Verifying your users is vital, and there are clear reasons why. Then there’s the matter of how. Various techniques to avoid spammers and other unwanted users are at hand, and two of them are especially being used. Email vs phone verification – which solution is most effective?
Email verification serves to identify users and assure deliverability based on email addresses. Simply put, email verification is (trying) to make sure that 1) an email address exists, and 2) that it’s valid.
There are several methods for email verification, such as different opt-in solutions, APIs, batch file verification, or multi-methods combining these. Some services provide more automated methods, validating email addresses by how they’re formatted (e.g. looking for a valid domain and username), whereas other services determines user authenticity with real-time verification. Unique confirmation links following signups and registrations is a basic and commonly used way of verifying users through their email addresses.
But just as Web Dev Kelson Vibber writes, “more important than whether the email address exists is whether it actually belongs to the person who is signing up. Not all typos result in invalid addresses. Sometimes the address you get exists, but belongs to someone else.”
Verifying users through phone numbers to avoid spam or worse is being used by giants such as Google, Facebook and YouTube. There are two main methods of phone verification – SMS verification and voice call – and the solution is similar to email verification: the user receives a unique confirmation code either through a text message or through a phone call, which he or she then will be asked to enter into the created account.
Email vs phone verification is both following the principle of Two Factor Authentication. So what’s the difference?
Email verification is cheaper than SMS, since the former service is free of charge whereas the latter isn’t. Even though this sounds like an obvious pro for email, it also makes out the biggest con. Given that emails are free, it also lowers the threshold of creating fake addresses considerably, and so the amount of spam goes up. The irony is then that the most cost-effective alternative might cost you the most in the end.
The same conclusion can be drawn from the process of creating an account. Creating a new email account is not only free of charge but also easy, fast and possible to do again and again, whereas a phone number requires subscriber ownership, time, and effort. On top of this, phone numbers can be traced in a way that email addresses can’t. In this sense, phones makes a clear hazard for one time- or illegal users.
Because of the two factors already stated, phone numbers comes with a third, greater pro: they’re personal and persistent. Phone numbers are unique across all web and mobile networks, and the struggle of getting one makes it less attractive for unserious users. Phone numbers are something to hold on to, they’re associated with a single person, and therefore the most reliable contact information for users everywhere.
As phone numbers carries persistence, and as mobile usage increases, immediacy becomes another key factor to consider. Mobile devices of course enables the ability to receive both emails and text messages, assuming the user has access to Internet (which is not always the case). However, what’s more is that emails still requires a more action based approach (i.e. they can be missed) compared to SMS, being more or less in your face.
Sure, the estimated amount of existing email addresses is quite impressive, but that doesn’t seem to be a standing argument against phone. In late 2014, mobile phones outnumbered humans for the first time. Ubiquity is a fact.
In favor of email, it does come with greater opportunities of informing, engaging and retaining users, since longer chunks of text and richer media is a possibility. Then again, is it wise to mix marketing messages with a verification service? Shared attention might lead to confusion and misunderstandings, or just annoyed users.
And while considering marketing+verification, phones has the advantage of a phone book, which often implies more sorted contacts. If the user wants to recruit his or her own contacts, the phone book is a safer option than an old and messy email contact list.
Considering the user’s convenience, it’s more or less a tie. Phone numbers are easy to type, memorable and doesn’t add another set of digits to the user’s already crammed list. On the other hand, email addresses doesn’t either.
Most importantly when comparing email and phone verification – consider your business and your users. If you’re adding verification to an app, and if the audience is accessing it through their smartphones, it probably makes more sense to use phone verification to keep a smooth and native experience.
What inspired me to write this article was the question: Does phone verification provide a more spam-free user base than email verification?
In sum, considering the aspects of cost, effort, authenticity, persistence, immediacy, ubiquity, engagement and user experience, my answer is yes. Phone verification is less spammy, and more effective, than email verification, for both the user and the application.
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