Email Opt-In Best Practices

Email Opt-In Best Practices: Surviving GDPR, ePrivacy and Beyond


The delivery of new data protection regulations has changed the way we think about email consent. It’s not enough to simply assume that your customers are happy for you to send them anything and everything these days. Instead, you need to commit to delivering content only to the people who actively agree to communicate with you.

Fail to get your email opt-in best practices right, and you miss out on more than just the potential for a 4400% ROI. The fines for non-consent with things like GDPR and ePrivacy can range to up to 4% of your annual turnover, or 20 million euros.

With predictions that 4.3 billion email users will be checking their email inboxes in 2020, you can’t afford to give up on your email strategy. However, 92% of your customers are concerned about a lack of privacy and security online.

The question is, how do you comply with both the needs of your audience and the latest regulations?

GDPR and ePrivacy: What You Need to Know

While there are plenty of regulations out there that impact your digital and email marketing strategies, two of the biggest are ePrivacy and GDPR. Don’t be caught off-guard by the fact that these policies were designed by EU regulators. They apply to any companies that interact with customers or clients inside the EU. If your email marketing strategy is global, or it has the potential to be, then you need to be compliant.

The GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation policy was introduced on the 25th of May 2018. It demands that companies implement privacy settings into their digital products and strategies, to defend consumer data. Companies also need to regularly audit their privacy strategies and ensure “active” consent when interacting with customers.

The ePrivacy directive was also created by the European Commission to work alongside GDPR. Although the guidelines for each policy are similar, they address different concerns.

GDPR Graphic

GDPR vs. ePrivacy: What’s the Difference?

GDPR is all about giving your customers more control over their data. It ensures that companies let their customers know how and when they plan on using any information they collect from email and digital marketing campaigns. GDPR also introduces the “right to be forgotten,” which means you must remove any data you have about a customer upon their request.

The ePrivacy regulations, on the other hand, focuses on things like website cookies, and the information included in electronic communications. One particularly important feature of the eDiscovery policy for email marketing is the introduction of new laws around “spam.” The regulation includes detailed rules for protecting customers against spam, which it defines as:

  • Automated communication systems
  • Unsolicited emails
  • Group text messages

Although both GDPR and ePrivacy concerns can seem like a massive headache for marketers at first glance, they’re also an opportunity. Prove to your customers that you value their privacy and digital experiences by adhering to these regulations, and you’ll earn their trust. What’s more, by ensuring you have consent to connect with your target audience, you also reduce the amount of money you spend on customers who don’t want to hear from you.

Here’s how you can adjust your email consent strategy with email opt-best practices.

Email optin best practices: Galleria permission email

Email Consent Step 1: Make Sure Your Prospecting is Targeted

It’s never been particularly effective to take the spray-and-pray approach to email marketing. The Aberdeen Group shows us that personalized emails have an improved conversion rate of around 10%. However, targeting your emails isn’t just about improving ROI anymore. In the age of ePrivacy and GDPR email consent, you need to be able to prove that you’re reaching out to the right people.

Businesses that send their email content to “just anyone,” in the hope that someone will eventually pay attention and convert, will have their material classed as spam. As such, it’s important to spend some time figuring out how you’re going to target your audience. Options include:

  • Target industry: If you’re a B2B company, then you’ll need to reach out to specific businesses from a certain kind of industry.
  • Company size: Would your product or service appeal more to mid-sized companies, SMBs, or large corporations?
  • Demographics: Are mothers from local families more interested in your product than young teenagers? What do your audience profiles say about who you need to target?
  • Location: Can you deliver more relevant content by linking your content to a specific site, as Airbnb does in the example below:

Airbnb location email

Email Consent Step 2: Consider Double Opt-In for your Subscribers

The good news is that the rules of ePrivacy and GDPR email consent don’t demand double opt-in for compliance. However, just because this strategy doesn’t appear within the latest consent guidelines, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be part of your email opt-in best practices.

Double opt-in is an email marketing strategy that asks your audience to confirm that they’re happy to receive ongoing correspondence from you after they’ve entered their address into a contact or subscription form. Although it requires a little more work than the standard single opt-in solution, double opt-in has its values. In a world where 27% of US customers use ad blockers, you can’t afford to send content to people who will just ignore it.

Double opt-in increases the quality of your captured data and ensures you’re not just sending valuable material to bots. What’s more, it’s easy to implement a double opt-in strategy. All you need to do is set up an automated email that requires your customers to verify their email through a link when they subscribe.

