July 7, 2023

Maximizing subscriber engagement: Your guide to email verification methods.

👋 Hello newsletter enthusiasts,

Let’s dive into email verification methods. Whether you're a seasoned pro or new to the game, we've got something for you!

🐾 Thank you for reading, stay pawsome.

Choosing the right verification method for your newsletter is an essential part of your engagement strategy. In this guide, we'll explore several methods utilized by various newsletters and their potential impact on subscriber engagement.

There are a lot of thoughts around single or double opt-in for email newsletters.


A lot.

You have likely encountered both, or even a blend of various verification methods.

Some newsletters require no verification. Just submit your email address and you’re all set! On the other hand, some newsletters insist you prove you're not a bot by "finding the bicycle" via reCAPTCHA or clicking a button in a confirmation email.

The purpose? To verify that the email address being submitted is valid, deliverable and that you're a human, not a bot. Nobody wants to send emails to non-existent email addresses because it can hurt your deliverability among other things.

There's a belief that the additional step created by verifying the email address in the sign-up process yields “higher quality” subscribers who are more likely to engage with your content. While the extra hurdle does make it harder for a bot to submit a myriad of funky email addresses, it can also frustrate potential subscribers and dissuade them from signing up.

Choosing the "Confirm your email address via confirmation email" option also comes with its own challenges. That confirmation email could be ignored, and sit idly in an inbox waiting to be clicked... and the email address just lingers in purgatory. Not a subscriber, but not-not a subscriber either.

So, what do you do?

🔑 Key observations

  • Email verification: Many newsletters use different methods of email verification, such as reCAPTCHA, single/double opt-in, or creating an account. These methods are intended to verify the authenticity of the subscriber, improving the quality of the subscriber list and protecting deliverability rates.
  • Encouraging engagement: Encouraging subscribers to engage with your newsletter (replying to emails, moving them to the Primary inbox) can improve deliverability and foster engagement with your readers. The Washington Post and TheFutureParty are notable examples of newsletters that employ these techniques.
  • Backend mechanics: Monitoring your newsletter's email signups can help detect patterns or anomalies that might indicate spam or other malicious activities. This monitoring is critical to maintain your sender reputation and prevent your newsletters from being classified as spam.
  • Sunset Policies: Sunsetting inactive subscribers improves engagement metrics, saves costs, improves sender reputation and provides more accurate audience insights. Despite seeming counterintuitive, it is an effective strategy to maintain the health of your email list.
  • Tailored approach: The verification and engagement strategies should be tailored to your audience and your acquisition strategy. This could mean employing different verification methods for different campaigns, or testing different approaches to see what works best for your audience. Remember, the strategy chosen today isn't set in stone and it's crucial to continually learn, test and iterate.

We examined about 20 different newsletters across various industries with subscriber counts ranging from thousands to millions. As you might expect, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Different newsletters, different approaches.

Let’s explore some of the methods we came across:

reCAPTCHA - Is it a crosswalk, or a set of traffic lights?

Newsletters like NPR and The Goodnewsletter use the reCAPTCHA method, a service from Google that helps protect websites from spam and abuse.

This tool helps keeps automated software from participating on your site. In other words, it helps confirm that a human being is subscribing, not a bot.

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If you wonder why reCAPTCHA often asks you to identify objects such as crosswalks, bicycles, or traffic lights, it's to further confirm human interaction. While it may seem like a mild inconvenience to some users, it plays a vital role in the fight against spam and bot interaction.

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Implementing this extra security layer to your subscription process can significantly reduce the chances of having spam emails infiltrate your mailing list. This method not only verifies the authenticity of the email being used, but it also protects your deliverability rates, as sending emails to spam addresses can negatively impact your sender reputation.

So, while requiring subscribers to identify a fire hydrant or a bus in a tiny grid of images may seem tedious, the security benefit for your newsletter in terms of maintaining a healthy, human-operated subscriber list could be well worth the trade-off. It's a simple yet effective method to keep your newsletter in the realm of the humans and out of reach of the bots.

Create an account — More than just a newsletter sign up

Established organizations like CNN, The New York Times and Forbes have chosen a somewhat different path for their newsletter subscriptions - creating an account. On the surface, it might seem like an unnecessary step for subscribing to a newsletter, but this approach offers several benefits.

