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If you are not sure about the exact definitions of the various levels of opt-in when it comes to building email marketing lists or other types of email lists, or the definition of spam, here is a quick review of what each of them mean. Because there is some confusion about what each of them means, especially where one method of list-building may have more than one name, we’ve created this resource explaining the generally accepted definitions of Double Opt-In, Confirmed Opt-In (COI), Single Opt-In, Opt-In, Opt-Out, and Transactional email for you.  These are the definitions that the inbox providers, ISPs, and spam filters use, and so it’s important for you, as an email sender, to know them.

Confirmed Opt-In or Double Opt-In Confirmed Opt-In is also known as “Double Opt-In”. In other words, Confirmed Opt-In and Double Opt-In are the same thing. It is also sometimes referred to as “COI”. Confirmed Opt-In and Double Opt-In consist of i) receiving the email address to be added to the list; ii) quarantining the email address (not adding it to the mailing list); iii) sending a single email to the quarantined email address, which email requires that the owner of the quarantined email address take some affirmative step (such as clicking on a link, replying to the email, or submitting a payment) to confirm that they want their email address added to the list; and iv) if, and only if, the owner of the email address affirmatively confirms that they want their email address added to the mailing list, then the email address is taken out of quarantine and added to the mailing list. Note: Confirmed Opt-In is considered the best practice, or “gold standard”, if you will, and is the one that we most strongly recommend you use.

Single Opt-In Single Opt-In consists of i) receiving an email address that has been submitted by the owner of the email address for inclusion on a mailing list; and ii) adding the email address to the mailing list.

Opt-In Opt-In is another term for Single Opt-In.

Opt-Out Opt-Out consists of adding an email address to a mailing list regardless of how the email address was acquired, without the owner of the email address providing permission before the email address is added to the mailing list. Opt-Out is different from and should not be confused with “opt out”, which is understood in the email industries to mean the act of removing one’s email address from a mailing list, or requesting that one’s email address be so removed. Note that Opt-Out is a very bad way to do things, and will always get you in trouble. Opt-Out is spamming.

Transactional Transactional email is a single email that is sent by an email sender to one single primary email address, for the purpose of providing specific, unique information to the holder of that email address, and which content is not applicable to anyone else. Examples include receipts, reservations, and payment or shipment confirmations. Transactional email is almost always one-to-one, and not one-to-several or one-to-many. Note that adding marketing messages to transactional email can transmute it to commercial bulk email for purposes of Federal and other laws, which is why it’s generally a bad idea to add marketing messages to receipts and other otherwise transactional email.

The Definition of Spam

In 2001, when our CEO was in-house counsel for the original anti-spam blocklist called MAPS, she and MAPS founder Paul Vixie created the working definition of spam; this definition has been in use ever since:

An electronic message is “spam” IF: (1) the recipient’s personal identity and context are
irrelevant because the message is equally applicable to many other potential recipients;
AND (2) the recipient has not verifiably granted deliberate, explicit, and still-revocable
permission for it to be sent; AND (3) the transmission and reception of the message
appears to the recipient to give a disproportionate benefit to the sender.

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