Single Opt-in And Double Opt-in–What Should You Use?

Recently, the email marketing company Mailchimp announced that the default setting of their signup forms was going to be single opt-in. A lot of people who use email marketing were up in arms about this. Why and what should you use?

In most email list providers, double opt-in is the default. It works like this: when a subscriber enters their email address in the signup form, they get an email asking them to confirm. There is a link in that email that they have to click in order to confirm that they want to be on the list. In single opt-in this does not happen. The process might take you to a page that says thank you, but at that moment, you are already on the list.

As you will understand from the above examples, it is much easier to get a lot more addresses when using single opt-in. Less hassle, less chance of an email going unopened, forgotten or undelivered. So why use double opt-in?

Before I go any further, I am going to tell you that I use both, so I am not advocating one over the other, just that there are situations where you want to use double opt-in and situations where single opt-in will do.

According to its advocates, double opt in reduces the chance of someone accidentally or maliciously ending up on an email list. It may be hard to understand the sort of sick people who enter other people’s email addresses on email lists just because they can, because they have time and obviously nothing better to do. It is also amazing what sort of robotic entering processes exist for entering email fake addresses in all kinds of places where emails can be entered.

It really boggles the mind why people would do things like this, but the fact is that it happens.

I have experienced this. I have an app that allows me to run competitions where you give away a prize and people can increase their chance of winning by getting other people to enter in the competition. There are obviously apps that generate fake email addresses on free services like hotmail and gmail and automatically enter these into the competition so that the original entrant (the owner of the app) can have more chance of winning the prize. I am sure these apps are sold at forums that shall not be mentioned, but as owner of the competition, you can spot it easily when you get thousands of entries within a short time period that all point back to the same address and that all use the same syntax.

So, yes, robotic entries happen. It is a risk of single opt-in forms.

If you are with an email provider that charges you per email address, as most of them do, this can potentially inflate your costs. Because all these bogus email addresses don’t need to be verified and because they are normally valid, meaning that if you send an email to them they won’t bounce, if you send an email to your list and include addresses like that, your open rate will plummet.

The potential for misuse of a single opt-in system is huge.

On the flipside of the coin, I don’t know how many email lists I have tried to subscribe to where the confirmation email never arrived and I therefore could not get material I wanted. Also, filling out forms like entering captchas on a tiny mobile screen is a pain, so people would just prefer to do the one click subscribe.

I use a single opt-in form for internal signups and confirmations*, for example in the process where people want to change their email address or put themselves on the ARC list. It seems silly to ask these people to reconfirm their intention, because they’re already on my list and I do not want to risk losing any of them because they can’t jump through the hoops.

So in short, yes, I think you should use double opt-in as default, but also I think that it should be the default option on your mailing list subscribe form. A lot of people won’t have the technical gumption to find out how to change it or won’t even know that they should. This move by Mailchimp seems to encourage artificial inflation of people’s lists and cannot be seen as anything other than a money grab.


* I use Mailerlite which allows the option to enter a tick box on the single opt-in form. Since bots can’t tick boxes, the chance that you’ll get a flood of junk subscribers is vastly reduced.

Here is the box:

Screenshot 2017-11-17 16.49.31

Here is how to turn it on:

Screenshot 2017-11-17 16.50.06

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Mailing lists–what about blacklists?

This is for people who take part in multi-author promotions that run a competition where people sign up to be in the draw for a prize. The competition organiser will send you a list of mailing list subscribers. In addition, the organiser may keep a spreadsheet with a blacklist for email addresses who have filed spam reports or have otherwise been abusive.

This would be a good thing, right?

In principle, yes. It happens that competition entrant who has never taken part in any of these competitions didn’t read the fine print, and suddenly they start receiving a whole bunch of emails from authors claiming that they signed up for that mailing list. It happens at these people fly into fits of rage and send abusive emails to everybody.

Yes, seriously, the rudeness of people cannot be underestimated, nor their inability to read (often not so) fine print.

You do not want these people on your list and you would be best to unsubscribe them.

But what about the people who did not email anyone but who, according to someone’s mailing list provider, reported them for spam?

In the past, when I have had such lists provided by competition organisers, I searched for a couple of the addresses, and half the time, I found that some of them are engaged and valued subscribers who open my emails and sometimes even reply to me, or they may even be on my advanced readers team.

So what is up with that?

Well, like opens, spam reports are unreliable. I have had people I know supposedly report me for spam while knowing that they would never have done any such thing.

Internet service providers tend to be very nervous about spam, and while they filter out much of the deluge that washes across the Internet every day, they will also record false positives. Rather a lot of them, even.

So if you get handed a blacklist, I would absolutely remove people who have been in contact with members of your group and have sent them rants or abusive emails. But I would do nothing with people who have reported spam because they may not have deliberately reported anyone for spam at all. They may just have moved the email in the bin, and that can count as a spam report.

So let them come in, and give them an easy unsubscribe option.

If you have proper processes in place, your spam percentage will be quite low anyway, and it’s not worth worrying about if it means that you may also accidentally unsubscribe a good number of loyal readers.