Requiring users to create an account might sound like a friction point, but in practice, it can increase the quality of the subscriber list, reducing the risk of bot infiltrations or disposable email usage. The small effort put into account creation tends to deter less interested users, leaving a subscriber base more likely to engage.

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Moreover, account creation allows these organizations to provide a more personalized user experience. With an account, subscribers may be able to manage their subscriptions more easily (depending on the business and various subscriptions offered), choosing which newsletters they want to receive, modifying their email preferences, or opting out entirely.

This also opens up the door for broader engagement tracking across multiple platforms. User behavior can be tracked not just in email interactions, but also on the company's website, app, or even third-party platforms. This can yield invaluable data that can enhance content strategy, personalization efforts and marketing campaigns.

Let's take CNN's newsletter subscription as an example. After entering an email address, a "You're subscribed" confirmation message appears, followed by a prompt: "Add a password to sign up and manage your newsletter subscriptions in a free CNN account." This suggests that, while you can receive newsletters without an account, having one provides an extra layer of control over subscriptions.

It's an approach that might require a bit more testing to ascertain its effectiveness, but it's certainly an interesting model that offers both advantages and considerations to bear in mind.

In the end, asking subscribers to create an account is about more than just email verification - it's a strategy.

Engaging replies and inbox placement

One of the best ways to ensure consistent deliverability is to encourage subscribers to engage with your newsletter. This engagement can be through replying to emails or moving them to the “Primary” inbox (read more about tabbed inboxes here).

Organizations like The Washington Post and TheFutureParty have employed these techniques.

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A reply to an email is a strong positive signal to email service providers (ESP) that the subscriber values your content. This helps establish your newsletter as legitimate and desired, increasing the likelihood of future emails landing in the Primary inbox. Furthermore, it allows for a two-way dialogue that can foster stronger relationships with your readers.

Similarly, moving the email to the Primary inbox is a valuable action.

Typically, ISPs like Google may sort emails into different categories (Primary, Social, Promotions, etc.). Sometimes, newsletters land in the “Promotion” tab. While this is a valid place for newsletters, emails in the “Primary” tab are assumed to yield higher engagement.

By instructing subscribers to move your emails to the Primary inbox, there is an assumption that this will increase the chances of your newsletter being read, and may also send a strong signal to the ISP and potentially ESP that your emails are important to the reader, which may improve overall deliverability.

The Washington Post incorporates this in their Welcome email, encouraging readers to move their emails to the Primary inbox.

The Washington Post - Welcome email

The Washington Post - Welcome email

TheFutureParty takes it a step further, asking for a reply, and to move to the primary and also integrates a seemingly mandatory survey into the subscription confirmation process. This not only verifies the email address but also provides additional data about the subscriber, potentially enhancing content personalization and targeting.

TheFutureParty was similar, but enabled what appears to be a mandatory survey to be completed to confirm sign up.

TheFutureParty - Welcome email

In conclusion, driving engagement through replies and positive inbox placement can serve multiple purposes - improved deliverability, better reader engagement and enhanced content relevance. It's a testament that sometimes, the best way to receive (deliverability) is to ask (engagement).

Backend mechanics and authentication methods

Monitoring your newsletter's email signups should be as exciting as watching the subscriber count grow. It's not just about the quantity, though; it's about the quality of those signups, and that's where backend mechanics and authentication methods come into play.

When you're monitoring new signups, it's important to look out for any patterns or anomalies - much like you would when evaluating an email in your inbox.

  • Are the email addresses coming from unusual domains?
  • Are they composed entirely of random numbers?
  • Are they all being submitted at the same time?

These could all be signs of spam bots or other malicious activity.

This monitoring is critical for organizations of all sizes. Without it, your email list could quickly become a spam trap, filled with bogus email addresses that never engage with your content. Not only does this inflate your list with “empty” subscribers, but it can also damage your email deliverability.

If you're consistently sending to invalid or spam-like addresses, ISPs may start to classify your emails as spam, or worse, blocklist your IP addresses. This means that even your legitimate subscribers may start finding your newsletters in their spam folders, greatly diminishing your Open and Click-through Rates.

And it's not just your sender reputation that's at stake.

Sending emails to a large number of invalid addresses can drive up your costs, whether it's the direct cost of sending those emails, the time spent analyzing skewed audience behavior, or the potential lost revenue from unengaged subscribers.

