The Forced Optin

[tweetmeme source=”getintheinbox” only_single=false]A forced opt-in is where a site asks for an email address, forces you to opt-in to emails, in order to get something.

Common B2C implementations are on financial aid sites, where you have to fill out a form in order to get your quote. However the quote is not emailed to you, it simply appears on the next page but you still have to supply an email address and accept the Ts & Cs.

Consumers have since figured this out and when they don’t see a relevance to entering their email address, they expect spam, so they either enter in their junk address or just make one up. Also consumers will often use these forms for a flash check of their credit rating, ie: accept or reject, so they can be opted back in as well.

This means that lists built this way are full of addresses that do not exist or belong to people who have not actually asked for them and many of the rest were not expecting the email and probably do not want it.

Many of these addresses are just people who’ve just hit a load of keys in a row, like: qwerty, asdf etc. others make the point like: nospam@thanks.ta etc. etc.

Of course many of these will bounce when first sent to and as long as your email software suppresses hard bounces you won’t have to worry about hitting them again. If you have a lot of them all in the same ISP, eg: Hotmail; a high number of bounces will not do your reputation and favours.

The ones that are actually delivered tend to find the inboxes armed with rather powerful spam buttons which get used without a second thought.

On the other hand over time instead of wasting their efforts dealing with all of the emails sent to junk addresses, the ISPs hosting them simply black hole it so you’ll never know.

However, the odd one gets turned into a spam trap, whether it’s run by the ISP or a Spam Fighting organisation. As you know, hitting traps harms your reputation or just gets you blocked.

Ideally lists would be built without forcing people to opt-in to emails, instead the list would be full of people who have deliberately signified that they want your emails. However, if you are forced to collect email this way, there are some ways help remove some of the risk:

  • Clean out the obvious junk addresses before you send the email to the list.
  • Send a welcome email that makes the opt-out easy, so people will happily clean themselves off you list for you.
  • Put an unsubscribe link in the top right as well the bottom in at least the first 5 emails you send each address.
    This way if someone opens the email and their mouse drifts towards the spam button, they are likely to pass this unsubscribe link in the top right and there is a chance they’d use that rather than the spam button.

The perceptions of this low level of data collection tends to come from the olden-days of direct mail when it was a numbers game and there were no blocklists. Well that model does not apply to email and ISPs & Spam fighting agencies don’t like it and where they are inclined to, they will target senders who obviously collect data this way and junk it or block it.

If you have the option to make a change to your collection methods:

Alter the collection method to only take an email address when your process actually needs to send them an email.

Change the process or decide to only email people who have deliberately requested emails.

Don’t opt someone in from the initial form but offer them help and benefits to sign-up on the next page.

This will save you a lot of pain, generally poor deliverability and subsequently a low open rate.

The important point here, is that hammering dead and uninterested addresses will harm your ability to get in front of the people who will generate revenue with you.

Stop your unsubscribers hitting the spam button

I’ve just read a cracking article from the incredibly talented and knowledgeable Remy Bergsma on his called  “Don’t hit the spam button when you actually just want to unsubscribe(12/12/2011), I was inspired to reply but as I was writing/gibbering it got a bit long so I moved it here. If you haven’t already, read it first then click through from the comments…

Aaaand you’re back! Glad you liked it and yes he has got a great way with words, better than me 🙂 …

My point is that often senders get inconvenienced that they are punished when they’ve done nothing wrong, “we can’t stop people hitting the spam button instead” I get told,

I beg to differ: The sender has more control than you may think…

The question that senders need to ask themselves is why would a recipient not be willing to make the effort to hit the unsubscribe link?

Much of the time it is not out of laziness but lack of trust. If someone has forgotten they asked for an email, and I mean actually filled out a form saying I want your emails, how can they forget that email?

  • Was it a sneaky opt-in when it was in the linked Ts and Cs?
  • Was it a forced opt-in when someone has to provide an address and opt-in to get their quote?
  • Was it a soft-opt-in where someone bought something and then just started to get emails?
  • Was it a corporate subscriber, where legally you don’t need permission but empathetically you’re digging a hole?
  • Has the brand not sent out an email for 2,6,12 months or even years?

None of it illegal, but all lacks empathy for the recipient and their experience of the brand and will attract spam button use.

