Opt-In is the only method of email subscription management that provides
actual proof of permission.
Why use a closed-loop confirmed opt-in system?
+ Because submission does not equal subscription. The single submission
of an email address carries with it absolutely no proof of permission.
Anyone can enter an email address through a web page or via email. Anyone
can buy a "Millions" CD and flood your system with addresses. Anyone can
sell you a list of unethically harvested addresses and say, "Sure,
they're opt-in." Only closed-loop confirmed opt-in can prove that
the address owner is the one who asked to be added to the list. If you're
not using closed-loop confirmed opt-in, you're not a "permission-based
marketer" -- you're a "submission-based marketer".
+ The unique, unguessable token stops forged "confirmation replies."
If you're paying web publishers for co-registrations, any publisher could
submit forged registration requests, then follow up by sending in forged
confirmation replies. Since there is no unique token involved, all the
scammer has to do is forge the "from" address of the email, the co-registration
is completed... and you've just paid this sleazy scammer for an address
that they unethically harvested off the Web, or which they bought for
far less than the bounty they've collected from you. But if you use a
unique, unguessable token, that token is sent to the submitted address,
not to the scammer. If the scammer tries to forge a confirmation, it's
rejected, since there's no matching token.
+ No one can be signed up for your list against their will. Unless
the address owner gives others access to their email password, unauthorized
addition of an address is virtually impossible with properly-managed closed-loop
confirmed opt-in. If the address was submitted by an unauthorized party,
the address owner just ignores the confirmation request. Instead of a
series of spams arriving in their inbox, followed angry emails being sent
to you, and/or abuse reports being sent to your upstream, your subscription
server quietly and efficiently takes care of everything.
+ It'll elevate your status in the Internet community. And the
community is well known for its vocal criticism of companies that have
a reputation for spamming. The community is also known for boycotting
spammer companies, and patronizing companies known to be "white hats."
Never underestimate the power of good will.
+ It'll save you time, and time is, of course, money. No more arguing
with addressees over whether they subscribed. No more bowing and scraping
to your service provider when a spam complaint comes in. With closed-loop
confirmed opt-in, you've got proof of permission.
+ It'll save you money, and money is... uh... money. Scammers
can't rip off your co-registration network by entering unauthorized addresses.
And you won't be unceremoniously disconnected by your service provider
+ It'll keep you out of jail. Some states now have, or will soon
have laws against unsolicited commercial email. If you have proof of permission, you
won't have to have your head shaved, and become a gang member's... uh... girlfriend.
In a closed-loop
confirmed opt-in subscription system:
1) The address owner or someone else submits a request,
via email or a Web form, that the email address be added to a particular
2) In response, your subscription server generates a unique, unguessable
token that is associated with the submission of that email address.
This token might consist of a hash combining the date and time of the
subscription request, along with the address itself... in addition to
a secret key that will make the token truly unguessable.
3) Your subscription server records the submission info, including
the date and time stamps, the email address, the name of the mailing list,
the IP number of the submitting computer, and the URL of the Web form
if one is used. If the request was received via email, the full, unedited
email headers are stored in place of the URL.
4) Your subscription server sends a confirmation request email to the
submitted email address. The request message contains the same info
stored by your server: date and time stamps for the submission, the IP
address of the requesting computer, the name of the mailing list, the
unique token, and the submitted address.
5) The submitted address receives the confirmation request, and the
owner responds to the confirmation request, returning the unique token
to the subscription server if the subscription request was valid.
The address owner can easily complete the subscription by replying to
an encoded Reply-To address, or by clicking an encoded link. Note that an automated reply like a "vacation reply" or "out-of-office reply" or an autoresponder message is not a valid confirmation messages... even if the reply quotes the unique token. Methods
employing a returned unique token also help avoid all issues of inaccuracy in the user's confirmation reply.
