When visitors sign up to your product or service they are often given the option to receive future correspondence and marketing emails. This can require the visitor to actively tick a box to receive this information (the opt-in method), or you can have this box pre-ticked or make the user has to tick a box to not receive further correspondence (the opt-out method). Which one should you use with your online forms?
Opt-in vs. Opt-out
The opt-in method of gathering data on those visitors that sign up is when the visitor actively has to chose to receive more information. The default option is not to get any more correspondence from your business.
John Lewis is an example of a sign up page that uses the opt-in method:
As you can see, users have to actively tick the box in order to receive further information from John Lewis. The thinking goes that because it requires an active choice by your new subscriber, they must be a better prospect. They will be more likely to read the emails you send them (since they asked to receive them), and will be less likely to unsubscribe, or mark your emails as spam. And surely most people who are interested in your company will check that box, as the effort taken to tick a box to receive further correspondence will be negligible, right? More on that a bit later….
If you are going to choose the opt-in method, then make sure you give people a compelling reason to opt in. Most people receive far more emails than they would like to on a daily basis – why should they receive even more? Will they receive a barrage of irrelevant and uninteresting internal updates about your company? Or will you let them have exclusive offers and discounts for your product or service?
One site enjoyed a 321% increase in confirmed opt-ins when they gave their visitors a compelling reason to subscribe (they actually listed 7, which for most may be a bit too comprehensive).
The opt-out method means that the default setting is for visitors to be subscribed to your mailing list – they have to uncheck a box that has been pre-ticked, or check a box that says they do not want to receive any further correspondence from you.
An example of each below from Boohoo.com and Argos respectively:
The above are two approaches that amount to the same – visitors have to act in order not to receive further correspondence. I would suggest that the former option is perhaps less sneaky, that is, it seems less like an effort to ‘trick’ users into subscribing. If they were only glancing at the contact preferences section, the default thought process would be that un-ticked = unsubscribed, and if they failed to read the text in detail, they would be under the impression that they had not given permission to be contacted, and may be slightly alarmed when that first email comes through.
The bottom example is the absolute limit of opt-out acceptability – do not, under any circumstances, confuse your visitors into subscribing with a confusing mix of double negatives reminiscent of Pinocchio in Shrek trying desperately not to lie. ‘Please do not un-tick this box if you do not wish to not receive no further correspondence’ is not only a grammar scholar’s nightmare, it’s also downright misleading, and deliberately opaque, and will have your customers scratching their heads as they leave your website, never to return.
The opt-out option is widely considered to be the best way to grow a database quickly, but this will not be your only aim – ultimately, it is your bottom line that you want to grow.
So, which is best?
Well, as with all good debates, there are arguments for both sides.
First, a slight tangent, but one that is relevant and interesting. Dan Ariely, and professor of psychology and behavioural economics, has discussed an interesting phenomenon around the percentages of people in European Countries who are willing to donate their organs after they pass away.
I’ll let the graph speak for itself:
As you can see, the countries on the left (including good old Blighty) have significantly lower percentages of people that consent to donate their organs. Those of the right average over 95%. Why such a gulf? Some people would suggest that culture may play a big part, or religion, but this reason seems less plausible when you compare countries with ‘similar’ cultures, like Denmark and Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium, Austria and Germany. Their donation rates are drastically different; their cultures not, so why the difference?
It turns out that the reason is deceptively simple – the design of the form (told you it was relevant!) at the respective authorities that award driving licences. In countries where the form is set as opt-in, where you have to choose to become an organ donor, people do not check the box and therefore do not become a part of the donor programme. In countries where the default is opt-out, people also do not check the box but do become a part of the program.
The point of this is to highlight even for important and emotive decisions, people tend to go for the default option. This behaviour is pervasive across a range of situations (have you ever been brought the wrong food at a restaurant, only to find yourself eating it anyway rather than ask for the waiter to take it back and get you your correct order?), including on forms. One article discusses Forrester Research that found only 18% of customers respond to opt-in or opt-out requests, regardless of which is present on a form. This means that you can either communicate further with 18% of customers that choose to opt-in, or with 82% (those that decided not to opt-out).
But surely more important than these numbers are the percentages of people that open the continued correspondence. Here, email opt-in differs from organ donation because continued interactions are required; with organ donation, once the worst has happened , you are not required to do anything further (obviously) and your organs are donated. With customers, dialogue and relationship building are key.
One study found that open rates for opt-in businesses were 82% higher than open rates received by opt-out businesses. Click through rates were 100% higher for opt-in businesses. This suggests that while you can communicate with fewer customers, you have a far more captive and engaged audience when you let them opt-in. Importantly though, this study did not measure conversion rates and revenue generated from these emails.
So… which is better?
Without meaning to stand on the fence completely, it depends. The nature of your business and the sales cycle will influence your decisions. For those where the building of relationships is key to growing your company (B2B organisations may fall under this category, but will not be the only ones), opt-in may be the best option. For more transactional businesses, or those in their infancy who wish to grow their database quickly, opt-out may be your best option.
But whichever option you go for, make sure you are not sneaky. Ever.
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