Get the Opt-Out of Here: Why Permission is Key for Deliverability

Posted by Dale Langley on

In order to generate more revenue from their subscribers, some companies get permission from their recipients to “share” data with other companies. This permission normally takes the form of a statement within the privacy policy or the signup form.

To illustrate, I’ve taken a couple of statements from a website that’s used by consumers to buy motor car insurance.

“Your personal information is used to provide you with a quotation and a policy. Additionally we and other companies may keep you informed by post, email, phone or SMS of current and new products and services which could be of interest to you and for market research purposes.

If you want to opt out of receiving marketing messages from us please email us with your name, full address and date of birth.”

This particular insurance company is using data gathered during the quotation process to generate revenue by sharing it with third parties. Potential fee paying customers are consenting to receive email from other companies in exchange for the use of their service. Fair enough? No! Firstly I do not want to pay hundreds of pounds for a service that will result in me getting email I don’t want! Secondly, the concept of “giving permission” should be where the subscriber actively consents to receive email, it is not enough to say “well, we told subscribers what to expect and they still gave us their email address.”

Like most other people, I will read email from senders whom I recognise and whose content is of interest to me, so the value of my email address relies upon the affinity I have with the sender. I’m as unlikely to open an email from “FBI agent, Nicholas Story” as I am from “UPS” whom I’ve never used. I know “UPS” and what they do but I don’t use their service so why would I open email from them? This means that my personal definition of “junk” is email that I’m not interested in. Unsurprisingly, ISP’s share this definition too so they’re not only filtering out all the harmful, malicious SPAM but they’re also increasingly filtering email that I’m not likely to engage with.

If you search the internet you’ll find lots of reasons why purchasing lists is a bad practice, you’ll also find some saying that it can be ok.  Given that so many companies are still “taking” permission from subscribers and selling these lists as “opt-in” I can tell you that buying subscribers can lead to a very rocky ride.

Opt-out permission, as in the above example, is the lowest form of permission and the value of the resulting subscribers should be viewed as equally low. Remember that in order for an email address to hold value, the subscriber must be willing to read and convert into a paying customer. With revenue being the ultimate goal for an email program, buying a list filled with recipients who have no control over the type or frequency of email they will receive will ultimately affect the bottom line.
ISP’s are monitoring engagement in ways which you’d not always expect For example, email that is deleted without being read or that is sat in subscribers inboxes without being opened will be taken as negative engagement. Metrics such as these are increasingly driving inbox placement and I’m afraid that unless you get subscribers to buy into your email program from the outset, it’s increasingly likely they’ll never set sight on your email. When engagement rates decline and your subscribers aren’t willing to tell the ISP “this is not spam”, filtering rates will increase, driving down inbox placement to all your subscribers and thereby rendering the list useless to the buyer and affecting ROI.

It is quite common for purchasers of these types of lists to aggregate data from multiple sources which can mean that their lists are of questionable quality and peppered with incorrect or old addresses. As we know, sending to bad quality data leads to deliverability problems, not just because ISP’s will note you as a poor sender but you could be hitting spam traps and end up being blacklisted.

So how should the above process work? Here’s a great example that shows subscribers who the “selected partners” are and gives them the choice to opt-in/out as required.


Here the company say “We are offering you a selection of partners”, showing the list of partners and asking a straight forward “yes” or “no” against each. They also give subscribers the option to sign up to all partner emails by checking the “I want to subscribe to all newsletters” box.

The biggest benefit of this process is that subscribers will recognise the sender of the email they receive as a result of signing up. This means they’re much more likely to open and engage with the content (providing it’s relevant or course! But that’s another blog post) and as I stated earlier, engagement is a key component affecting deliverability.

Couple subscriber choice with an effective welcome email program that arrives quickly, reaffirms the subscription choices and gives the subscriber the option to change their preferences or opt-out and you’ll have an active list of subscribers who are driving real revenue for you and your data partners.


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About Dale Langley

As a consultant to Return Path’s clients helping them adopt the latest email best practices, Dale's background in mailbox provider system development led to his specialization in mailbox provider start-ups, infrastructure, and subscriber engagement. He can be found regularly presenting seminars, talking about the latest trends in email marketing and de-mystifying the murky world of deliverability. Find him at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/dalelangley and @Email_dale on Twitter.

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