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Why You Can’t Ignore Email Bounces: A Guide to Hard vs. Soft Bounces and How to Minimize Them

5 mins read

Email marketing is an essential tool for businesses looking to reach and engage with customers. But when emails don’t make it to their intended recipients, it can hurt your marketing strategy’s effectiveness and your brand’s reputation. That’s where email bounces come in. A bounced email is one that is rejected by the mail server, either temporarily or permanently. There are two types of bounces: hard and soft. In this article, we’ll explain what each type means, why they happen, and how to minimize them.

What is a bounced email?

A bounced email is one that is not delivered to its intended recipient. The email is rejected by the mail server, either temporarily or permanently. When this happens, you’ll typically receive an auto-response letting you know the email bounced. There are several reasons why emails bounce. Sometimes it’s because a subscriber gave you an incorrect email address. Other times, emails can bounce due to server outages or because the recipient’s inbox is full. Bounced emails can also indicate a problem on your end, such as being flagged as spam or having a restrictive DMARC record.

Hard bounce vs. soft bounce

When an email bounces, it’s typically classified as either a hard or a soft bounce. The main difference between the two is the reason why the email bounced and whether it’s a permanent or temporary issue.

Hard bounce: A hard bounce is an email that can’t be delivered for permanent reasons. This is usually because the recipient’s address is invalid or no longer in use. The subscriber could have mistyped their email address, or the domain may not exist. Hard bounces are a problem because they can hurt your email deliverability rate and sender reputation.

Soft bounce: A soft bounce is an email that wasn’t delivered due to a temporary problem. Soft bounces can happen because the recipient’s inbox is full or due to an issue with the receiving server. Since a soft bounce is temporary, you can retry the email a few times. If the email still fails to deliver, consider it a hard bounce and remove that subscriber from your list.

How to improve your email bounce rate

It’s helpful to track your email bounce rate, but the most important thing you can do is fix the problems causing a high bounce rate. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your email bounce rate:

  1. Require a double opt-in: One of the best ways to improve the quality of your email list is to require a double opt-in for new subscribers. With a single opt-in system, new subscribers are added to your list immediately after entering their email address in an online signup form. A double opt-in requires a subscriber to enter their email address and then receive an email with a link. Once they click on the link and verify their email address, they’ll be added to your list. Some businesses resist implementing a double opt-in because it takes longer to build a contact list. But if your subscribers verify their email addresses, you’ll have a higher deliverability rate and a more engaged list.
  2. Clean up your list regularly: High bounce rates typically happen because your list is too cluttered. You may have started building your list years ago. In that time, many of your subscribers have moved on and gotten new email addresses. That’s why it’s essential to maintain and update your email list regularly. A simple data check will help you weed out incorrect email addresses due to typos or misspellings. It’s also a good idea to periodically check your feedback loops and remove any subscribers who complain about you or report you as spam. Every so often, go through your list and remove inactive subscribers.
  3. Don’t send emails from a free service: Never send marketing emails from a free email service, such as Gmail. For one thing, sending business emails from a free email account looks unprofessional and can hurt your brand. The other issue is that free email domains often don’t pass the DMARC policy, so you’ll likely experience more hard bounces on your emails. Send emails from a custom email address instead.
  4. Send emails consistently: One of the best ways to maintain a low bounce rate is by emailing your list consistently. If new subscribers sign up and then don’t hear from you for months, they may forget they subscribed in the first place and mark your emails as spam. To avoid this, send an email to your subscribers at least once a week. Consistent contact will keep them engaged and ensure that you continue building a relationship with your subscribers.
  5. Verify your domain: DMARC, SPF, and DKIM are the three primary ways to authenticate your domain. But according to a Litmus study, fewer than 40% of companies actually complete the authentication process. Authenticating your domain will lower your email bounce rate and improve your deliverability rate. It will also prevent security alerts from popping up when subscribers open your emails.
  6. Avoid spammy language in your emails: This point may sound obvious, but it’s possible you’re using spammy language in your emails without realizing it. That’s because email providers look for specific words, images, and phrases to label emails as spam. For instance, if you regularly include the following phrases that make your email look like spam, your emails may go straight to the junk folder:
  • “50% off”
  • “Act now!”
  • “Free offer”
  • “Make money”
  • “Drastically reduced”
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Any excessive use of the dollar sign will also likely flag your email as spam.

  1. Segment your list: It’s not enough to build an email list; you must get to know your audience and send personalized, relevant content. According to an Experian study, personalized emails are six times more effective than generic emails. The easiest way to deliver personalized content is to segment your subscriber list. Group subscribers based on factors like their locations, interests, and preferences, then send each segment emails that are relevant to them.
  2. Monitor your email deliverability: Just because something is working well for you now doesn’t mean it will continue to work. That’s why it’s essential to monitor your email campaigns and deliverability rate continually. Continue A/B testing your emails so you’re aware of the type of content that resonates with your subscribers. Keep an eye on your bounce rates, open rates, and the number of subscribers who have complained or marked you as spam. If you keep track of these metrics, you can spot and address issues early on before they turn into significant problems.
  3. Use a preference center: As your email list grows, it will be harder to manage your subscribers and ensure their information is up to date. At that point, you might want to add a preference center link to your emails. A preference center is a place where your subscribers can add new information and update their email preferences. This ensures your data is accurate, and it gives your subscribers more control over the emails they receive and the information they share with you. A basic preference center will give subscribers the option to update their email address, choose how often they want to receive your emails, and opt out of receiving emails. You can also add advanced options like the ability to include information about a user’s personal preferences.
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Key takeaway

Email marketing is a powerful tool for businesses, but it’s important to understand and manage your email bounce rate. A high bounce rate can hurt your deliverability rate, sender reputation, and brand’s image. By implementing the steps we’ve outlined in this article, you can reduce your email bounce rate and maintain a healthy email list.

Conclusion

Email marketing is a cost-effective and efficient way for businesses to communicate with their audience. However, ensuring that your emails are delivered successfully can be a challenge. A high email bounce rate can be an indication that your email list is unhealthy, which can negatively impact your business’s reputation and email deliverability rate. By understanding the difference between hard and soft bounces and implementing the steps we’ve outlined, you can minimize your email bounce rate and build a healthy email list.

Remember to always keep your subscribers engaged by providing relevant, personalized content, and to monitor your email campaigns regularly to ensure that they continue to resonate with your audience. With these best practices in place, your email marketing campaigns will be more successful and drive greater ROI for your business.


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