Don’t worry about losing subscribers here. The people who don’t opt-in are the ones that are unlikely to be genuinely engaged by your emails anyway.

Adhawk opt-in email

Email Consent Step 3: Don’t Be Classed as Spam

Of all the terms that you might use to describe your company, “spammy” should never be one of them. 92% of all online adults use email. The more customers choose to send your content to the “spam” box, the worse your online reputation becomes. Send enough spammy material, and you could even have trouble making your way through email filters to reach your audience in the future.

Ultimately, email clients aren’t foolproof. These tools use internal algorithms to sort through mail based on phrases, keywords, and the actions of users. It can be very difficult to ensure that you never accidentally end up in an email spam box. However, there are factors about your messages that you can control to reduce your chances of being classed as spam. For instance:

  • Only ever send messages to the people who actively offer email consent (the people who opt-in to your list)
  • Avoid trigger words like “Buy,” “Clearance,” “Be your own boss” and so on.
  • Create emails that you know your audience wants to read.

ePrivacy guidelines are growing stricter, attempting to cut down on the amount of spam that customers need to wade through to find the right material in their inbox. The easiest way to protect yourself from being defined as “spam,” as to make sure that you’re creating high-quality emails that offer value to your audience.

Include in-depth buyer personas as part of your email opt-in best practices and use them to send custom content to your target audience. Something as simple as a segmented campaign can improve your revenue by up to 760%! Look at the email from Charity Water below. The non-profit group knows that its donors want to find out how their money is strengthening the cause. As such, they offer regular updates with the latest news from charitable campaigns.

Charity water campaign progress email

Email Consent Step 4: Make Opting Out Quick and Easy

The DMA suggests that email marketing has an ROI that can reach anywhere up to 3800%. With statistics like that in mind, it’s fair to say that you’ll never want to lose a single subscriber. However, there’s a difference between retaining your customers with fantastic customers and forcing them to stick around because they can’t find an unsubscribe button.

The rules of GDPR email consent dictate that all consumers should have the right to be forgotten. This means that if someone requests to have their information removed from your system, you must delete their profile. Even if the latest regulations didn’t demand an exit strategy for your audience, making opting out easy is crucial for your email opt-in best practices.

Although losing an audience member is disappointing, remember that you’re probably not going to get any conversions from a customer who doesn’t want to hear from you. All you’re going to do is end up sending information to their spam box. With that in mind, follow the Gov.UK guidelines for marketing and advertising. Make it easy to leave.

Don’t hide a link at the bottom of an email in extra small text. Offer a button as part of your email footer that gives people the freedom to opt-out at any time. If someone clicks on your button, take them to a page where they can either change their email preferences or leave your subscriber list entirely. Bonobos offers a great example of how to let your customer go in a positive way:

Bonobos offer email

Email Consent Step 5: Regularly Maintain and Cleanse Your Database

Finally, when it comes to email opt-in best practices, diligence is critical.

Both ePrivacy and GDPR email consent rules dictate that businesses should be taking better care of the information that they collect and manage online. You’ll need to regularly update your privacy strategies and audit your system to ensure that there aren’t any gaps in your security.

While you’re at it, it makes sense to consistently clean and optimize your email lists too. Make sure that you’re not holding on to anyone who might not have read your emails in months. Tracking things like click-throughs and email engagement using an email marketing tool should help with this.

Cleaning both your CRM database and your email list regularly helps you to get the most out of your marketing budget. It also ensures that you’re keeping your contact records up to date for compliance purposes.

Of course, you don’t have to immediately remove anyone from your list that isn’t interacting with your content. Consider sending them a quick email to remind them what they loved about your business first. You may be able to warm up cold leads and avoid losing out on customers:

Boden "Look what you're missing" email

Creating Killer Outcomes with Email Consent

We’re living in a world where customers demand more from the brands that they do business with.

It’s not enough to just send the same emails to everyone and anyone and hope for the best. Today, brand to consumer communication needs to be more tailored, personalized and secure. Fail to deliver the best experiences, and you could risk not only losing your current audience but alienating future clients too.

Making sure that your compliant with the rules of ePrivacy and GDPR email consent is a good way to take your email strategy to the next level. Even if you don’t interact with people in the EU, it shows your audience that you’re committed to giving them the best possible inbox experiences. Follow the email opt-in best practices above, and you’ll be on your way to a stronger subscriber list in no time.


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