Hard and Soft ‘opt in’

30 Oct 2009

A number of years ago, we did some testing around the different kinds of of response and traffic we had from hard and soft “opt ins”.

This article has been updated following the introduction of GDPR.

Just to clarify what I mean by these terms

Hard Opt In – The person has been asked specifically if they would like to receive details by email, and have elected to do so by ‘ticking’ a box. (This is required by GDPR when it comes to certain emails and communications you are sending.)

Soft Opt In – these are the ones where the “box is already ticked” and they need to untick it, or the data comes from ‘other advertised’ sources, with contact details soliciting contact. (These are the ones GDPR has some new rules around.)

Back to our testing

We had two lists, one a “hard opt in” and one a “soft opt in”.

The hard opt in list was cleaned on a regular basis, with the person being asked either, “do you want to remain on the list”, or at worst “here are your subscription details, do this thing if you want to be removed”. So in principle a high level of “buy in”.

We then sent them an email with a link to our website and tracked both the click throughs (via OpenCRM) and what they did once they landed on the website (via Google Analytics).

What did I think was going to happen?

My initial instinct was that the hard opt in Contacts would get a higher delivery rate, as these are actively checked, and that was the case.

But there was also a percentage of these addresses that were undeliverable, even though we had been doing our best to keep the data clean. This is just one of those things that happens when people retire or leave a company—they will not always remember to unsubscribe from everything they’d opted in to.

The other big thing for me was the ‘click through’ rate.

We track, through OpenCRM, the click throughs from the email, and the specific link(s) that get clicked. We track this right down to the specific contact that was sent this email.

I assumed that, again, the hard opt in group would click through more often and then spend more time on the site. After all, they’d specifically asked to receive these emails, whereas the soft opt in group had only sort of agreed to receive them.

Back to the plot and on to the results

I was so wrong on both my predictions: the hard opt ins clicked through less (40% less!) and spent less time on the site. They also had a higher bounce rate.

My mind was thoroughly boggled by this point. And, looking back on these results from almost 10 years later, I find it very interesting from a post-GDPR point of view.

Additionally, we actually received a higher number of enquiries from the soft opt in list and they spent more time clicking around the site.

What does this all mean?

Well, at the time, it meant that I was re-thinking my strategy on who to target with email campaigns and whether the time spent regularly checking the hard opt in group’s email preferences was well spent.

In the face of the new regulations, I find it an interesting testing result. We don’t send out as many marketing emails as we did in those days and now with GDPR we will probably send out even fewer.

But the result we had, where those people who didn’t explicitly opt in clicked through more, spent more time on site, and sent more enquiries, has really made me think about how people will approach email marketing over the course of the next few years.


If you’d like to read more about how GDPR affects your data and email marketing, check out our GDPR landing page. It has links to helpful articles (both for OpenCRM users and non-users) as well as some information about how we can help you achieve compliance.