If the address was submitted by an unauthorized party, the address owner
just ignores the confirmation request, and the subscription server erases
the original request data after an arbitrary confirmation period ends.
6) Your subscription server receives the confirmation reply, and completes
the subscription process, first by comparing the returned token with
the stored token associated with the originally-submitted address. If
they match, the server then stores the complete headers of the confirmation
email, along with all the usual info: date and time, unique token, and
IP number. If the confirmation reply was submitted via an encoded URL,
the URL is stored instead of the headers. Lastly, the submitted address
is added to the appropriate mailing list. Optionally, a welcome message
can be sent to the new subscriber. If the confirmation is not
returned to you from the submitted address, or the unique token is not
present or does not match, then the subscription process is aborted, and
no further email is sent to the submitted address. All record of the
original submission is erased from the subscription server after some
What else do you need to remember?
+ Mailing can begin only after a positive confirmation response.
This is closed-loop confirmed opt-in... NOT "single opt-in" which
is actually "opt-out." If the confirmation is not returned to you
from the submitted address, or the unique token is not present or does
not match, then the subscription process should be aborted, and no further
email should be sent to the submitted address. All record of the original
submission should be erased from the subscription server after some arbitrary
period. NOTE: Some administrators and users are concerned that even the
temporary storage of the originally-submitted address could lead to privacy
problems. It's been suggested that in addition to the IP number, plus
the date and time stamps, only the unique token should be stored. If the
token is a one-way hash the address will be protected from prying eyes.
When the token-matching confirmation reply is received, the sender's address
can be recorded from the email's From address, or can be retrieved from
a value in the encoded URL.
+ The burden of proof of permission rests solely on the shoulders of
the sender... not the recipient. If you can't positively prove that
an address owner asked to be on your list, you don't have a right to send
them email. Because of this, you must keep records of the original subscription
request, as well as the confirmation reply, for the duration of the subscription.
+ Closed-loop confirmed opt-in practices eliminate "Spam Extortion
Syndrome": "Either you reveal your email address to us, or we'll keep
spamming you." Again: The burden of proof of permission rests solely
on the shoulders of the sender... not the recipient. Remember, the recipient
has absolutely no obligation and probably no will to surrender
their identity or address to an entity that has already begun to abuse
their trust through the sending of unsolicited email. With complete subscription
records, you have actual proof of subscription. No more going round and
round with users who don't want to and shouldn't have to
surrender their email address.
+ Closed-loop confirmed opt-in is easy to implement. Even a hack
(not hacker) scripter like the CM webmaster is able to cobble together
a working system in Perl, in less than 2 days... including subscription
and unsubscription via both web and email. Fulfilled subscription and
confirmation data doesn't need to be accessed frequently, so your backend
only has to deal with it two to four times (including unsubscription)
over the life of the subscription. If you want to use a full eCRM solution,
you'll probably be able to find a module that can easily handle subscription
management, fully integrated with your existing database.
+ Closed-loop confirmed opt-in is easy for your subscribers to use.
For a basic subscription, it's as easy as 1-2-3... 1) Your subscriber
types in their address. 2) Your subscriber clicks "Submit" (or
sends their email to your subscription server), and 3) Your subscriber
clicks the response link in the confirmation email, or replies to your
encoded response address. With those three steps, your closed-loop confirmed
opt-in system has saved you and your subscriber lots of grief, saved you
some coin, and possibly kept a state's Attorney General from sending you
to The Big House.
How do you convert your mailing lists
to closed-loop confirmed opt-in?
Just remove all addresses for which you have no closed-loop opt-in
confirmation, as described above... Or, you can send a single confirmation
request with a unique token to each address on the list.
If the address owner ignores the message, just remove them from your list.
If they reply with a confirmation, you'll have proof that the addressee
really wants your mail, and you won't be forced to spend all that extra
time dealing with spam complaints and avoidable privacy problems.
For more information on how to manage a mailing list responsibly, see:
Best of luck!