I’ve been meaning to blog more about this article for a while, in which Sherry Chiger examines the pros and cons of single and double opt-in permission for e-mail. Her opening line is a real attention-grabber – I nearly fell out of my chair when I first read it: “Once upon a time—say, 10 years ago or so—double opt-in was the gold standard of permission-based e-mail.”
Maybe what Ms. Chiger is trying to say is that double opt-in is not the only acceptable standard of permission – which is absolutely true. But it sure has a lot going for it: it’s simple to implement; easy to automate; easy for senders to measure; and happens in-band. For these reasons among others, it’s the best kind of permission to have, and that’s why it’s (still!) the gold standard.
But obtaining permission – even the gold standard – has never been a panacea for delivery issues. The problem with any flavor of permission is that, within the e-mail protocol, there is no way for senders to reliably assert what kind of permission they’ve been given. That means ISPs can’t measure permission per se; instead, they must measure spam complaints and other metrics as a proxy for permission. In other words, if a sender’s message is relevant to the recipients, the performance of a message sent without permission is often indistinguishable from permission-based messages.
Some in the sending community take this as proof that relevance is more important than permission – and this may be the point that Ms. Chiger is trying to make. I disagree. I think the real conclusion to be drawn is that there is no better indicator of relevance than permission – and that’s why permission is so valuable.
I talk to a lot of frustrated senders who’ve segmented their lists dozens of different ways to try and infer what messages are relevant to which recipients. They burn a lot of time, energy and reputation trying to force relevance. I’ve never understood why this is preferable to just asking the recipient for permission.