I had a lovely dinner last night with my wife. We cooked seafood tacos and they were extremely tasty… and also a bit on the spicy side.

Half way though, she asked me if I wanted some extra spicy salsa… (it was hot!), and I said yes…

She then said… are you sure… to which I said yes again.

She laughed, passed the salsa and said – “Ha… I’ve double opted you in!”

The Double Opt In seems to have been around for as long as email marketing, but is still a part of many tools, such as MailChimp.

Despite this many people either don’t even know what it is, know what is it, and those who do either don’t understand it, don’t know whether it’s required (or legal), or don’t know how to manage it .

I figured that since this is still an area of uncertainty for many (especially if you’re new to MailChimp), I’d pull together some information on the subject and how to best manage it.

Why use forms?

All email systems give you the option of adding people manually to the list, whether it be individually or as a group.

…but this takes you time, means you have to remember to do it and also requires you to rekey information (and potentially make a mistake) and isn’t aligned with the idea of efficient marketing.

Forms take this pain away, whether you’re capturing leads at an event or (in most cases), asking people to sign up on your website.

…Forms are fundamental to your online success and a key element of any email marketing activity.

So what is the Double Opt In?

The Double Opt In, is a tool that email marketing software providers use to ensure that those who’ve ‘signed up’ for their list are actually real people – and have really confirmed that they want to receive the information.

In some countries, it’s a legal requirement of email marketing (Canada and some european locations), and in others it’s more of a (strong) guideline.

Practically (in the world of MailChimp), it works like this:

  • Someone completes a form with their email saying that they want to receive information from you (their first “opt in”).
  • They are then sent an email asking them to click a link and confirm that they want to receive information (the “double opt in”).

MailChimp automatically sends that second email as part of the its’ own form process – and assuming that the recipient confirms their email address, they can either be set to receive a welcome message or just be directly added to the list.

…and this process ONLY APPLIES if someone is using a form. If you manually add them to the list, MailChimp asks you to tick a box confirming that they are happy to be added to the list – you don’t need to use the Double Opt In then.

…but I’d recommend against doing this too much – the benefits of email marketing are the ability to communicate in a much more efficient manner to those who are interested in your business. If you have to keep adding people manually, it works against this efficient process – and can become a pain.

What are the benefits of using the Double Opt In?

Many have argued that the Double Opt in is an extended and unnecessary process in today’s fast moving world, but there are many benefits of using it:

    • MailChimp will like you – Services like MailChimp push you to use the Double opt in as part of their service for “form based” sign ups as it ultimately protects them and their core business function.
        MailChimp’s entire reason for existence is to deliver emails. If it cannot do that it doesn’t have a business – and as such it will protect itself from anything that limits that core function.
        By pushing you to use the Double Opt In, it ensures that all the people on your list are valid email addresses, and will be less likely to classify your email as spam and/or unsubscribe.
        A high number of emails sent to addresses that aren’t real/valid, and high levels of unsubscribes/spam complaints are all signals that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use to decide whether to let an email that’s sent get to the inbox.
      • If the sender (in our case MailChimp) has a high “bounce” rate (i.e. sends lots of emails to addresses that don’t exist), or a high complaint/unsubscribe rate, the ISP will be less likely to send it to an inbox and more likely to class it as spam.
        So by using the Double Opt In, MailChimp (and other email providers) are protecting themselves and their business model – it ensures that the email address is valid and reduces the chance of a spam complaint or an unsubscribe.
    • You will get higher engagement – MailChimp have done extensive research into the engagement of those who have gone through the Double Opt In and have data that indicates that those who are “double opted in” are more likely to open and click emails then those who haven’t.
        Now, you can argue that MailChimp have a biased view of this and want you to use the Double Opt In, but the data does suggest a higher level of engagement.
    • You will be legal and covered – In several countries, (Canada being a prime example), you are required to prove that someone has signed up to your list – and they require you to use the Double Opt In.
        Many other countries haven’t got a legislative requirement, but advise that using the double opt is in your benefit.
    • People are stupid (and you won’t be penalised for it) – If someone completes the form and makes a mistake in typing their email address (i’ve seen lots of emails from “@gmai.com” or “yaho.co.uk”), the Double Opt In will ween them out.
        Thus you won’t get penalised for sending emails to an account that doesn’t exist.

What are the downsides of the Double Opt In?

The big downside of the double opt in is that someone who signs up and wants to receive your stuff, has to go through an extra step before they can – which may mean that they don’t sign up (as they miss the confirmation email).

…and since we’re all about growing our list, the Double Opt In can be seen as being a big hinderance to it.

In a slick and fast moving world, some argue that the Double Opt In is unnecessary and complicated.

The other downside is that you are tied into a very specific process for sign ups and it doesn’t give you a huge amount of flexibility.

These two reasons alone are why many out there opt out of the double opt in process.

…OK… but I thought you said MailChimp forces you to use the Double Opt In – Do I actually have the option of switching it off?

In a nutshell, if you use MailChimp’s own sign up forms (whether you use the ones they create for on their own site, or the ones you can ‘embed’ into your website), you have no option – you must use the Double Opt In process.

However, if you use a 3rd party form system (either a form tool like jotform or wufoo, a plug in for wordpress like optin-monster or Mailmunch, or even a landing page tool like clickfunnels, leadpages or unbounce), you have the option of “switching off” the Double Opt In, and adding people directly to your mailing list.

Obviously there is a cost associated with these tools, but in many instances this cost is not very high at all – especially taking into account the flexbility and design options you get.

So there are two questions you need to ask yourself:

      1. Do I want to use the Double Opt In or not?
      2. Do I want to use the MailChimp generated forms? Yes means you MUST use the Double Opt In.

