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Why Fully Confirmed Opt-In Sucks


By Ken Magill

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I employ fully confirmed opt-in in my email subscription process only because I have to.

Over the years I’ve irritated a lot of people—the right people as far as I’m concerned. And a bunch of them would jump at the chance to pollute my list by feeding it garbage addresses and/or forge subscribing people to this newsletter who don’t want it.

As a result, in building my email list I employ fully confirmed opt-in where would-be subscribers must respond to a confirmation email to get added to my email file. This way, only deliverable addresses possessed by people who want The Magill Report get added.

But let me state in no uncertain terms fully confirmed opt-in sucks. I hate it. If I could abandon it, I would.

My subscriber file is just about to cross 1,300. I know that sounds small, but consider some other numbers. At every trade publication I have ever worked, a home-run article was 800 to 1,000 page views. A grand slam was 1,500.

I don’t care what they say about the size of their subscriber files. I have seen the numbers myself, and I have seen them at multiple marketing trade publications over a 15-year period.

Also, I regularly get 800 to 1,000 page views per article on The Magill Report even though my subscriber file is probably a tenth the size of theirs.

It’s also not unheard of for a Magill Report article to draw more page views than it has newsletter subscribers.

For example, a recent Spamhaus Q&A drew 3,374 page views in March and has drawn 413 so far in April.

More typical, though, is last week’s lead which drew 1,517 page views.

But here’s the number that’s got me so ticked off today. I just got a new subscriber. Its ID number is 2956.

Know what that ID number refers to? It’s the number of email addresses that have been entered into my system.

That number says I have 56 percent fewer subscribers than the number of addresses that have been entered into my system—presumably a rough approximation of the number of people who have attempted to subscribe.

Now I realize that’s not an exact drop-off percentage caused solely by fully confirmed opt-in’s barriers to list growth.

There could be all kinds of explanations for some of the non-confirms other than that would-be subscribers who truly wanted to get The Magill Report didn’t see the confirmation message in their inboxes, had second thoughts, or the confirmation message ended up in their spam folders.

I understand that as I remove bounces and unsubscribes—of which I get very few—my subscriber file will shrink in relation to that 2,956 number. Also, some of that 56 percent may be forged subscriptions of email addresses of people who didn’t confirm because they don’t want The Magill Report.

I am reasonably certain, however, that that number does not include typoed addresses that were undeliverable. I get bounce messages on those. They don’t get a subscriber ID.

So I’ll never know exactly what portion of that 56 percent is the true drop-off rate of real subscribers solely due to my use of fully confirmed opt-in.

But that 56 percent figure says it’s pretty friggin’ big. And that 56 percent figure says fully confirmed opt-in sucks.

Unless you have a clear-and-compelling reason to implement fully confirmed opt-in, my advice is not to.

Why? Because it sucks. There are other ways to keep your file clean.

[Author’s note: This column was inspired by a blog post by Word to the Wise principal and email deliverability specialist Laura Atkins. She takes a more nuanced view on fully confirmed opt-in. Read her post here. Andrew Kordek, chief strategist and co-founder of Trendline Interactive also posted on the issue here.]


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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: Andrew Kordek
Date: 2013-04-16 16:00:14
Subject: COI

Houses can be built with bricks or with siding. Both can be solid long term, but its how you treat it and what sorts of material you use. COI is right for certain companies and tactics and so very wrong for others. It's situational and certainly up for debate. My article on was meant to show that there are certain scenarios where its just not necessary and others where it should be implemented. Andrew
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-04-16 16:00:14
Subject: Yep, I know; good points all

Still really pissed off about that 56 percent number, though:)
Posted by: Al Iverson
Date: 2013-04-16 15:39:34
Subject: one last point

Well, the thing I'd say to that is, does not running into a world of shit mean you won or lost? I mean, if you turned off the COI and added every submission and didn't get blocked or blacklisted, what does that mean? Not all poorly built buildings fall down; I want to make the point that it doesn't mean that somebody was wrong for pointing out the risks of it being poorly built-- the risks are still there, still real.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-04-16 15:36:42
Subject: Thanks, Al

Agreed that I have no choice. Incidentally, my tech person says she can get me a list of non-confirms. If it turns out COI has saved me from a world of shit, I'll report it.
Posted by: Al Iverson
Date: 2013-04-16 15:29:44
Subject: COI and marketing goals

Hey Ken, I appreciate your thoughts here. It got me thinking. There's a certain class of loud, brash marketing blogger who rails against best practice guidance and belittles people who suggest a safer course. I think of it like, the marketing "expert" says, "Build the building taller! Don't listen to those a-holes who tell you it's not the best practice!" And then you've got the deliverability people over here, going, uh, you realize that's structurally unsound, right? Yes, other people do it that way, but those buildings eventually collapse spectacularly, causing huge problems. God forbid we suggest you avoid that, and build something a little smaller, a little slower, that doesn't actually collapse and wreck everything horribly when it does. That's not really aimed at you, it's just more the general comment about people who just rail against COI like it's some sort of plot to wreck their business, like we must be lying about seeing those bad things happen. Not everybody needs COI, but I do kind of think you do. You're too well known, and this type of list is a ripe annoyance target. And finally, I don't see Mr. Lackey's comments as supporting CASL -- I see them as reflecting the likely realities of the world under CASL. Huge difference there between explaining how the world works versus how you wish it worked.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-04-16 14:56:55
Subject: Also

I'm not arguing against permission-based email marketing, I'm arguing against what I believe is an onerous way to get permission. I don't prospect. My subscribers seek me out.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-04-16 14:53:04
Subject: CASL

Hey Derek: Thank you so much for your comment. I'm surprised you support CASL. It'll do nothing to combat spam and has a huge potential to hurt law-abiding companies. Thanks again: Ken
Posted by: Derek Lackey
Date: 2013-04-16 14:10:18
Subject: Opt-ins

Perhaps if you looked at the email receiver's point of view instead of the email sender's your position on opt-in may change. There are many mass media tools to reach prospects - email is not a mass market tool. When marketers stop treating it like one all of our open rates and engagement rates will improve. CASL helps ensure that people only receive what they give permission to. After all - it is THEIR email address. Be more relevant and you'll get more opt-ins. That is the task of email marketers under the new CASL rules. Derek Lackey President DIRECT Marketing Association of Canada