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What Is Opt-in Email Marketing?

Updated Feb 21, 2023

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When you visit a website, you’ll often see a pop-up window presenting the option to enter your email address to receive a discount or free shipping. After entering your email address, you can take advantage of any sales incentive offered and expect to receive marketing emails from the company. 

For a business with an online presence, opt-in email marketing is a way to reach prospects who have already shown interest in your products or services, and are more likely to buy. Here’s a deeper look at opt-in marketing and what both prospects and sellers should know, along with tips on how sellers can maximize opt-in rates and optimize successful customer engagement with subsequent emails.

What is opt-in email marketing? 

“Opt-in email marketing is the process of using email collection methods to capture email addresses from potential customers, also known as prospects,” said Ali Scarlett, certified networking expert, author and entrepreneur. “Once you have that prospect’s email, you can market your products or services to them via email.”

Typically, email collection is permission-based, meaning the website will ask a visitor to enter their email address and fully disclose the types of emails they can expect to receive. However, Scarlett cautions that it’s possible these days to buy email marketing lists without the permission of the people holding those email addresses.

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Importance and benefits of opt-in email marketing

Opt-in email marketing is a significant experience for both the prospect and the seller.

“For the prospect, [opt-in email marketing is] important because they’ll be receiving emails about products or services they’ll likely be interested in,” Scarlett said. “For the seller, it’s important because email marketing is a low-cost, time-efficient, easily scalable way to market their products or services.”

Another reason an opt-in email process is valuable is that it means a website’s customers and visitors are aware you’re collecting their information, acknowledging this through an opt-in form, according to Katie Melissa, owner and founder of Elite Automation LLC.

“By agreeing to an opt-in prompt, it means the user is accepting and consenting to receiving future emails from you and handing over their email address and potentially other data being captured,” she said.

Scarlett also noted that the list of opt-in email marketing benefits is seemingly endless, but money, connections and higher engagement opportunities are among the most significant.

FYIDid you know

The opt-in email process means website customers and visitors know and accept that they’ll be receiving future emails, and there’s a good chance they’re interested in the company’s products and services.

Money and connections

Money is an obvious benefit of opt-in email marketing. Opt-in email systems often start with a discount offer, which means an immediate initial purchase is more likely. Future emails alert the prospect to sales, new products and more opportunities, which may result in an ongoing sales relationship. 

Connections aren’t as straightforward, but they’re still a major benefit.

“You get money whenever you send out a marketing email and someone buys,” Scarlett explained. “You get connections whenever people find out you have a good-sized list because that sets up opportunities where you can offer to promote other people’s products to your list as a way of building a relationship with them.”

TipBottom line

Make sure prospects and customers are aware if their email addresses are being shared with other businesses, and that you share email addresses only with reputable companies.

Higher engagement opportunities

John Greving, head of content and SEO at IWD Agency, noted that another benefit of an opt-in email list is that it ensures you can always access a specific segment of your market that you don’t have to chase, whether that be via Google, Twitter, YouTube or another platform.

“Whereas other marketing campaigns need to begin with considering how the business will get the attention of its prospects, a robust opt-in email list means that step is already covered,” Greving said. “All you have to do is write an email and send it to them. It doesn’t get much easier. As they’ve opted in for these kinds of emails, the likelihood of seeing high open rates, click-through rates and conversions [is] high.”

Single opt-in vs. double opt-in vs. implicit opt-in

There are several types of opt-in email processes. 

Single opt-in

Single opt-in is the most familiar. The prospect enters their email address into the collection form and is added to the email marketing list. 

Double opt-in

You’ve probably experienced double opt-in emails without even realizing it, Scarlett shared. “A double opt-in email is when someone signs up for an email marketing list, and then an email is sent out to that person [with] a link to confirm the subscription. Then, when the confirmation is completed, that person is officially added to the email marketing list.” 

While some prospects won’t complete that second step, the seller can be assured that those who do are genuinely interested in the seller’s products or services. 

Implicit opt-in

Implicit opt-ins are usually generated when someone fills out a form.

“Implicit (single) opt-in is when someone fills out a form (email opt-in form, order form, or otherwise), and they’re automatically enrolled into the site’s email list anyway because it’s implied the site is allowed to,” Scarlett said. “The implication is usually due to the website’s privacy policy stating that filling out the form automatically opts the user in to their email marketing list.”

Did You Know?Did you know

Implicit opt-ins help build an email list quickly, but you run the risk of prospects disregarding future emails as spam.

Opting out of marketing emails

While there are a few ways to opt in to marketing emails, people also can opt out if they decide they no longer want to receive those emails.

“Email opt-out is where you unsubscribe from an email list, which causes you to ‘opt out’ of any future marketing emails from that sender,” Scarlett said.

Email marketing in the age of digital privacy laws, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), means that those sending emails must obey specific requirements.

“In order to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, all marketers are required to include an option to opt out of every email,” said Leanne Scott, founder of Passive Income Superstars. “It can also be beneficial to offer the option to opt out from emails about a specific subject or product that someone has no interest in. This can result in lower unsubscribe rates.”