Using the MailChimp forms & Double Opt In Process

If you have decided to use the Double Opt in process or are using the MailChimp forms, there are several things you can do to “increase the chances” of people actually completing the process successfully and being signed up to your list.

Here’s a quick checklist of things I’d suggest you do:

Make sure it works(!) – Whether you’re using the general mailchimp forms (which they provide) or you are using the code to embed a form on your website, you need to ensure that everything works and that people who sign up can go through the process and end up on your list.

Countless times, I know of people who’ve set up the form and embedded it in their website, and haven’t tested it… and then wonder why no one is signing up to their list!!!

You can test this by using an alternate email address you own (or by creating a new “Test” email address) and using that to sign up on the form you’ve created (be it a ‘general form’ or an embedded form).

If you receive the “confirmation email” and confirm that, and then see your name on the list, you know the process works.

n.b. Don’t try and sign up multiple times with one email address – MailChimp won’t see these additional sign ups as new – because the email is already signed up!

Make it look good Many times I’ve signed up on lists who use the Double Opt In – and who’ve spent ZERO time on making the sign up email (or even the form) look good and read well.

The most important email you will send to anyone is the first email – so why people don’t spend time improving the design and content of that first email is beyond me!!!

If you are using the MailChimp hosted form – don’t ask for too much information and make sure it’s in your brand colours and continues the message from your website.

If you are using the embedded form option – it will hopefully be adopting your own design from your website.

…and take time to rewrite and design the “confirmation” email.

This is the first email they’ll receive from you, so it needs to remind them where they signed up, confirm you are a reputable business and most importantly – get them to click!

It doesn’t need to be overly long… but it does need to get them to feel comfortable with your business and happy to be involved.

Decide what happens next – Once someone has clicked on the link to confirm their email address – make sure where they are sent is consistent with everything they’ve seen so far. Either use the hosted page that MailChimp provides… and rewrite it/design it so that it looks good, or use a page you’ve created on your website.

…and then ask again “what happens next?”

Once someone has confirmed their email address is valid – you’ve got 3 options:

      1. Send them an automated confirmation email. This is an option you can switch on/off within MailChimp and if you’re not on the paid level (and using automation) is a fantastic way of officially sending an automated welcome message and getting them involved in your business – again it needs some though and design, but it always amazes me how many people don’t use this option.
      2. Use MailChimp Automation to send a confirmation email. If you are a paying MailChimp user, you have access to automation (which is brilliant!!!). Set up a welcome message within the automation panel and use this to engage and start to build a relationship. If you are using this as a welcome email – make sure you turn off the “automated confirmation email” within the system.
      3. Do nothing… which you can do if you really want… but I’d advise against it!!!

…and remember, this process doesn’t apply if you manually go into MailChimp and add their email address.

Not using the Double Opt In?

If you’ve decided to not use Double Opt In – and are therefore using a 3rd party form tool… then there are a few things you need to consider.

Since you are not using the MailChimp process, you need to create your own process and the pages to make sure people are signed up properly.

      1. Make sure the Double Opt In is switched off – If you’re not going to use it, switch if off in the settings of the 3rd party tool.
      2. Make sure the form is linked to MailChimp! Obvious, but testing the form to see people getting onto your list in MailChimp will ease a load of worries!
      3. Make sure you’ve got a confirmation page when they submit the form. This tells people what to expect next – and warms them up to your business. Don’t just send them to a bland “thanks” page, remember that they’ve just made a commitment to your business and feel good about it – how can you bottle this good feeling and use it to your benefit?… Point them to the best blogs?… Get them to purchase a low value item?… Ask them to recommend someone else?
      4. Have an automated welcome email set up – Use the automation function in MailChimp and start sending automated emails to them. It’s still true that the most important email is the first one, so make sure it’s a belter!

The email needs to be consistent with the messages they’ve got from your website and encourage them to take some form of action – this action (download a document, visit a page) is good because it keeps them in your ecosystem… but also means that although they’ve not gone through an ‘official’ double opt in process, they have actually double opted in!

There is also one other things you need to consider if you are looking to avoid using the Double Opt In Process – and that’s ensuring you’re keeping your list clean.

As there isn’t a “click here to confirm” email, there is a much higher possibility for old/dead/incorrect email addresses, which means you need to have some good list cleansing activity in place.

A good example would be to set up an automation after 5 emails which goes to anyone who hasn’t opened any emails since they’ve signed up – and which asks them to confirm they still want the emails – and if they don’t unsubscribes them.

People who don’t open emails aren’t good for your list health and should be removed.

Anything else about forms and the sign up process?

The one thing this post hasn’t extensively gone into is how you can actually encourage people to sign up, which is a whole blog post on it’s own!

Using things like downloads, vouchers and offers are all valid tools to encourage more people to sign up to your list and get engaged with your brand.

So should you use the Double Opt In

My own personal preference is guided by Ryan Deiss, one of the world’s leading digital marketers.

All double opt-in really does is make your life and your subscriber’s life more difficult because they have to jump through hoops to get the lead magnet they requested.

At the end of the day, as long as you are practicing good list hygiene, which includes purging leads from your list that haven’t opened or clicked on an email in 60 – 90 days, or who NEVER open an email in the first 7 days (indicates it’s a fake email address), you’ll be just fine.

In fact, this is what the largest brands in the world do.

…but it’s actually down to you, your own views and the legislation in your area.

– If your legislation requires you to use Double Opt In… you must use the Double Opt In.

– If you don’t want to pay for 3rd party forms… you must use the Double Opt In.

– If you don’t know how to put a form on your website – you must use the Double Opt In.

After this, it’s your own choice.