The Importance of Opt-In Compliance

The importance of Opt-In compliance

Imagine coming home to a mailbox filled to the brim with coupons, brochures, and other sales material. It makes you feel like a targeted sales quota and is generally impersonal and invasive. I’d be willing to bet you’ve also thought: “What can I do to stop this? Who can I report these senders to?”

Email is our digital mailbox and shares many similarities with the physical mail industry when it comes to spam; we often find our email inboxes cluttered with content, offers, and other messages we have no interest in. Why? Because our email address has been sold, shared, or obtained without our express permission. The big difference? Email enables us to immediately, and ruthlessly, report senders as spam.

Opt-In Compliance: Permission is Key

Members of the email community should obtain consent from the individuals they want to email. This concept is known generally as “opt-in compliance”. This is not just a courtesy to the email audience, it’s also a benefit to the sender; collecting email data in a permission-based manner yields better open and engagement rates, reduces spam complaints, and preserves sender reputation.

Opt-in compliant collection means you’ve gathered permission from an individual to use their email address to send emails they’ve expressed interest in. There are two types of permission:

activeTrail-implied         activeTrail-explicit

implied permission: embedded in a service agreement or contract

express permission: clear, explicit option such as a “click here to receive our email” checkbox

The default classification for these methods is called single opt-in. It establishes a baseline for permission. It means the individual is probably interested in your email content, likely expects to receive that email, and may engage. They have provided their email address and that’s it.

pros cons- implied vs. explicit

Complementary to single opt-in is double opt-in. This requires an individual to submit their email address and then click on a link in a follow-up email to confirm that they own the email address and intended to sign up for the service, newsletter, promotion, etc. This adds an additional layer of confirmation of permission.

Double opt-in

Without Permission, Deliverability Suffers

When an organization collects email addresses without permission, they run several risks.


Damaged sender reputation – Emails are no longer trusted and delivery is affected

Increased number of spam complaints – ISPs will start spam filtering emails

End up on blacklists – ISPs will begin completely rejecting or blocking email

The most frequent defense for not adhering to permission-based practices is, “but I’m compliant with (some specific regulation)”. Here’s the trouble with that: some regulations are considered “opt-out”. This means the focus is on letting individuals easily opt-out of communication, regardless of how the email address was collected, rather than requiring that they opt-in in the first place.

The disconnect here is that the email industry has a rigorous opt-in requirement beyond legal frameworks. Government regulations define their own requirements, but it’s the email industry that processes the email, is beholden to global privacy regulations, and promotes good, non-abusive email practices. ISPs and email providers – not the legislative bodies that write and enact specific regulation – dictate the rules of the email road. Their privacy and permission-focused requirements take precedence.

To compound matters, according to a survey by MarketingSherpa, a potential 18.6% of users surveyed may report an email as spam rather than unsubscribing. ISPs and email providers (Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc) monitor spam reports. With enough volume (each service or ISP has a different threshold), all of your emails will eventually be sent straight to the spam folder. If your organization continues to receive spam complaints, your organization may get blacklisted, meaning the ISP or email provider will flat-out block and reject any messages sent in the future.

Becoming a Better Sender

Opt-in compliance serves as a solid foundation for improving email campaign performance and ensuring compliance with global privacy laws. We become better senders when we learn how the underlying infrastructure works and how we are affected by its rules.

Building a permission-based list – and maintaining that list – will yield better email campaign performance in the long run. Your list will be comprised of people who are interested in your communication, know to expect it, and whose first impression will be trust, not apprehension.