Email Mythbusters: If my list is opt-in, I should get zero complaints.

At this point, we sound like a broken record but we’re 250ok with that. We think confirmed opt-in, or double opt-in, practice is the most basic standard for marketers to implement. If you’re asking someone to take an action to confirm their interest, and they do it, you can be relatively sure they’re in this relationship in good faith. However…


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Yes, there’s a however.

Your opt-in list does not exempt you from getting spam complaints.

We hear this line of reasoning a lot, and on the surface, surely it makes some sense. But even if you have confirmed opt-in practices, you can’t sit back, kick the heels up, and enjoy a complaint-free lifestyle.

You still need to pay attention to engagement signals.

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There’s no guarantee a person who was eager to receive your emails on Monday is just as interested in them on Tuesday.

You might be saying, “You’re a naysayer!” To that, I say, nay. Perhaps your sending frequency is too much for their taste, and they didn’t realize they were signing up for daily emails? That feels like an onslaught, and boom, complaint lodged.

Are you being sneaky and signing them up for multiple emails, like a daily deals email, weekly newsletter, and a monthly partner-sponsored email? Woah there, they only thought they were signing up for a weekly newsletter! Consider the complaint FILED.

If you notice a downward trend in clicks or opens, you should set a rule for when you self-remove them from your list or send them a goodbye email to let them know they’re about to be set loose. If you don’t actively clean your lists, don’t be surprised when people get lazy and smash the spam button instead of following unsubscribe prompts.

There are plenty of best practices posts in our archive tackling how to keep your recipients engaged. A short list would be to set up a preference center to allow subscribers to tailor content and frequency, write more engaging copy, take first-impression elements into deeper consideration, and…well, I promised a short list.


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The main takeaways here for you should be to always optimize using the data you see, and don’t assume that simply because your list is opt-in, that everyone always wants every email you send. Notice a spike in complaints? Realize you haven’t really pruned your list based on engagement data? Now you know what to do.

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