If a recipient does not remember asking for an email or even giving the sending brand their address, why would they click any link – if they perceive it as spam they won’t want to let the spammer know that they exist, so they hit the spam button, which is why it is there.

If you’re worried about your rapport,  try to earn enough trust to at least get the opt-out rather than the spam in the preheader. If it is the first string of text in the email, it could also feature as the inbox snippet in Gmail and the iPhone to help people hitting spam before the open. Then once they do open, have an unsubscribe link in the top right, this way if someone’s mouse is heading for spam button it will also be close to the opt-out link. This can then not only lose you someone who is of little value to you but also save the negative effects to your inbox placement.

Ensure you have readable text at the top of the email and not a giant image, if they are likely to hit spam, loading the images is asking too much.

Try and personal message, being humble and open.

make the opt-out easy. If you are getting high complaint rates and your inbox placement is plummeting, push these people to the opt-out link, they are worthless to your ROI and are hammering your deliverability.

Be relevant, consistent, collect addresses openly and obviously, send a welcome email and keep an eye out for non-openers over time and try to re-engage them before they forget who you are.


edit 12/12/2011 16:53: Originally sourced from Loren McDonald’s G+ stream

How long do you have to convert an email recipient

Dori Thompson guest writes for the awesome Smart Insights in “The 3-5-7 rule for Email marketing” (01/11/2011).

This is probably more vital information than you may, at first glance, think…

So many emails are created as a giant image and then get sign off, as a giant image but don’t tested in the inbox’s preview pane with images blocked until it is too late to do anything about it. The result is another under achieving delivery.

If you rely on the images to be loaded to convert, they need to take an extra action once they have opened the email.

Consider the 3-5-7 Rule in conjunction with the Triangle of Conversion when you have one main call to action.

Of course always make sure you have additional things for people to engage with, either to the right or beneath your main content.

When it comes to newsletters, where you have a lot of content try some teaser text in preheader or even more of a contents section in header, this way if the content that is visible when the email opens is not suited but there is more further down that might be, they will be able to know about it, rather than click away without knowing what they’ve missed!



Social media helping deliverability

[tweetmeme source=”getintheinbox” only_single=false]I’ve just read a very cheeky little post from Laura at Word to the Wise about how clever use of Social Media can help you get safe listed in inboxes ie: just ask for it!

On reflection, another tie in with social media is the fact that they send so many notifications, retweets, mentions, DMs, friend requests etc.
These are deemed important by people but due to their volume and frequency are commonly filtered off to a folder/label.

Either way it is these notifications / transactions that people will go to the junk folder for and safelist and filter.

welcomeWith this knowledge it makes it very easy to make the point that a sign-up process medically requires the safe listing  request at the point of sign-up.

If you don’t do double-optin send a welcome message. then on the landing page after submitting the form tell people to check their email, tell them the address it’s from and ask them to safe list it and mark it as not junk if it’s junk. and make the same request in the email.

How to Beat Amazon in Email Marketing

[tweetmeme source=”getintheinbox” only_single=false]In this blog post, I’ll be taking a look at Amazon’s mass Email Marketing system to see how it works and will demonstrate some smart Email Marking solutions for how it could have been done better.

My Experience of Amazon’s Bulk Email Marketing Strategy

I use Amazon more than any high street shop or other online retailer. As a result, I get between two and ten emails a week from various parts of their online empire: some seem to be from a clear Amazon department, and some are focused on a specific product type.

My product purchasing habits revolve mostly around electronic goods and the odd book, but occasionally I get emails containing content in which I have no interest. I wanted to ‘manage my preferences’ and unsubscribe from these mailouts, as all good Email Marketing software should allow the recipient to do.

amazon inbox


The closest thing I could find to get me on the road to unsubscribing was a tiny single-word hyperlink opt-out at the end of the second of 26 lines:

Amazon bumf at the bottom

Managing The opt-outs

I was given the choice to opt-out of all special offers or not – that’s all special offer emails, even though every email is clearly from a different department. I clicked a few different email opt-out links and they all seemed offer the same option:

Amazon optout prefs

Delving a little deeper, it appears that ‘improve your recommendations’ is the option that controls the different departments and their ability to email you. I ticked the ‘don’t use for recommendations’ box on the categories in which I had no interest and finally managed to unsubscribe myself.