That's why many ESPs offer their own verification methods as part of their services. They understand the implications of low-quality subscribers and want to ensure their platform isn't being used for spamming activities. But depending on your ESP's features and your specific needs, you might want to consider additional third-party tools to verify email addresses. These tools can provide an extra layer of security, validating email addresses before they ever make it to your list.

In summary, while the frontend of your newsletter sign-up process is crucial for attracting subscribers, the backend is equally important for ensuring those subscribers are valid, engaged and valuable to your overall goals. Make sure you're paying attention to both.

Sunset policies — Preserving email list health

The idea of "sunsetting" subscribers — that is, intentionally removing them from your email list after a period of inactivity — may seem counterintuitive.

After all, you've worked hard to grow your list, and more subscribers generally equate to a larger audience for your content, right? However, an unengaged subscriber can sometimes be as detrimental as no subscriber at all.

Why though?

  • Better engagement metrics: By eliminating unresponsive subscribers, your Open and Click-through Rates will naturally improve. These are key metrics in determining the effectiveness of your newsletter content. Better engagement metrics can also lead to improved email deliverability, as ISPs often use engagement rates as one of their criteria for spam filtering.
  • Cost efficiency: Most ESPs charge based on the number of subscribers in your list or the number of emails you send. By sunsetting inactive subscribers, you're no longer paying to send emails to people who aren't engaging with them.
  • Improved Sender Reputation: If a significant portion of your subscriber list never opens your emails, ISPs may start to view your content as unwanted, which can harm your sender reputation. A bad sender reputation can negatively affect your deliverability rates, meaning even your engaged subscribers may not see your emails.
  • More accurate audience insights: When you remove inactive subscribers, you'll get a more accurate understanding of your audience's behavior, interests and preferences, helping you to refine your content strategy more effectively.

Implementing a sunset policy involves tracking subscriber engagement over time, defining what constitutes an "inactive" subscriber (for example, no Opens or Clicks for six months), and then regularly removing these subscribers from your list. It's a practice that requires a thoughtful approach and regular maintenance, but it can go a long way in preserving the health of your email list. Read more about Sunset policies here.

Remember, an engaged smaller list is often more valuable than a larger list with minimal engagement.

Legal considerations: GDPR and beyond.

When it comes to email subscriptions and even general marketing, it's also vital to stay updated with the latest legal requirements, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Ensuring your subscription and verification processes comply with these laws is just a good practice.

A tailored approach for every newsletter

When it comes to email newsletters, remember that each one is as unique as its audience. This means that your approach to verification and engagement should be just as unique and tailored to your readers' preferences.

It's important to understand your audience — who they are, what they value and how they prefer to interact with your content. This understanding will help you shape an email strategy that not only aligns with your own goals but also delivers what your readers want to read.

Depending on your acquisition strategy, the verification method may differ.

If you're running cross-promotions with other newsletters, paid ads, or offering gated content on your site, you might want to be more stringent in your verification methods. A double opt-in or a more rigorous reCAPTCHA might be suitable for these scenarios.

For instance, you might work a large media organization with a digital and physical product. Requiring users to create an account might provide you with more data for personalization, which in turn can lead to increased engagement, and help with other channels and marketing strategies.

Conversely, you might just want to start an email newsletter and simple email confirmation might be the best approach to avoid adding complexity to the subscription process.

Remember, you can employ different techniques for different scenarios. For example, a tighter Sunset Policy for subscribers from a particular acquisition campaign that hasn't been performing well, can help maintain the overall health of your email list.

Ultimately, the verification methods you choose should serve your overall goal, such as building an engaged community of readers. This could mean employing different verification methods for different campaigns, or testing different approaches to see what works best for your audience.

And remember, the strategy you choose today isn't set in stone.

It’s important to continually learn, test and iterate on strategies to optimize engagement. What's important is staying flexible, keeping your audience's needs at the forefront and being willing to adapt as those needs evolve.

So, while it's true that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, with careful thought and strategic planning, you can find an approach that works for your newsletter.

Want us to deep dive on a newsletter? Or maybe feature your newsletter in an upcoming newsletter? Email us.

🎾 Fetchworthy Finds

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💌 Thanks for joining the pack of newsletter enthusiasts! Keep on reading, writing and sharing your newsletters with the world.

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🎉 Have a great weekend!

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