Remember those emails that couldn’t be delivered to your recipients and were returned to you? They are called bounced emails, and they are every marketer’s nightmare.
You’ve undoubtedly experienced the frustration of bounced emails. Every time your inbox jingles with the notification of a bounce, your heart misses a beat.
A lot of hard work goes into creating a mail: drafting, coding, and designing, testing the subject line, so it’s disappointing to see all that come to nothing when the message just bounces back undelivered.
A bounce is a missed opportunity. It represents one less lead you could have nurtured, prospect you could have converted, a customer you could have served, etc.
Whether you’re sending drip campaigns to new subscribers or win-back emails to customers who seem to have dropped off, your first goal is deliverability.
No worries, in this guide, we’ll walk you through actionable tips to help you minimize your bounce rate and get better deliverability. But before we do that, it’s crucial to understand the types of bounces quickly. That will help you understand why you should address each differently.
Table of Contents:
- Email address invalid
- Natural decay of database
- Sender IP blocked
- Aggressive spam filters
- You’re blocked
- Oversized attachment
- Recipient’s server full
- Recipient’s inbox full
- Acceptance of incoming email restricted
Types of email bounce
There are two types of bounce: Soft bounce and hard bounce.
When your message returns undelivered because of some temporary reason, the bounce is called a soft bounce.
For instance, a mail that bounces back because the recipient email server is down is an example of a soft bounce. If you try to resend after a while, it will likely go through.
When your email is undelivered because of a permanent reason, it is called a hard bounce.
An email that bounces because the address is invalid is an example of a hard bounce. (How you wish you had the address right in the first place!)
There’s nothing you can do about it because the address is plain wrong.
Why emails bounce and what you can do about it
Below are nine different reasons for email bounces and how to deal with it in each of them.
Come, let’s get started.
1. Email address invalid
One of the most common reasons your message didn’t go through is the address quality: the recipient’s address is invalid.
Why that happens: Hmmm, it looks like the subscriber made a typo while submitting the address in your sign-up form. Like, they typed jogn@somebusiness instead of john@somebusiness.
But then again, it may have been a deliberate act and not a typo. Sometimes, people don’t want to give you their correct mail address (maybe they don’t trust you!). So they key in an incorrect mail address to just get past your form.
The result? A wrong address enters your mailing list.
What you can do about it: Use a real-time email verification service. Such a service lets you verify the address in real-time.
If it turns out correct, the service will clear the user for the next stage. In case the address turns out to be invalid, you can set your system to flash an error message that requests the user to enter a valid address.
Check the image below:
2. Natural decay of database
Just like a lot of things, your email database can decay too. The address was working fine six months back, but today, when you hit Send, the mail bounces.
(The above error message is symbolic. The system can only report a bounce; it cannot tell if an email address was valid in the past.)
Why this happens: Estimates suggest that your email database decays by about 22% every year. Put differently, 1 out of every 5 addresses on your mailing list could turn invalid every year. That could be for many reasons, but the most common is when people leave an organization.
In rare cases, your recipient’s role changed drastically, and so did their address. And unfortunately, their mail server didn’t make arrangements to redirect messages to the new address.
Say, your prospect Keith was VP Marketing for Canada till last year. This year, he got a promotion and moved – he’s now Senior VP Marketing for Southeast Asia. So his address changed from keith.prospect @ businessname . canada. com to keith.prospect @businessname. sea. com, but you’re still using the old address.
What you can do about it: Keep your list in top working condition, just like you’d take good care of your car. Regularly clean your mailing lists by using a professional list cleaning service. You might want to check out this detailed comparison of email verification services to determine which service best meets your requirements.
Here’s an illustrative image of the result of the verification process of such services.
Once you scrub your mailing list, you can remove the undeliverable, invalid, and poor-quality addresses. That way, the next time you send your campaign, you can be confident that you’ll hardly see any bounces. Yaay!
3. Sender IP blocked
Ah, now we’re talking about a different kind of problem. The email ecosystem sometimes thinks you are a spammer and stops you from sending further messages.
Why this happens: Using a shared IP? Ouch! It looks like someone used it to send spammy content earlier. Or perhaps someone messed with the sending policy. Whatever the reason, the email ecosystem now thinks you are a spammer.
So now, your sender IP is blocked. That means your IP can no longer send mails to your subscribers.
What you can do about it: If you’re working with a good email marketing partner or an ESP (Email Service Provider), you’ll likely not face this issue (Hint: Choose great marketing partners!).
Begin by checking the log of previous activities on the IP and see if you can find anything suspicious. Appeal to have your IP taken off the blocked IP list. You could also reach out to the website to unblock your sender IP.
On the other hand, check if your systems are infected with a virus working undercover to send out spam. Alternatively, there’s also a chance someone hacked your IP when you had logged in from a public platform.
You could also try working with a new IP. In future, make sure you follow email marketing best practices.
It could take a while to dig yourself out of the mess someone else created.
4. Aggressive spam filters
Bounces happen for this reason more often than you’d believe. Your recipient may have stringent settings for incoming mail, and you failed their test at some point.
Why this happens: It’s not you; it’s them. The recipient has changed the settings of their mail server and set up strict guidelines. Any incoming email with the slightest deviation will be red-flagged.
For any number of reasons, your mail didn’t comply with the standards. Maybe it had one link too many, or it was too image-heavy, or you used terms like ‘Make money today’ too often in your content. The list goes on.
What matters is the recipient thinks you’re a spammer.
