The Problem with Implicit Opt-In For Email Marketing

There are legal definitions of spam — in the U.S., for example, spam can be classified as any email that violates the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act or any other countries’ bulk email laws. Canadian law prohibits senders from emailing anyone who has not explicitly requested that mailing, and Australian and European law require prior-consent.

In the eyes of consumers, however, the definition of spam can be even broader and less forgiving. To consumers, spam might represent:

Learn how to stay in compliance with laws governing email and cookie collection. Get the ebook: Overcome Email Marketing Privacy Challenges.

That’s why it’s crucial to build your email marketing list in a way that promotes trust in your brand. However, some common ways of building the list don’t always translate into this level of trust.

The Definition of Implicit Opt-In

Implicit single opt-in occurs when a consumer fills out a form, e.g. in order to download content or register for an event. Sometimes this happens when a consumer registers for something on a third-party site, and the site shares the email addresses with sponsors. In either case, the website’s privacy policy must state that performing this action automatically opts the user into email marketing.

This is a commonly used method in the B2B marketing sector – in fact, we use it ourselves at Marketo. It has many advantages, including:

The Risks with Implicit Opt-In

But there are risks with this approach. Any time you assume or use implicit opt-in (especially if you use a list of email addresses you secured elsewhere), you’re taking a risk that your valuable messages will be considered junk mail — even if you technically have legal permission to send them.

For example:

In some countries, implicit opt-in is actually illegal. (Check the laws of the countries in which you market.) But even if you have legal permission, in general less consumer effort in the sign-up process generally means less connection to your brand overall. Less committed subscribers are more likely to mark you as spam, or actively or passively opt out of your emails later.

What to Do About It

There are a few techniques you can use to help mitigate these risks.

We use each of these techniques at Marketo: auto-responders on our registration forms, explicit opt-in to our Resource Center Updates, and Double Opt-In for our blog subscriptions.

To learn more about ways to grow your list of trusted subscribers, and many more email marketing best practices, download our free 150+ page book, The Definitive Guide to Engaging Email Marketing.