Getting to this point was a confusing and needlessly complex process.

Do You Still Want To Copy Amazon’s Email Marketing Strategy?

After that poor user experience, would you still want to email just like Amazon? The answer is most likely still yes, because they make a huge amount of money.

However, if your brand is not as strong as Amazon and the ownership of your market is not as dominant, could you get away with giving your customers that kind of mass Email Marketing experience? Or would people just get bored, de-prioritise you or even unsubscribe completely?

Your Email Marketing System Can Be Better Than Amazon

Take the model that Amazon uses, but give your customers control and keep them informed – good Email Marketing software should always give options for different levels of recipient control. The important bit is not to opt people into frequent emails that they haven’t asked for – it’s just rude!

You should always ask people what they want to be emailed about, only email them with relevant content and give them control over what they receive from you. Good Email Marketing solutions aren’t some arcane art, they’re just common sense.

Want to read more, download a copy of ‘Do you want to email like Amazon or better? or check out our resources section for more guides on email marketing.

Best Practice – Content

In order for recipients to do what you want them to do with your email marketing, they need to be interested or at least inclined to let you convince them. This means the email and its content need to be relevant to them and relative to the rapport they have with you.

If someone signs up to your newsletter about shoes they expect emails about shoes. If you then add them to an additional list and start also emailing them about Crocodiles, you would be legally allowed to – only just – with the soft opt-in rule, but they are unlikely to be inclined to engage, unless you can prove relevance very quickly. In fact you are more likely to lose subscribers who would not be happy that you abused their trust in your brand.

Best practice content tip: make the content relevant to the recipient requirements and expectations.


To ensure everyone can see and interact with your email the way you want them to, you will need to test, test, test the rendering in each email client that your recipients could possibly view your emails in. Obviously the main one is Outlook and then there are the big 4 web clients: Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail & AOL (respectively) as well as mobile clients like iPhone, Blackberry and Android.

Many ESPs have built in Inbox Preview tools, some of them have integrated with established third party apps like Litmus.  Litmus is also available as a stand alone app as well as Email on Acid and Return Path’s inbox monitor tools.


In this digital era we are in, powered by caffeine, smart phones and social media; attention spans are tiny. Creative best practice is to make sure people can engage with your email as soon as possible. Different people have different levels of attention span and you have to cater for them all, so break your thinking down into 3 sections:

1) Preview Pane no images
2) Preview Pane with images
3) Full email

When the email gets there, there is a good chance that the email will be viewed in the preview pane with the images blocked; ask yourself 2 questions:

1) Can the recipient know what the email is about and be inclined to engage?
If it is all images and no text people will have to make the effort to load the images, if their rapport with you is poor they may just skip to the next email and get on with their life, safe in the knowledge that they don’t care what they missed.

2) Can the recipient convert form there?
If you have one main call to action you want them to perform will they need the images loaded in order to know what it is you want them to do, let alone actually do it, if the answer is yes you are missing a trick.

The key to this is trust earning text in the preheader and getting more text in the top third of the email. When people open the email they will see your preheader text telling them who’s emailing them and why, you then present them with a link to click to view in a browser and why not ask for them to add you to their address book and/or safe list.

If you have a big banner image with text in that is the linked call to action (CTA) make the text actual text then they can convert without having to do anything.

Ensure the opportunity to convert is always available:

•    If people are converted from the subject line, put an easy text link within your preheader text

•    For people who are not converted but intrigued, make sure there is enough text in the preview pane view to allow them to find out more and then click, without loading the images

•    For people who really need convincing sell the loading of the images or view in a browser link in the preheader as a secondary call to action. This way anyone who does not convert straight away will be inclined to see your email in its full glory and your own creative expertise can do its job.

Best practice tip for preheaders: Make sure you have one, make sure people can convert, sell the image load or browser view.


When writing for the web you again have to remember the short attention span. The marketing email you send them is not expected to be a book or even an essay, it is a short message normally updating someone on a bit of information or selling something. When writing emails it is even less because you want them to click through to this content.

Best practice tip for email copy writing: Keep it short and sweet, easily understandable, keep to the point and get the click through.

This is one of many Best Practice Guides I have written for Pure360, they are all archived on this site in one form or another. If you’d like to see the full polished version search for best practice on