Email marketing is all about “the list”; the bigger and better your list the more successful your campaigns. There are many unscrupulous methods for building lists. The worst include “harvesting” lists either manually or automated from forums or chat rooms and dictionary attacking legitimate addresses. A common, yet frowned upon method, is some web services will legitimately collect your address then sell it to another company. Thus, you receive email messages from places that you never signed up with.
To help curb these activities, in 2003 Congress and the President passed the CAN-SPAM Act. The Act required marketers to include unsubscribe links, physical addresses, clear subject headings and legitimate “To” and “From” addresses. People could also be prosecuted for harvesting lists or sending messages through false IP addresses.
To avoid prosecution the email marketing world had to go through some major overhauls to keep their services from being banned by popular email services like Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL and more.
Currently, there are two ways for your subscribers to “opt-in” to commercial email solicitations. These are commonly known as Single Opt-in and Double Opt-in. Most email marketing services highly encourage their clients to use a double opt-in method, however, single opt-ins are legal under the CAN-SPAM Act.
A Single Opt-in agreement is simply when a person provides their email address to a company or website once. You sign up for a newsletter or updates but never receive a confirmation email from the company.
Also, if you purchase a product from a web store, that company can legally send you commercial emails about new products, site updates and so on, even if you never “check” a box requesting additional information. This type of campaigning is considered a previous relationship with a client.
Even if you provide your email address to someone in a regular store you are considered a single opt-in person and eligible to receive email messages about the store.
Double Opt-in is the preferred method for most email marketing companies. When a person signs up to receive messages and updates about your company through email the proper method is to then to immediately send a message to that email address confirming your subscription. Messages commonly read “You have just signed up to receive our newsletter. Please click here if this is correct.” When you click the provided link you have just confirmed your double opt-in.
Email marketing companies and services use this method to ensure that if someone reports them for spamming they have a record of that persons double confirmation. Single opt-ins can be tougher than double opt-ins to prove in court.
Both single and double opt-in methods are completely legal, but think as double opt-ins as double checking the legitimacy of your list.