A high email bounce rate can kill an otherwise good email marketing strategy. Email marketing, of course, remains one of the highest-ROI online marketing strategies available, thanks to its low costs and practically nonexistent barriers to entry.
Unfortunately, many people trying to solve their email bounce rate problem find themselves struggling; email bounce rates don’t always have a clear root cause or a clear solution, and many bounce rate reduction strategies require a subjective, qualitative assessment.
In this guide, we’ll explore the concept of email bounce rate, and explain the steps you can take to reduce it.
Table of Contents
- What Is Email Bounce Rate?
- What Is a Good Email Bounce Rate?
- 5 Common Reasons Why Emails Bounce
- 8 Ways to Reduce Your Email Bounce Rate
- Avoiding Other Email Bounce Rate Issues
- Learning From Your Failures
What Is Email Bounce Rate?
Let’s start with a basic definition of email bounce rate. Email bounce rate measures the portion of your email recipients who didn’t receive your message; in other words, an email “bounces” when it doesn’t reach its intended recipient.
Higher email bounce rates are unfavorable for an obvious reason and a not-so-obvious reason. Straightforwardly, each email that doesn’t reach its intended recipient can’t persuade or inform anyone, reducing the effectiveness of your email campaign. Less obviously, high email bounce rates can interfere with your reputation, and in extreme cases can prevent you from sending emails altogether.
You can think of email bounces in terms of “soft” and “hard” bounces.
A soft bounce is usually the result of a temporary delivery issue, and it’s rarely something to be concerned about; you may not be required to issue a fix at all. For example, your subscriber’s mailbox might be full, your recipient’s email server may be malfunctioning, or your message may be too big to be received. For the most part, these circumstances are outside of your control.
A hard bounce is a bigger problem, since it can’t be resolved in subsequent email sends. These emails are returned to an email server because of problems like incorrect domain names, invalid email addresses, or subscriber mailboxes that are no longer active.
What Is a Good Email Bounce Rate?
Lower email bounce rates are better, since they mean a larger percentage of your emails are reaching their intended recipients. But what is an acceptable email bounce rate benchmark? What kind of email bounce rate should you be shooting for?
There are a few schools of thought on this problem, but the generally agreed-upon industry standard is 2 percent; a 2 percent bounce rate means 2 percent of your messages aren’t being delivered.
If you’re under this amount, you’re within the realm of normal operations, and you shouldn’t be too concerned with aggressively reducing that rate. At 2-4 percent, you’ll need to investigate your current email lists and practices. At 5 percent, you have a serious problem. And at 10 percent, you need to take immediate action.
Note that these are rough estimates; bounce rates vary by industry. Some industries sit comfortably below an average of 1 percent bounce rate, while other industries see a much higher bounce rate even under ideal circumstances.
5 Common Reasons Why Emails Bounce
We’ve already covered some of the reasons an email might bounce, but let’s dig deeper into the specific motivating factors that could influence your bounce rate:
1. The email address was mistyped, doesn’t exist, or no longer exists.
If the email address no longer exists, or if it’s been mistyped, the email will be bounced back. This can happen due to an innocent mistake, or because the email account is no longer active.
2. The domain name was mistyped or no longer exists.
In this case, the domain name doesn’t exist—either because it’s been deleted or because it’s not provided correctly.
3. The recipient’s email server is down (temporarily or permanently).
In some cases, an email server is to blame—probably your prospect’s email server, since if yours failed, it would result in a bigger problem than an email bounce.
4. Your domain or IP’s reputation is poor.
Most email services actively monitor both domains and IP addresses to calculate their subjective email sending reputation. If your domain or IP address has historically sent questionable emails, or if it’s been flagged as spam too many times, it could be rejected by certain email servers. These settings can be customized, so an IP/domain reputation problem won’t necessarily result in all your emails being bounced.
5. Your email was filtered by a spam filter.
Spam filters exist to protect individual email users from receiving an excessive amount of low-quality messages. If your email is judged to have too many spam-like qualities, it could be flagged as spam and automatically blocked from receipt. See our article on why emails go to spam for a more in-depth overview of this issue.
Most of the strategies you’ll use to reduce your email bounce rate will tackle multiple issues simultaneously.
8 Ways to Reduce Your Email Bounce Rate
Your first responsibility is addressing issues related to email addresses, since these are mostly within your control. They’re also easy to prevent if you work proactively.
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1. Get email addresses the right way.
First, and most importantly, make sure you’re getting email addresses the right way. If you obtain email addresses through questionable means—like buying a list of addresses—you’ll run into a number of problems, including dealing with old and no longer active addresses, and getting flagged as spam by people who have never heard from you before.
