Are you feeling pressure to grow your list...and to do it quickly? Many marketers are fielding that question and responding by pre-checking the opt-in box when site visitors are checking out or creating accounts.  By pre-checking the opt-in box, users have to take a purposeful action to unclick the opt-in box, if they don't they'll be added to the mailing list.  While this is an increasing common and attractive method to quickly gain and grow your subscriber base, it can kill your list and your deliverability health even faster. 

Though it's considered acceptable, and CAN-SPAM compliant, to send and give the option to opt-out later, as a smart email marketer you need to think about the overall health of your email list and how these new additions could negatively affect all the rich email addresses you've collected organically. So, let's discuss why pre-checking the opt-in box can cause email suicide.{C}

Marketers argue that the subscriber had a choice to un-check the box but I've seen many of these pre-checked boxes buried in small light colored font at the bottom of the page nowhere near where I entered my email address. Many times this is done on purpose to prevent un-checking the box. This is very risky because you are unwillingly opting them in.  This forced opt in creates low performing lists of people who may have been engaged with your brand and interested in learning more, but could feel deceived at their inclusion on a list that they did not specifically sign up for.  This same group can and will destroy your engagement metrics that the ISPs are closely watching. By automatically including these individuals, you risk sabotaging your list.  Earlier I wrote on how you can avoid sabotage and ways to avoid hurting your deliverability, and while we do believe including opt-in throughout your site and through transactions as a great way to grow your email list organically. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Ask for explicit permissions. Don't assume people want to be added to your marketing messages just because they bought something from you recently.
  • Place the opt-in checkbox near the email address text box.
  • Set expectations. Disclose what they are opting in to and identify topics and frequency of mailings.


  • Bury the fine print by hiding an email sign-up clause in your terms and conditions in order to purchase.
  • Hide why they are providing their email address.

Although a pre-checked opt-in box will grow your email list at a faster rate, it will most likely be filled with non-engaged email addresses. Non-engaged addresses are the #1 reputation killer for Yahoo and Gmail and other ISPs. If you send to email addresses that are not opening or interacting, Yahoo and Gmail will note this and flag you as a sender with low engagement and therefore a sender of non-important emails and that will put your campaigns into the spam or bulk folder. Even worse, if the list generates spam complaints you could automatically be penalized for sending to this list.  If you're having any issues with spam complaints, check out what are spam complaints and how you can reduce them.

Another argument marketers make is that these lists have low complaint rates and the capture of sign-ups that wouldn't have otherwise occurred. Sure, they sometimes generate low complaint rates but that really isn't the issue, it's the lack of engagement that comes with this type of collection method. These people didn't uncheck the opt in, but there's a chance that they didn't notice they were opting in. While some relevant sign-ups can be gained through this process, the risk of unwanted subscribers is greater.  If the unwilling subscribers receive emails and the engagement is low, it is extremely hurtful on those metrics the ISPs are looking at in deciding where your emails should end up (inbox or bulk folder). Engagement occurs and is fruitful only when the user proactively requests it.

Whereas the opt-in approach of adding people who are explicitly raising their hand and saying, 'yes - I want in' will create a smaller list size, it will be packed with hungry engaged users waiting for your emails and ready to act on them. These engaged users are going to keep your future campaigns going into the inbox because the message is wanted and they specifically asked for emails. Opt in also builds brand awareness because people proactively and explicitly asked for the emails. They will remember checking a box to get emails versus simply buying a book and now getting lots of marketing messages they didn't explicitly ask for.

I hope that you understand the serious case against pre-checking the opt-in box. While this tactic is desirable from its list growing success, please understand that the success usually ends there. Set yourself up for long-term success by re-enforcing great organic list growth tactics. If you've had any success moving from pre-checked opt-in to explicit permission, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Chris Kolbenschlag
Director of Deliverability at Bronto