You should always get your recipients’ permission to email them anything other than transactional messages (such as receipts). But how you ask for permission can make a big difference in how many people sign up for your mailing list. Beyond how many people sign up, a good opt-in form can help you gain subscribers who will be more engaged and help you get better deliverability over time. This post will discuss a few best practices for optimizing your opt-in forms.

Clear Branding

Branding on your opt-in page should tie back to the messages your recipients will receive. Use fonts, colors and logos that you will use in your emails. If you are a parent company for multiple brands, you may wish to have separate opt-in forms for each brand, or to use each brand’s logo next to the checkbox to opt in to that particular brand’s mailing list. Your goal is for someone to recognize your message in their inbox as something they signed up for and want.

Set Expectations

Most people don’t expect to hear from a B2B software company every day, but they’d worry if they didn’t hear from a daily deals site on a daily basis. Letting your recipients know approximately how often they can expect to hear from you will help them make an informed choice to join your list. One of the top reasons people click the spam button on messages they actually signed up for is that they receive too much mail from the brand in question. If recipients know what to expect, you can prevent problems ahead of time.

Include an Unsubscribe Statement

The U.S. CAN-SPAM act and Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) both require that senders include an unsubscribe statement in all emails. In other words, your form or the introduction to your form should include a statement to the effect that users can unsubscribe from your mailings at any time.

Include Your Address

Under CASL, senders must include their physical mailing address on pages that collect email opt-in. You can (and should) include this information on the site footer and not as part of your opt-in form, but it’s important not to forget it.

Separate Your Opt-In

Studies show that the more form fields you ask someone to fill out, the fewer people fill them out. While you might want a lot of information from your subscribers, it’s best to ask for that information after you have obtained their email consent. This will help maximize your opt-ins, and allow you to ask for additional data later, as you continue to build a trusting relationship with your subscribers.

Additionally, it is illegal in Canada under CASL to bundle email opt-in with making a purchase or generally agreeing to terms and conditions. Canada requires that you use a separate check box for email opt-in, and checkboxes may not be pre-checked. While this isn’t a legal requirement in the U.S., it’s still a good practice as a means of ensuring your recipients are clearly aware that they can expect to receive emails from you.

Confirmed Opt-In

Sometimes called “double opt-in,” confirmed opt-in is when you send a confirmation message to someone who has filled out your opt-in form; they must then click a confirmation link in order to fully join the list. Some organizations shy away from using confirmed opt-in in the fear that this will reduce their subscribers, but studies show that subscribers who persist through the confirmation process are significantly more engaged and more likely to click your links.

Not only are confirmed opt-in subscribers more engaged, they also are not spam traps. People sometimes enter false email addresses into forms in an attempt to get to a download without providing their real email address. Sometimes these email addresses belong to other people (who then report your messages as spam, since they did not opt-in), and sometimes they happen to be spam traps (which can result in blacklisting and other deliverability problems). Using confirmed opt-in helps protect you from these problems so you are better able to deliver messages to your engaged recipients.

Log Opt-In Data

It is important to have an auditable data trail for opt-ins. This information is legally required for Canadian recipients under CASL, but it’s also a good idea to have this information if you ever receive spam complaints to your email service provider or domain registrar. If you can easily show your data, these types of complaints are easy to resolve quickly and without impact. On the other hand, if a governmental agency or the abuse team at a service provider is concerned about your sending practices and you don’t have this information, you could wind up with service disruptions or fines for non-compliance. It’s best to maintain this data as a means of protecting yourself from liability.

What data should you keep for an audit?

  • User IP address
  • Timestamp of opt-in
  • URL of opt-in form
  • Copy of the form itself (make sure to archive older versions every time you make a change to your form!)

There are endless ways to design and manage opt-in forms, but following these basic guidelines will go a long way to helping your email programs perform better over time.