In-Application Email Signup: Ew, Really?

Yesterday, Campaign Monitor posted a helpful hint on how you can add an email list signup form to your Macintosh application. I would strongly recommend against this, unless it's both clearly optional, and tied to a confirmed opt-in (double opt-in) process. This is a mine field if you don't know what you're doing.

Once upon a time, I worked for an e-commerce service provider, a company whose original core business was hosting online stores for downloadable software. Online registrations and in-application registrations were two very popular ways of driving list growth, and it led us to learn a few lessons the hard way.
  • If you force a signup form in front of somebody's face, they're going to fill the form with crap.
  • If the form isn't very clearly optional, they're going to fill the form with crap.
  • If the form pops up without any clear initiation from the end consumer, they're going to fill the form with crap.
  • If you make registration a condition of anything at all, they're going to fill the form with crap.
Been there, done that. I observed people putting in email addresses of people at Spamhaus, AOL's anti-spam team, various US presidents, etc. And lots and lots and lots of spamtraps. Deliverability was very poor; clients got blacklisted, the signup server got blacklisted, emails went to the bulk folder, and AOL even very angrily called me directly once (how often has that happened to you?).

What we learned is that the only way this works at all is if you make any sort of registration process like this confirmed opt-in (double opt-in), making it so that the registration is not complete until the consumer receives an email message and clicks on the link to validate their address and confirm their desire to be on the mailing list. It got so bad with people putting crap in the forms that we ended up creating a dedicated system, explicitly for handling software registrations, and no address was ever considered to have opted-in until and unless the double opt-in process was completed.

The net result is that our deliverability woes went away. We still had issues from time to time, clients that needed remediation, but it was never due to software registrations handled by the system we built.