The Gist

  • Essential for CX. Opt-in and opt-out processes are essential for providing a good customer experience and complying with privacy legislation.
  • Obtain and explain. Marketers must obtain explicit consent and provide clear explanations of data usage and privacy maintenance.
  • Measure for insights. Measuring email campaign performance beyond tagging URLs is critical for gaining insights and creating effective engagement.

Permission is not a fun topic, but it’s an essential one if you are working with content in 2023. The need for establishing permission through an opt-in has always existed as long as the internet has been around. But with a heightened digital privacy awareness among consumers, the opt-in process is now a staple of customer experience. 

Opt-in vs. Opt-out: The Basic Differences You Need to Know

An opt-in/opt-out process is based on a straightforward premise: It allows individuals to indicate their choice to participate or not participate in an activity through an online element, such as a signature, typed information or a combination of both. 

An "opt-out" is a feature that allows individuals to discontinue their participation in an activity. In marketing language, this activity may involve clicking a button or link to indicate their interest in joining an online webinar, subscribing to a daily email newsletter or following a social media page. 

An "opt-in" feature represents a fair, permission-based exchange of information between a brand and its potential customers. By sharing their email address, customers indicate their interest in receiving a newsletter, while the brand gains a list of email addresses from potential customers.

Describing an opt-in/opt-out choice on a website or app page must fully disclose what the potential customer should expect to receive. The opt-in guidance should answer the following questions.

  • Do I give permission to use data?

  • What is the data used for?

  • What third party tools will have access?

The description is a “check and balance” in a customer experience, providing customers with a clear means to change their minds and take action accordingly.

Related Article: Is It Possible to Have Both Privacy and Personalization?

How APIs and OAuth Have Changed the Opt-In Landscape

Permission based marketing has existed for years. Marketers have traditionally treated opt-ins and opt outs as assumed online call-to-action etiquette. It has always been a part of website content.  

As more ways to view and interact with websites emerged, the context for opt-ins changed, expanding customer convenience online as customer expectations on the matter began to increase. 

As an example, the availability of application programming interfaces (APIs) between solutions has allowed OAuth to become an opt-in convenience. This allows users to sign into an app through another app, such as Twitter or Facebook, while indicating what information is being shared in the request.

With the rise of social media, this access convenience became a popular feature, frequently offered to users in the form of a "Follow Me" sundae served frequently among social media users. As people began using OAuth more frequently, the need for opt-in consent became more important.

Understanding how data is acquired through opt-ins and opt-outs is now considered essential for providing a good customer experience. With opt-in consent, an app must ask for the user's consent and explain the permission requirements BEFORE acceptance is given.

Why Permission-Based Marketing Is Critical for Data Collection and Customer Experience

Many consent tactics that were once considered simple may potentially circumvent privacy compliance. For example, some companies purchase email marketing lists without verifying how permission for those email addresses was obtained. Simply having an email address does not indicate consent was given to receive marketing emails. Addressing data privacy concerns has made opt-in/opt-out activities a more formal process, requiring companies to obtain explicit consent from individuals.

Tactical and Functional Roles

Opt-in plays a strategic role in data collection as well as a functional role in providing access convenience. When a registration occurs, brands must obtain explicit consent from the customer through appropriate channels and provide a clear explanation of what users will receive with consent and how the data produced by the opt-in will be treated. Websites must demonstrate how they maintain compliance with users' privacy rights. As people often view websites as an extension of the brand, they will associate the brand with the demonstrated compliance as well.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Is Less More for Customer Personalization and Privacy?

What Marketers Need to Know About Opt-Outs and Opt-Ins for Compliance

Many marketers are aware that state privacy legislation will become standard practice in 2023. This legislation provides a starting framework for treating the notification of an opt-in and opt-out as a clearly defined process.

Browser Cookies and Opt-Outs: A Closer Look

The most prominent discussions on privacy have been regarding browser cookies. The most famous scandal involving browser cookie misuse came to light with the 2018 Cambridge Analytica exposé. Data from millions of Facebook users was collected without their consent, then used for targeted political advertising during the 2016 US presidential election. 

The data was collected through a third-party app that utilized Facebook's login feature and browser cookies. Guidelines to protect consumers emerged from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), for example, notes that businesses must honor consumer cookie preferences set through Global Privacy Control (GPC), a browser signal protocol that notifies website visitors of a user’s privacy preferences, such as not to share or sell personal data without their consent.

Resulting Opt-Outs

These settings allow users to opt-out of the sale of their consumer information. This differs from clicking a “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” link or declining a request obtained through arriving at a website page via targeted advertising. Opt-outs ultimately imply an opt-in — an interface through which users give permission exists.

Identifying opt-in and opt-out processes is also relevant for email marketing. Marketers have long relied on building email lists, considering the audience as having already bought into the brand through their subscription. Marketers also have the option to examine how the opt-in message was conveyed through analytics via A/B testing, such as testing the placement or wording of the call-to-action. Today, with so much chaos surrounding social media, marketers are turning to their email audience to cut through the noise.

What Should Marketers Do About Consent and Privacy

What this ultimately means for brands is that they must have a clear understanding of explicit consent and privacy, and be able to confidently communicate this to their customers. Sending emails automatically without explicit consent has always been considered spam — and is also illegal, thanks to the CAN-SPAM Act. This act requires marketers to obtain consent from email recipients before sending an email campaign. An email audience has built-in attention that campaigns do not have to compete for, unlike social media, which can be interrupted.


Marketers must also consider how analytics solutions are used to track and analyze their email audience as cohorts. To achieve this, marketers must measure email campaign performance in ways beyond tagging URLs in the email. One effective way is through event tracking, which can identify specific actions taken by email recipients, such as clicks on buttons or links within the email. This can reveal how effective the email content is for driving engagement and conversion.

Custom dimensions and custom metrics can track additional information specific to your email campaigns, such as the subject line of the email, open rate or click-through rate. This can help you gain insights into what types of email content are creating effective engagement that leads to conversion. These can also be useful for segment analysis on the behavior of specific groups of users within your email campaigns. For example, you could compare a user segment for those who opened your email and clicked on a link within it, versus those who did not open or engage with the email.

Final Word on Opt-Ins and Opt-Outs

Having customers opt-in and opt-out has always been a routine exercise, but the context has changed. However, with the right metrics in place — and even with the increase in current privacy challenges  — marketers can plan and provide terrific customer experiences.