Permission Encore: No Reason Not to Verify

[Editor’s Note: We amended this post in October 2008 to reflect industry thinking on the term “confirmed opt-in.” The essential point of the post — that every email sender should send a welcome message that has unsubscriber options to help verify, though not necessarily confirm, opt-ins — remains the same.]

With a series of three consecutive, semi-organized blog postings (here, here and here), Stephanie, Neil, and I have sparked some debate about permission in email marketing. It even prompted Mark Brownlow to cross post and refer to our hallowed halls here at Return Path. Taken together, I think the posts make a powerful point:

Permission to use an email address is not permanent and all-encompassing; it probably has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not your emails get delivered; but it’s still a good foundation for a successful email program, especially up-front.


Yesterday, I spoke at the DM Days conference here in New York about deliverability and reputation and was asked some more tactical questions about permission that bear repeating here in another sequel to our earlier postings. The general hierarchy of email permission goes something like the below list. I know different people use different terms for these, but these are the levels I’ll refer to in this post:


Opt-out — you just send email to the person, no hint of permission, make them say no


Pre-checked opt-in — you technically ask for permission, but the box is pre-checked


Single opt-in — someone has to proactively give permission


Pre-checked confirmed opt-in — the box may be pre-checked, but people still have to proactively respond to a confirmation email to give permission


Opt-in with verification – someone has to proactively give permission, then they have to not opt-out of a confirmation email (and that message has to be deliverable)


Double opt-in or confirmed opt-in – someone has to proactively give permission, then they also have to respond to a confirmation email to give permission a second time


There used to be a big religious debate among emailers about the value of double opt-in vs. single opt-in (that of course assumed that opt-out was a no-no, which not everyone agrees with). Do you cut your list in half by requiring that second opt-in, in the name of a higher quality, more responsive list?


But then permission levels got more subtle, per the above list. And what I shared with people at DM Days yesterday is that as long as you’re not an opt-out mailer, in which case we might want to have a different conversation and take a look at your reputation metrics, there’s no reason not to verify opt-in with an immediate welcome message. As long as you’re asking for permission in some form or other, the benefits of sending a confirmation message that doesn’t require a click are many:


– you make sure the address is deliverable and clean out garbage entries right away


– you give the recipient a chance to change his or her mind or catch a fraudulent subscription


– you introduce your email brand, look, and feel to the recipient immediately and start your email dialog, setting expectations of what the person will receive from you and reinforcing the benefits of an email relationship with you


All of these things are 100% in keeping with best practices for deliverability, reputation, and customer engagement. Why not at least send an immediate verification email?

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