What you can do about it: Sometimes, this might behave like a soft bounce, in the sense that your next mail might get through because it doesn’t have the elements that could be labeled as suspect.
However, you’ll never know which of your subsequent mails might be rejected. You should go back to the drawing board, juxtapose the mail that went through and the one that didn’t, and learn what’s going wrong.
Time to put on your email-sleuth hats!
5. You’re blocked
The recipient thinks you are a problem, not your IP. That’s also a difficult challenge to overcome because there won’t be a direct way of appealing to them.
Why this happens: Perhaps the recipient felt that your communication is annoying them. Perhaps they hit the Unsubscribe link, and it didn’t work. It could be anything.
One of the surprising reasons emails bounce is people don’t remember signing up, so they block you. Strange, yeah?
*What you can do about it: *While there’s no defined way of directly influencing subscribers to unblock you, you can at least prevent this problem with your future subscribers.
First, re-check your opt-in form and ensure that you’ve set the right expectations. Next, fine-tune your content and ask yourself if you’re wavering too far from your original promise. For example, if you started by offering tips on wine selection but have now moved to myriad Christmas gifts, some of your subscribers will not enjoy that.
Finally, be sure to follow a fixed schedule: if you send one email per week, fix a day, so your subscribers know that if it’s a Wednesday, you’ll be mailing them.
Discipline pays, see?
6. Oversized attachment
Are you sending attachments that run into several MBs? Don’t!
Almost always, attachments are best suited for middle-of-the-funnel prospects only, not everyone on your mailing list.
Why this happens: When you’re sending out event- or season-specific campaigns like, say, holiday marketing campaigns, you want to share more info. So you send a 25MB attachment with your mail – and then see a huge number of email bouncebacks.
It’s simple. Many email servers have a cap on the size of attachments incoming emails can carry. They do it to protect the inbox from email abuse or make sure you don’t overrun their inbox size.
Besides, they’re like, “Hmmm, this attachment could be a virus carrier! Let me reject it!”
What you can do about it: As noted earlier, you’d be better off avoiding attachments in the first place.
If you need to share a video, a document, a presentation, a proposal, and so on, you can share a link. That would ensure your mail doesn’t become heavy, and yet you’ll get things done.
The next best thing to do will be to send compressed files.
7. Recipient’s server full
Ever been to a restaurant that’s packed and can’t seat you? They’ll probably say, “All full, sorry! Why don’t you check thirty minutes later?”
A full recipient server is pretty much the same.
Why this happens: Emails bounce when the recipient’s server is full and can no longer accept any more messages. Perhaps the recipient’s server is experiencing unusually high traffic (maybe they’ve come up with an irresistible offer!).
What you can do about it: Because it’s a soft bounce and an issue at the recipient’s end, the easiest thing to do is to try again after some time. If you’re working with an ESP, probably they’ve figured it out, and they’ll resend your mail after a set time (an hour, typically) anyway.
A small thing: when you’re viewing your analytics, don’t forget to factor in such soft bounces. Sometimes, when these mails are re-sent, and the recipient takes a specific action, like, say, downloading your e-book or registering for your webinar, it certainly alters the way you’d perceive how effective your email campaign has been.
8. Recipient’s inbox full
Your emails could bounce back because the recipient’s inbox is full; not your fault.
Why this happens: Your message is bounced back to you because the recipient’s inbox has exceeded its capacity.
What you can do about it: It looks like you’re writing to someone who’s hugely popular, considering their inbox is full!
It’s a common soft bounce, and just like other types of soft bounce, the best thing to do is to resend.
There’s, of course, a couple of other things you can do. Whether you can do so depends entirely upon your relationship with the recipient. If the recipient is an existing contact with whom you have a good working relationship, you can reach out to them with a text message or something and let them know you’ve sent something urgent.
However, unless it’s time-sensitive, you might want to wait and resend.
9. Acceptance of incoming email restricted
What if the recipient’s address doesn’t accept messages from anyone except within their organization? How can you handle that?
Why this happens: It’s pretty simple: The organization’s server is configured not to accept emails from outside their network.
Organizations do this for several reasons. One of them is that they haven’t resolved external emails’ security challenges – there was probably a significant security breach recently.
Another reason could be that the recipient you’re writing to might be involved in a confidential project, and they think it’s best to avoid third-party mails.
What you can do about it: We hate breaking this to you, but there’s practically nothing you can do about it!
However, you must raise an important question. If the recipient inbox has restricted entry from third parties, how come the address appeared on your mailing list in the first place?
Check two angles. Firstly, look at your listing building strategy. If you’re buying lists (which, in itself, is not a very good idea), this is a warning signal for you.
Secondly, such bounces suggest that you need a double opt-in. That way, even if a genuine subscriber signs up with a restricted inbox, your system automatically sends them a mail to confirm their subscription. Unless they confirm, the address won’t go into your regular mailing list in any case.
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For a marketer, bouncebacks represent a potentially lowered email marketing ROI. It means a lot of efforts that went into building the list only led to waste. And of course, so many missed opportunities too!
There’s, of course, a more significant question to address.
If your email bounce rate crosses a certain level, you’re at risk of being labeled a spammer. Your sender reputation will also be at stake. All this will quickly lower your deliverability, which is why you want to look into why your mails bounce and what you can do to prevent it.
We have already listed out the principal causes of why emails bounce and what steps you can take to correct that or prevent such cases in the future.
What do you think? What did we miss?
Written by our guest writer Hiren Patel, a data scraping professional with ProWebScraper
Beyond that, he is interested in learning and sharing tips on how email marketing and digital marketing can help businesses grow.