As marketing goes, email bounces are one of the most frustrating elements. In a way, high bounce rates are even more disheartening than low open rates. They indicate that your message didn’t even make it as far as the inbox.
You didn’t even get a chance. Name not on the list? Well, you ain’t coming in, Mr Email.
Unfortunately, bounced emails are part-and-parcel of email marketing. That’s because there are simply so many reasons emails bounce, many of which are entirely beyond your control.
Thankfully, there are a few strategic moves you can make in order to limit the number of bounces you encounter. But, before we get to that, let’s take a look at the two most common email bounces.
If an email you send soft bounces, that normally indicates a temporary delivery issue.
This isn’t the end of the world, and there’s certainly no reason to delete the address. In fact, most email marketing clients will retain soft bounce email addresses in the belief that, one day, your message might just get through.
Why do soft bounces occur? It’s likely one of the following reasons:
- the recipient’s inbox is 100% full (sometimes described as being ‘over quota’ in reports and returned emails);
- the email you sent is too big to fit in their inbox (massive embedded images are usually the culprit here);
- the recipient’s email server is experiencing problems.
Clearly, none of the above are your fault. Moreover, because these bounces are ‘soft’ in nature, you can usually get away with a few before you need to take action. As you’d expect, if it is one of the reasons above, the likelihood is your email will get through OK next time.
These aren’t quite as ‘nice’ as soft bounces.
A hard bounce suggests there’s a definitive, permanent reason your email can’t be delivered to a particular address. Most email marketing clients will remove such addresses straight away.
- You’re never going to get through to that person.
- If you keep trying, you might get blacklisted by their ISP.
The reasons for hard bounces are pretty simple:
- the email domain name (the bit after the ‘@‘ symbol) doesn’t exist;
- the address itself doesn’t exist;
- you’ve been blocked by the email server.
Hard bounces need dealing with, always. Having such addresses within your database is, literally, pointless.
What’s classed as a high email bounce rate?
As noted previously, bounces are to be expected, but there is such a thing as a high bounce rate.
High bounce rates indicate that your list hygiene isn’t quite up to scratch. You may not be acquiring addresses in the correct manner. For instance, you may be inadvertently attracting the wrong type of subscriber, or – gulp – you might have purchased a list.
The benchmark for email bounces stands at around 2%, so if you experience anything above that, you need to take a deeper look at your subscriber list. If you’re hitting 10% or greater, you’ve got a real problem on your hands, and might need to go back to square one with the list itself.
The most common types of bounces
So, now we know the difference between a soft and a hard bounce and what experts class as a high email bounce rate, let’s consider the most common reasons emails are bounced and how you can tackle them.
1. An invalid email address
Oops – the email you’ve tried to send to doesn’t exist at all. Don’t worry – this is very common.
It can happen for a few reasons, but it’s usually because the owner of the email address entered it incorrectly themselves during sign-up. No, really; we’ve all done that, too.
Solution: Make sure you’ve got double opt-in turned on, which forces people to confirm their email address after they’ve entered it on your form. If they put the wrong address in, they won’t receive a confirmation request, therefore the email won’t get added to your list!
2. An aggressive spam filter
Spam filters are getting cleverer by the day – but also more aggressive. They’re a bit unpredictable, too, which is why, occasionally, you’ll experience a bounce that might not appear to be particularly fair.
These filters look for particular keywords, attachments and content that might be malicious, therefore you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that there must have been something in your email which inadvertently fell into one of those categories.
Solution: There’s not a huge amount you can do to preempt spam filter changes, because they normally happen without warning, but by keeping an eye on this blog and other industry experts, you can keep abreast of the latest advice on avoiding spam traps.
3. Database decay
Ok, I nicked that term from somewhere else, but I like it because it accurately describes a very common reason for email bounces.
As email marketing lists age, so do the email addresses within them, and it’s almost certain a fair few of the addresses in yours either no longer exist or simply aren’t monitored any more. Once those addresses become completely defunct, you’ll receive a bounce.
Solution: Make sure you take time every once in a while to conduct some list hygiene. Look for addresses that bounce all the time, or those that simply don’t appear to offer any form of engagement – and remove them.
Ouch – this one is a little hard to come to terms with. However, if you’re seeing lots of bounces from particular domains or email services, you may have been blacklisted.
You’re not a bad person. I have no doubt you’re an ethical marketer. However, clearly something isn’t quite right with your approach to email marketing. But it is fixable!
Solution: Use this tool to check whether or not you have been blacklisted, then head back to basics and read lots of this blog. We’ll help you become an awesome email marketer!
Ok, we can’t be any more specific than this, but then neither can most email marketing clients when they report certain bounces!
Sometimes, bounces happen for indeterminable reasons. Often, such bounces will be soft in nature and all will be well again the next time you press ‘send’, but if you spot a high number of unexplained bounces from specific addresses or domains, you’ll need to investigate, and consider the possible reasons above for the bounce.
Solution: Keep an eye on your analytics. ‘Other’-type bounces shouldn’t be a regular occurrence.
Feel a bit better about bounced emails? Good. Keep this post handy, because it’s something I have no doubt you’ll need to refer back to, regularly.