Tips for getting customers to opt in to your emails

There are several ways to ensure potential customers sign up for your marketing emails.  

1. Offer solutions to pain points.

This strategy is the bread and butter of marketing, and marketing emails are no different.

“Your secret sauce is going to be in your customer research,” Scarlett said. “When you email back and forth with customers about your products or meet with them one-on-one, you’ll start to hear a recurrence of certain phrases as you begin to ask more questions – phrases that describe how they’re feeling about the problem you’re looking to solve for them with your product.”

When you can offer a solution to a prospect’s issue, they will be more likely to sign up for your marketing emails.

2. Give customers an incentive.

Offering something of value in exchange for agreeing to receive marketing emails is a solid strategy.

“Offer something enticing in exchange for their email address, and possibly other valuable data,” Melissa said. “You can boost your email opt-ins by luring users in with an appealing offer. For example, you can provide a free coaching session, a free tips and tricks guide, or a discount on your product or service in exchange for their email.”

TipBottom line

The key to offering incentives for opt-in emails is to make sure it’s not a one-time deal. If it’s a one-time enticement, customers may unsubscribe as soon as they’ve redeemed your initial offer.

3. Test your email opt-in form.

If your opt-in form is inviting and looks trustworthy, people are more likely to sign up for your emails. To determine if your email form is ideal, A/B test your email form.

Have two different versions of your opt-in form to see which one draws the most subscribers. Change the imagery, the call to action, and even the colors and fonts. Once you’ve determined which form has performed the best, make that your website’s opt-in form moving forward.

4. Show your authority.

Greving said that nothing will help you more than proving you’re an authority in your field.

“[Being an authority] can mean having a big social media following or a large YouTube audience,” he said. “Having guest posts show up again and again on industry websites or simply having a popular blog on your own are both helpful, too. Offering actionable advice that is unique in your market will prove to prospects that your emails are going to be equally valuable.”

5. Encourage, don’t annoy.

There’s a fine line between sending enough emails to encourage your subscribers to click through to your website and sending too many, to the point where recipients get annoyed and unsubscribe. This is one of the key tenets of email marketing best practices.

Even though these customers have purposely signed up for your marketing emails, if they receive too many or start receiving ones that aren’t relevant to them, they no longer see a benefit.

TipBottom line

Prevent email fatigue by segmenting your email list, being choosy about who you send which emails to, and checking in with subscribers occasionally to make sure you’re providing a benefit.

Boosting your email opt-ins

It might seem counterintuitive to market your marketing emails, but in a way, that’s what you have to do to increase your opt-in email numbers.

Datis Mohsenipour, director of marketing at HeyOrca, and Bev Feldman, email marketing technology consultant and strategist at Your Personal Tech Fairy, offered several ways you can boost your email opt-ins:

  1. Promote your email marketing subscriptions. Mohsenipour advises you to do this through channels like social media, blogs and other online platforms. You can also use automated nurturing workflows to encourage opt-ins when someone purchases a product or service or downloads a resource from your site.
  1. Communicate clearly. Mohsenipour says to make sure people know the benefits of subscribing to your list. Prospects should be able to easily answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”
  1. Avoid too many questions. Don’t ask for too much personal information on your opt-in form. You’ll want to capture their emails, but resist the urge to go beyond collecting anything more than a first name to use for personalization.
  1. Have a strong call to action. Feldman gave this example: “Instead of using the standard ‘subscribe’ as your call to action, you might say, ‘Yes, I want my free action guide,’ or ‘Send me the video.'”
  1. Include your opt-in form on multiple webpages. Feldman noted that your marketing email opt-in form should be below and embedded within blog posts. It should also be on your homepage, About page, and Services page, as well as in your website footer.

Opt-in email examples

“The best examples of opt-in emails will help to address one of the following goals – to increase health, wealth, or happiness; save time; or improve relationships,” Scott said.

Here are a few examples of successful opt-in and post-opt-in emails.

Offer a freebie.

Scott used selling home exercise equipment as an example of how to offer a freebie. The company might offer a free home workout plan in exchange for a prospect opting in to its email marketing list. In subsequent emails, before promoting their products, the company could deliver exercise tips or set challenges for their subscribers to keep them motivated.

Keep welcome emails simple.

Greving advises marketers to keep it simple when sending a post-opt-in email. “You can send a welcome email that advertises all the wonderful information the reader will be receiving in the future. You can send a video to convey this as well.”  

Deliver on the opt-in promise.

Always follow through on any promises you’ve made to the prospect. Feldman shared that after someone opts in to her email marketing list, she sends out an email with a link to the course the subscriber signed up for. Note that this process is a double opt-in, as there’s a link to confirm the email subscription. 

Jennifer Post
Contributing Writer at
Jennifer Post is a professional writer with published works focusing on small business topics including marketing, financing, and how-to guides. She has also published articles on business formation, business software, public relations and human resources. Her work has also appeared in Fundera and The Motley Fool.
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