page and thank you email

We’re bundling these two together because the optimization for both is pretty much the same.

First, you should use both of these. They might seem extraneous, but they’re necessary.

If you don’t have a confirmation page, new subscribers won’t know if the link they clicked actually worked. That can be frustrating.

Without the confirmation thank you email, people may wonder if their email address was actually added to your list.

But, people have already completed their subscription, at this point. So, they want to move on to other things. That means that your thank you page and email should be quick, and unintrusive.

A good way to streamline these pages is to make them very similar to the to your email submission thank you page and confirmation email. This uses familiarity to make things as effortless as possible for new subscribers.

This is also a great opportunity to deliver an activation focused offer to folks who have just subscribed. Not only are you creating a healthier list, but also capitalizing on an opportunity to drive the first purchase.

Easy as that.

When to use double opt-in

Here are a few situations where double opt-in is useful:

  1. When you are building your email list from scratch, double opt-in can help ensure that the list is made up of real people who have actively chosen to receive your emails.
  2. If you are collecting email addresses from a new source, like an event, trade show or referral partnership, double opt-in can help ensure that new subscribers have legitimate interest in your offering.
  3. If you are using data provided by a third party (which we don't usually recommend), double opt-in can help ensure that the people on the list have given permission to be contacted by your company.
  4. When you are running a high-frequency campaigns, double opt-in can help ensure that the people on your list are still interested in receiving your emails and avoid unsubscribes or complaints.

However, it's important to keep in mind that while double opt-in can help improve the quality of your email list, it can also result in lower sign-up rates and slower list grwoth. It's a trade-off between having more engaged and qualified subscribers, or having a bigger list size.

Doubling up

Email marketing may seem like a matter of volume. But, it’s also a matter of quality. Focusing on building a massive email list is a bit too short-sighted for long-term success.

If you add a double opt-in to your email program, you’ll see an improvement in your email list quality. That means better open rates, click-through rates, and—ultimately—more conversions. And, that’s what every business really wants.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does double opt-in mean?

Double opt-in is a method of confirming that a person wants to receive email communications from a company. It is an extra step added to the standard opt-in process that requires a person to confirm their email address by clicking on a link in a verification email sent to them after they have filled out a sign-up form.

Does double opt-in improve deliverability?

Yes. Double opt-in reduces the number of bounced, unsubscribed and complaints emails, and can also help ensure that the list of subscribers is made up of people who are actually interested in receiving your emails, which can improve deliverability and inbox placement rates.

Is single or double opt-in better?

It's a tradeoff. Single opt-in will result in faster list growth, at the expense of quality and engagement. Double opt-in will result in slower list growth, but your subscribes will be more engaged with your content.


Mike Arsenault

Founder & CEO

For the last 10 years, Mike has worked with brands like Moosejaw, Hydroflask, Peak Design, Triumph, Hearst & Guthy Renker to provide the strategy & technology with which they use email to drive revenue growth. He's also the Founder of Rejoiner, a SaaS marketing platform built for ecommerce businesses.

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