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Ken Magill

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Time to Change the Meaning of Double Opt In


By Ken Magill

I've decided to radically redefine the term “double opt in.”

I know, I know. Who the hell do I think I am? But just hear me out.

The reason I want to change the definition of double opt in is that I want to change the way people react to emailers who use the term without explicitly spelling out what they mean.

This idea came as the result of an incredibly exasperating conversation I had with a fellow attendee at the Email Experience Council's Email Evolution conference last week in Miami.

During the pool party—which involved people in business attire simply standing around a pool and no tossing each other in, sadly—I met an executive who claimed he had X million “double opt-in” email addresses.

As he began to move on, I said [paraphrasing, though I had not had a drop to drink yet]: “Hang on a second. What do you mean by double opt in?”

He replied: “We send them a confirmation email” then he began to move on again.

“Hold on. Do they have to respond to the confirmation email to get on your list?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I was impressed. Most email marketers don't employ true double, or fully confirmed opt in, where the mailer sends a confirmation email to new subscribers to which they must reply in order to be added to the list.

While the tactic is the gold standard in building a clean email file and making sure only those who want to subscribe get added to it, it is an arduous way to build a list.

The reason: A significant percentage of new subscribers don't reply to the confirmation message because they may have had second thoughts, they saw it and forgot about it, it ended up in their spam folder so they never saw it, or some other reason.

A vendor who intends to rent access to his email file on a cost-per-thousand basis employing double opt in is a truly gutsy decision.

“Wow,” I said. “That's quite something. What's your drop-off rate?”

“My demographic doesn't unsubscribe,” he said, or something to that effect.

“That's not what I'm asking,” I said, “I'm asking how many subscribers you lose during the confirmation process.”

Again he talked about his supposedly low unsubscribe rate.

Again, I tried to explain what I meant by drop-off rate.

“What's YOUR drop-off rate?” he asked, beginning to get indignant.

“I've seen it as high as 40 percent,” I said.

“That's because you mail too much,” he said.

“A weekly newsletter is mailing too much?” I asked incredulously. “Are you saying Daily Candy mails too much?”

“Hey,” he said. “Who's the one in this conversation making millions and who's not?”

[Yeah, this guy was a real charmer.]

And on it went. I tried multiple times to explain that I wasn’t challenging him, I was interested in how he was able to build a decently sized file using double opt in—I’m trying to do it myself, ya know.

And he kept going back to unsubscribe rates and how special his demographic was. He also made some noise about the Can Spam Act and said his clients wouldn’t do business with an email vendor who didn’t use double opt in.

I responded by saying I know personally of very big brands who bought or paid for access to what were purported to be double opt-in addresses that were anything but.

The conversation continued to degenerate and finally drove me to excuse myself and get my first cocktail of the evening.

Now I could be wrong, but I suspect my new friend's file may not be double opt in. However, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: Even if it isn’t double opt in, he apparently believes it is—even though he can’t give a straight answer to the simplest question about the process.

After years of writing about email marketing, I pretty much assume when someone tells me their file is double opt in, they're bullshitting and/or they don't know what they're talking about.

The term double opt in has been used in marketing to the point where it is utterly meaningless.

As a result, I think we should give it a meaning that is more appropriate for those who use it.

From now on, when someone uses the phrase double opt in, we should all replace the words “double opt in” in our heads with the words “I cram fresh vegetables in my ass because I've been told they'll cure the rare, exotic venereal disease I contracted from having sex with wildebeests. Excuse me while I go change my dressing. My genetalia are about to fall off.”

You see how that works?

When someone says “I have 10 million email addresses and they’re all double opt in,” you say: “Wow, that must really kill your ass.”

When someone says “I have 10 million email addresses and they’re all double opt in,” you say: “Boy, that gives new meaning to the term ‘salad shooter,’ now doesn’t it.”

When someone says “I have 10 million email addresses and they’re all double opt in,” you say: “well, at least that explains the stain on your pants.”

Well? What do you think? I'm open to suggestions. The only thing I know for sure is I am sick to friggin' death of vendors telling me their files are double opt in when they clearly don't even know what the term means.

I say we mock them openly.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: online college
Date: 2012-06-08 09:28:41
Subject: help me find a college, online schools, online university.
Posted by: Neil J. Squillante
Date: 2011-02-08 22:55:21
Subject: Double Opt-In Was Always a Joke

Even "true" double opt-in (subscribers click a link a few seconds after subscribing) is a joke if you don't periodically require each subscriber to demonstrate that they still have a pulse and read your newsletter. Publishers that don't boot disengaged subscribers regularly are cheating.
Posted by: J.D.
Date: 2011-02-08 19:30:02
Subject: wildebeests

Ken's definition is entirely accurate, though it's a shame about the poor wildebeests.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2011-02-08 16:26:35
Subject: Late to the party

Oh, you said *wanking.* Never mind:)
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2011-02-08 15:19:41
Subject: Late to the party

And I've been covering email for all 15 of them. Respectfully, senders have certainly not been working on a definition of double opt in. There is one definition. It was coined by NetCreations' Rosalind Resnick.
Posted by: Andrew
Date: 2011-02-08 14:13:31
Subject: Late to the party

Senders have been wanking with the definition of 'permission' and 'double opt-in' for 15 years. The only difference between then and now is that there are a whole lot more wankers.
Posted by: barry
Date: 2011-02-08 13:58:53
Subject: Miami Meeting

Hi Ken, you should have double opted out of that conversation quickly. there should be no such thing as double opt in. nobody really knows what they are opting in for do they? What is the point of an opt in? I will bet opt in people push the spam button just as fast as the others. I have learned thru my own dumb mistakes as you know that anyone can say or do anything but until you actually see a list and possibly send it. So i think double opt data that is sold is like a box of chocolates as Forrest Gump would say.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2011-02-08 13:53:17
Subject: No drop offs

Hey Jordie: This guy simply wasn't listening to anything I said. I gave a crystal-clear explanation. I had a witness. She said there was nothing confusing or confrontational about my questions. I just don't think anyone had ever asked him such specific questions and he didn't like it when I did.
Posted by: Bram Van Daele
Date: 2011-02-08 13:44:42
Subject: Double opt-in

Opting in or out is a subscriber-side action. When they say "double" opt-in it simply means there have to be 2 actions performed by the subscriber. Action 1 : registering Action 2 : Confirming their registration end-of-story ! And I completely understand your frustration when people are beating around the bush when having to answer such plain and simple questions as the one you asked concerning dropoffs. Amusing stuff to read though :) hope the cocktail was good !
Posted by: Jordie van Rijn
Date: 2011-02-08 13:42:23
Subject: No drop offs

Maybe starting with stop using the term drop-off rate. Its not widely known or used. I can imaging people get confused by that. How about asking "Which % of subscribers doesn't confirm their email address?", followed by "But do you still e-mail them?"
Posted by: Kelly Lorenz
Date: 2011-02-08 13:32:34
Subject: Well...

Damn. Al beat me to coining the term "triple opt-in".
Posted by: Kelly Lorenz
Date: 2011-02-08 13:31:50
Subject: Double opt-in

Agreed -- Double opt-in can be a very confusing concept for many marketers. I also heard during a session at EEC that an opt-in is a double opt-in if it's a checkbox on the order form at checkout. Um, what? I'm also campaigning for a new term: the triple opt-in due to Facebook Messages' new "Other" inbox that marketers get packed into regardless of opt-in or no. :) -Kelly Lorenz
Posted by: Al
Date: 2011-02-08 13:26:22
Subject: but...

...all mine are TRIPLE opt-ins!