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Marketing: increasing your mailing list–be careful!

When you start selling books online, one of the first things that marketing peeps will tell you is that you will need a mailing list.

Even way back in the mid-90s when I sold non-fiction hard-copy books, I knew the value of a mailing list. I would buy second hand libraries of specialised non-fiction, send an email to the list (in the low hundreds) and sell half of the stock. It was magic!

Way back then, the list was accrued in a way that would be considered illegal now (but there was no CAN-SPAM and no one knew any better): by finding email addresses in the specific interest communities. At that time, those people appreciated getting the emails because the internet was opening up and they were delighted that someone sold the type of books they wanted.

Fast forward twenty years, and you have to be really careful with mailing lists.

Just how do you increase your list safely?

Organic signups

First and foremost, you should try to get as many organic signups as you can.

Organic means that people sign up after having read your book and they choose to part with their email address so that you can notify them when the next book is out.

For this, you put a live link to the signup page in the front and back of your book.

Why the front? Well, there are quite a few (really anal LOL) peeps who don’t like their books showing as partially read. You know how the books always contain a few pages of backmatter, including a sample and in order for the books to show “read” you have to page through all that just so your device can stop reminding you that you’re reading this book (which you’ve finished, stupid ereader!) and aaargh I may just have outed myself as one of those peeps.

If they’re still thinking about the book two days later and want to sign up, they don’t have to page through the whole book.

There is another was in which the front matter link can be beneficial. Click this link. It goes to Ambassador 1 on Amazon. Click on the cover and in the window that opens (the “look Inside”), scroll down. See the image? See the offer? Put the mouse over it. Click it.

Ta daaaa! A live link to my signup page on Amazon.

But! Why would I direct people away from buying a book for $2.99 to signing up? Because an address on my list is worth more to me than $2 from a single sale.

(P.S.I’m running a sale on this book and astonished Amazon has already changed the price LOL)

Competitions, giveaways and cross-promotions

This is a very powerful way of building a list and increasing your readership.

This method uses a single website that advertises a bunch of books, usually with a giveaway attached, and the authors of the books get a list of the email addresses of the entrants.

But first, let’s put a few oft-repeated objections out of their misery:

  • People only want to win the prize. Yup, some people do, that’s why you need to clean the list of non-openers once you start sending to them.
  • People are not interested in your genre. Sure, that’s why you need to clean the list of non-openers once you start sending to them.
  • Your open rate goes down. Probably, that’s why you need to clean the list of non-openers once you start sending to them.

See a pattern?

You need to maintain the list and delete inactive peeps.

Which you should also do for your regular list, by the way.

This you must understand about lists: there are two types:

  • a back-end list
  • a front-end list

The back-end list is a service to people who are already your readers. Organic signups are a back-end service.

A front-end list advertises your books to people not already familiar with them. This is what you do with competitions.

There is overlap. It’s quite astonishing if you ever do a survey of your list, how many people have not read all your books, despite having volunteered to be on a new releases list. Who are better people to advertise your books to than those who have already shown this level of interest in you?

Competitions are a GREAT way for advertising your books personally to people who are interested in your genre and interested in readers.

BUT!

Big but.

You need to be really selective in which giveaways to take part in.

I will tell you hands down the best method:

Go to Instafreebie. Sign up for the lowest level paid account. It’s $20 per month, but the first month is free. But seriously, this is the BEST money you will ever spend on advertising.

Put your first-in-series books up on the site, set up a giveaway for each, and make opt-ins required. Join your Mailchimp account to Instafreebie, or if you don’t have Mailchimp, get a free account with them and then use Zapier to automatically transfer the email addresses to whichever service you do use.

Then join one of the many Instafreebie promotion groups on Facebook.

I’m a big fan of this one:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/instafreebiepromos/

In this group, and others like it, authors will ask for fellow author peeps to take part in genre-based cross-promos. You sign up, the organiser sends you the information, and on the allocated dates, everyone kills the internet with it. The beauty about Instafreebie is that it will also advertise these promotions to their readers.

The giant pluses of this method:

  • The people who end up on your list are avid readers
  • It’s 100% author-run, so there are no businesses trying to make money off running promotions.

There are some commercial competition sites. I have used a good number of them. You have to be extremely careful with them, mainly because of the issue I mentioned at the top of the post: these days, we have CAN-SPAM laws and too many complaints can lead to your account being banned from your provider.

In terms of spam complaints, these are not many complaints at all. I’ve never had any issues, but I know people whose Mailchimp accounts have been shut down due to ONE badly-chosen promotion.

In terms of commercial promotions, I’ve not heard any bad stories about (although they may send you a lot of promotional emails advertising their promotions):

  • AuthorXP
  • RyanZee
  • Author Platform Rocket

There are likely to be other reputable services. There are some services out there where I’ve heard (or experienced) LOTS of bad stories about fouled-up lists. Some services copy old lists to artificially inflate the paying authors’ results. Some harvest addresses from other sites.

Do your research!

Or simply stick to author-run non-profit cross-promotions.