Email Marketing

2 critical validation tactics & unsubscribe tips from the OTA

Each year the Online Trust Alliance (OTA) publishes a benchmark report to help outline email best practices and recognize organizations that have demonstrated excellence in their commitment to online trust and user empowerment. The annual OTA Email Marketing & Unsubscribe Audit analyzes the end-to-end user experience from initial opt-in, through mailing practices to the unsubscribe process and offers guidance on ways to earn consumers’ trust. Let’s look at some of the tips outlined in this year’s report* that can help you transform your program.

Validation Practices

We’ll start with subscriber validation practices – clean email data at the point of collection is at the foundation of a healthy email program. The OTA Audit exposes two essential best practices when it comes to ensuring your subscription validation process is in good standing:

1. Enforce a CAPTCHA:

Implementing a CAPTCHA on your signup page can protect both you and your subscribers from malicious attacks by identifying and blocking bots and spammers from entering your database.

What is a CAPTCHA?

A CAPTCHA is a challenge-response test that prevents automated bots (robots) from subscribing to your mailing program. Recently, there have been many large scale list-bombing attempts originating from a brand’s sign up forms (as a refresher, ‘list bombing’ is a cyber attack that uses bots to submit large numbers of (often legitimate) email addresses to email sign-up pages). If left unaddressed, list bombing can lead to a Spamhaus listing (an international blocklist foundation), which prevents all of the brand’s mailings from reaching their subscribers’ inboxes.

Example of CAPTCHA (source:

2. Implement a Confirmed Opt-in:

In addition to a CAPTCHA, implementing a confirmed opt-in process is an effective way to not only ensure registrations are legitimate but also safeguard against incorrectly entered data – both on purpose and by accident.

What is a Confirmed Opt-In process?

A confirmed opt-in process (also called a verified opt-in or double opt-in) means that new subscribers are sent an email immediately after opting in, which requires them to click through and confirm their registration. This step helps marketers ensure that new subscribers are knowingly opting into their program and that their email is legitimate.

Example of confirmed opt-in (source:

The OTA Audit confirmed that adoption of both CAPTCHA and Confirmed Opt-in validation practices has increased in the recent year and are becoming more common across marketers. The use of a CAPTCHA grew slightly to 4% and Confirmed Opt-in jumped to 7% this year*. In the end, these verification processes are about both protecting your brand’s reputation and protecting your subscriber’s inbox. This year make it a priority to build user trust and enhance the overall consumer experience by improving your subscription validation practices.

Chart from OTA Audit report*

Unsubscribe Practices

We’ve covered some important best practices about the start of your subscribers’ journey with your brand, but having a clear, and transparent unsubscribe process is also important to building trust and protecting your brand from deliverability issues. Here is what we can learn from the OTA Audit about unsubscribe best practices:

Why is it imperative to have a branded unsubscribe page?

When a consumer unsubscribes from your mailing program, the process should be seamless and there should be no confusion. Consumers should be directed to a branded confirmation page that communicates visitors are in the right place. Including links back to your website is also a best practice as it ensures overall familiarity with your brand. This way, even though the user comes to that page to unsubscribe, you can use the trust you’ve built with the subscriber to introduce additional options such as opting down (reducing the frequency of communications) or updating your preference center settings. Roughly 92.2% of marketers are utilizing a branded unsubscribe page*.

Example of branded unsubscribe page

Consider an opt-down option

Roughly 55.7% of retailers analyzed in the OTA 2018 Audit offered a preference center and/or opt-down options to their subscribers. An opt-down option provides users the ability to reduce the number of emails they receive. In addition, this gives users the opportunity to choose which messages they prefer to receive (newsletters, promotions, etc.). Gmail, for example, recently launched a new opt-down option where users can ‘’snooze’’ or pause their email subscription for a certain period from within their inbox.

Regardless of the approach, including opt-down options is also an excellent way to empower consumers to select their specific interests. Utilizing these preferences to create more relevant content will help brands boost engagement from various audience segments, therefore minimizing list abandonment and avoiding subscriber loss altogether.


Implementing validation and unsubscribe best practices is a crucial component of a healthy email program that is free from deliverability issues. For more guidance on deliverability, check out these resources:


Anna Kotlikov
Intelligence Products Analyst

Anna Kotlikov is an Intelligence Products Analyst at Data Axle based out of the Mississauga, Canada office. Anna joined Data Axle in July 2018 and has experience in a variety of Marketing enriched roles reinforced by a comprehensive education that includes a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing and a Digital Media Marketing graduate certificate. Anna has a passion for good food, great travel adventures and is an avid animal lover.