Robert Batten

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Author

October 11, 2018

Triple confirming giveaway entries: an experiment (updated)

Like many authors, I run an email newsletter as a method to engage with readers and market my book. Building an audience for that newsletter is a slow process and there are few shortcuts. Most of the time, it’s about engaging online through your blog or social media and encouraging people to sign up. Yes, there are places out there that will sell you a list of email addresses, but it’s a bad idea. Purchasing such a list typically breaches privacy legislation in several jurisdictions due to lack of consent, and the list will often make you fall foul of spam traps (fake or abandoned email addresses monitored by spam companies to identify offenders).

Giveaway campaigns

One technique to accelerate sign-ups used often among indie authors is to run giveaways. Typically, these work by offering a chance at winning a prize in return for signing up to the newsletter (or liking a Facebook page, etc). As an author, how much mileage you get from these giveaways depends on your reach and/or budget. How big a prize can you offer? How much can you afford to spend on advertising? How many times can you get your social posts liked, shared, or commented on? As a natural result, authors often team up — pooling their money and social influence to reach more people.

I’ve participated in a few of these competitions over the past twelve months, all with the same group. I have been careful to ensure those giveaways I’ve participated in have taken an ethical and legal approach, in particular to the competition aspect of the giveaway and compliance with privacy obligations. In each case, the entry form made it extremely clear the entry involved signing up to the newsletters of each author involved, the authors were clearly named, and to complete the entry the person needed to select they acknowledged they were going on each author’s newsletter.

Screenshot of giveaway entry form.
Neil Gaiman giveaway

Why am stressing this? Because even with crystal clear terms, people enter and immediately complain about receiving emails, or they just mark your emails as spam, which can truly hurt an email newsletter. The matter was highlighted to me when the email service I was using to manage my newsletter was blacklisted by one of the major spam monitoring companies, affecting many users. Coming out of that, I double checked I was using accepted best practice for managing my mailing list and the newsletters themselves. I ticked all the right boxes (only subscribers who I could demonstrate explicit consent, clear privacy policy, I only email once a month, etc.), but as an extra precaution, I purged approx. 1500 subscribers who hadn’t opened one of my newsletters in the past six months.

Screenshot showing the requirement to acknowledge you know your signing up to the author newsletters.
Yes. You are signing up for newsletters.

The experiment

While reviewing my subscriber data, I decided to run an experiment with the next giveaway I participated in. Normally, on completion of a giveaway, I’d send them a welcome email letting them know what to expect from my newsletter and giving them an easy unsubscribe button if they didn’t want to get my emails. This time, I decided to test something new; I sent them a confirmation email, explaining how / why I had their details (the giveaway just completed), what they would get in my newsletter and how regularly, and then asking them to confirm if they want to remain subscribed. If they didn’t click the confirm button, I promised not to contact them again.

Going into this, I knew the number of people confirming subscriptions would be low, that’s the nature of these giveaways, but I wanted to know:

  • Would anyone confirm their subscription? How many?
  • Would this approach make a meaningful impact on the number of spam complaints?
  • Would the subscribers I end up with have a higher level of engagement that offset the lower number of subscribers?

I’ve completed stage one of this experiment (the onboarding) and now have statistics to measure the impact to sign-ups and spam complaints. Over the next few months I’ll track separate statistics for this group of subscribers compared to my main list so I can assess how engaged they are.

Onboarding statistics

I’ve captured the statistics from this latest giveaway (a set of Neil Gaiman books) as well as for two previous campaigns (a Star Wars collection and a Dresden Files collection). The two previous campaigns were run in a similar manner, with the Neil Gaiman campaign run as I described above. After sending out the confirmation email, I gave entrants over two weeks to confirm their subscription before extracting the data.

Open rates

Graph comparing open rates for the three campaigns. The test campaign sits in the middle.
Campaign open rates

Open rates across the three campaigns were similar, with the test case sitting in between the two previous campaigns at 34%. This isn’t a great open rate, but about what I expect from an onboarding exercise like this.


Graph comparing click rates for the three campaigns. The test campaign is slightly lower than the other two.
Campaign click-through rates

The click-through statistics here do not include clicks in the test case to confirm a subscription, only clicks of hyperlinks to other content I reference in the email (a link to my book, website, privacy policy, etc). The test case had the lowest click-through, but all three campaigns were similar (and, tbh, low).

Spam complaints

Graph comparing campaign spam rates. The test campaign is significantly lower.
Campaign spam rates

As expected, spam complaints were noticeably lower in the test case than the other two campaigns (0.19%). However, they remained higher than I expected. It’s possible some of these were from spam algorithms automatically flagging the email — only 9 of the 4731 emails were flagged as spam.


Graph comparing campaign subscription rates. The test campaign is only a fraction of the other two.
Campaign subscription rates

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this experiment. I knew subscriptions rates among the entrants was likely to be low and I was right; only 8% of entrants confirmed their subscription. Compare this to 89-92% for the other campaigns (people who didn’t unsubscribe or mark the campaign email as spam) and this is a pretty bad result. However, it will be telling to see how engaged these new subscribers turn out to be. I’ll be monitoring that over the next few months to try and answer that question.

Early results

Since posting the above I've now sent out my next newsletter. As promised, I've kept the test gfroup separate from a control group so I can compare engagement. I'll keep tracking this over the next few months so I can get a better data set, but the early results are in: engagement with the new group is better, and there have been zero spam complaints, but I'm not convinced the difference is large enough to justify the lower number of subscribers. I should also note that overall open rates for this newsletter are very low, so there may be other factors affecting things (like me writing a poor subject line), but nonetheless...

Report displaying statistics for the test group.
Campaign report for the test group
Report displaying statistics for the control group.
Campaign report for the control group

As shown, across the board the test group performed better:

  • 2.8% greater open rate.
  • 0.7% greater click rate.
  • 0.8% reduced unsubscribe rate.
  • 0.2% reduced spam complaint rate.

The stats above are a nice improvement, but considering the tiny subscriber rate, the return here is... not great. If these stats played out over a campaign that attracted 5k entries, then I predict ~ 50 of the triple-confirmed group would open the next newsletter. That's compared to an estimated 430 based on the control group (and using the very low open rates on this particular campaign).

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