Why double opt-in panels don’t equal quality data


For some reason, the insights industry continues to believe that double opt-in market research panels will deliver the quantity, quality, and representative data needed for decision making. In truth, this belief is almost surely guaranteed to do the opposite and does not address challenges surrounding data quality issues posed by fraud and deteriorating respondent engagement.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center on opt-in market research panels explored the risk that respondents selected in this manner won’t represent the larger population. By employing techniques such as raking, propensity weighting and matching, researchers hope to get closer to a representative sample. Yet, the Pew Center data showed that these techniques did not eliminate bias.

As it becomes harder and harder to engage respondents in a cluttered digital environment, double opt-in also contains intrinsic barriers to participation. The process of a respondent opting in via an initial form and then being sent an automated email to confirm that they want to join the panel does not meet the fast, streamlined standards that consumers now expect. Over the past few years, double opt-in market research panel participation has plummeted due in part to this cumbersome process.

Scale, representativity and diversity

When it comes to sample, the bottom line is that each person needs to be real, deeply profiled, engaged and treated respectfully in accordance with the law. This can be done faster, and more efficiently, with real-time recruitment techniques. With this kind of approach, the potential respondent is driven to an online portal, screened for studies in real time, able to give granular consent to meet regulations and more.

In this scenario, the efficiencies that automation provides allow us to effectively recruit participants from multiple sources—and here we are talking about hundreds, if not thousands of sources. Frictionless recruitment has become an essential tool in ensuring breadth and diversity of sample sources, which is the only way we have any hope of minimizing source bias to obtain a representative, diverse cross-section of the global population. Sample suppliers that have a wide array of partnerships, recruiting from hundreds of affiliate networks, publisher networks, blog networks, loyalty sites and big online communities, websites, and social media platforms, can help ensure that a respondent base is diverse enough to provide quality data. Not only is sourcing respondents from multiple sources a practical solution for creating diversity, but it also addresses the issue of panels that are critiqued for a population of “professional respondents.”

Understanding who respondents actually are is another important part of this. With the massive amounts of data now at our fingertips, each individual can – and should be – deeply profiled with a wide number of demographic points to allow precise targeting. This further improves the value proposition of real-time techniques.

Fraud and engagement impacts

Still, many believe that double opt-in is a way to ensure a person’s commitment, as well as to add an extra layer of transparency surrounding exactly what’s on the table in terms of privacy to meet current regulations and consumer expectations. However, if the market research panel company isn’t actively engaging in practices like dynamic fraud detection and respondent engagement, double opt-in doesn’t matter.

From a fraud standpoint, techniques using AI and automation can now sift through massive amounts of data and detect in real-time the ever-changing profile of fraudsters. Dynamic fraud mitigation methods, combined with more familiar traditional approaches, can provide layers of protection in any respondent recruitment environment – including real-time. Automation allows huge improvements in respondent engagement as well, giving us a proactive solution for everything from matching respondents to the right surveys to managing experiences in-field.

On a related note, monitoring the respondent’s attentiveness and accuracy is of equal import. Suppliers are obliged to use all measures—from response consistency to field metrics—to ensure people are answering thoughtfully and accurately. If they are not, they must be excluded.

In today’s ecosystem, there is no reason to prefer double opt-in recruitment. In fact, it can be a big barrier to respondent participation and engagement. With smart, automated techniques that prioritize data quality all along the respondent supply chain, we can obtain engaged, representative, diverse and “real” respondents without turning to the quickly-becoming-antiquated double opt-in method.