It’s much more effective to cultivate permission-based email lists (aka opt-in email lists), organically, with your content and marketing efforts. Every person on your email list should have voluntarily provided their email address to you, knowing what they were going to receive in turn.
There are many valid strategies for collecting email addresses, such as adding an email signup form to your blog and hosting a contest. However, you’ll want to be careful with methods like contests and giveaways; if a subscriber doesn’t remember subscribing to your list, they may end up flagging you as spam anyway.
2. Verify (clean) your list.
Next, take the time to verify the email addresses on your list, and clean your list of any entries that are duplicates, obsolete, or no longer active. Some email marketers make a critical error in relying on their first email blast to serve as a test; instead, it’s better to use an independent verification tool like Hunter or NeverBounce. It doesn’t take long, and it can immediately make sure your emails reach their intended destinations. If many of your email addresses appear to be old or non-functional, start re-evaluating your subscriber obtainment methods.
3. Keep your list updated.
Just because your email addresses are valid now doesn’t mean they’ll stay valid indefinitely. It’s important to keep your list updated. One of the easiest ways to do this is to let your email subscribers do it for you; make it easy for customers to update their contact information, unsubscribe, or update their preferences. If it’s obvious, and only takes a few clicks, they’ll take care of this on their own. Alternatively, you’ll want to verify and clean your email list periodically—at least once every few months.
4. Watch for hard bounces, and resolve them.
Your email marketing tool should allow you to keep a close eye on your email bounce rate, and easily distinguish between hard and soft bounces. Take note of any hard bounces that come through, and see what you can do to resolve them. For example, if you notice a hard bounce associated with one email address, verify it to see if it’s still active. In general, your goal should be identifying the root cause of the problem, so you can put a plan in place to address it.
Next, you’ll need to improve the quality of the emails you send. This will prevent your emails from getting flagged as spam, and will keep your IP and domain reputation nice and healthy.
5. Study good messages and spam.
What counts as a spam message? You probably have some ideas intuitively; for example, you already know that spamming exclamation points in the subject line or referring to any kind of anatomical enlargement is probably going to get your message identified as spam. However, it’s still useful to study real examples of spam and effective email messages.
You can do this in your own inbox, most of the time. Which promotional emails are you happy to receive, and what do those messages have in common? What about your spam folder—what kinds of messages end up here? Look at things like subject lines, body content, image presence, and more.
6. Provide value to your recipients.
Ultimately, your goal in email marketing shouldn’t be to sell a product or motivate action; it should be to provide value to your subscribers. If your subscribers feel like they’re being manipulated or sold to, without getting anything in return, they’re going to leave—and possibly flag you as spam before they do.
There are many ways to provide value to your readers. You can give them free content. You can offer discounts and special deals. You can even try to build better customer relationships. And if you don’t know what your customers want, try asking them; use a survey to determine what your readers might like to see.
7. Send emails consistently.
Sending emails consistently will help you establish a “normal” pattern of email marketing, improving your reputation and keeping your subscribers happy at the same time. For example, commit to sending your email blasts on a specific day of the week, and/or at a specific time of day. Erratic or occasional emails will make email bounces more likely.
8. Understand spam red flags.
There are many types of spam filters out there, working at different levels of intensity and with programming of different levels of sophistication. Spend some time studying the common red flags among all spam filters, and do your best to avoid them. The most common red flags include typos, spammy words and phrases (like “FREE” or “ACT NOW”), unusual attachments, bad sender reputations, specific types of content (like nutraceutical products), and emails with low rates of subscriber engagement. Many of these are common sense, and won’t apply if you’re genuinely providing something valuable to your readership.
Avoiding Other Email Bounce Rate Issues
These strategies are also important:
- Avoid free sender domains. Gmail is wonderful, since you can sign up for an email account for free. But if you use a free email domain like @gmail.com, you’ll be much more likely to be marked as spam, increasing your email bounce rate many times over. Instead, use a unique domain that you’ve paid for.
- Always authenticate your domains. Additionally, take the time to authenticate your domains, using SPF, DKIM, and/or DMARC. Once authenticated, or domain will greatly increase your deliverability rates, thereby reducing your email bounces. It’s also a good way to prevent your subscribers from receiving security alerts.
- Measure and analyze your results. Finally, take the time to measure and analyze your results. This is critical if you want to improve your email marketing success over time. Pay attention to metrics like your open rate, click through rate (CTR), unique clicks and opens, click to open ratio, bounce rate, conversion rate, spam complaints, unsubscribe rate, forwards, shares, and more. Collectively, you’ll be able to determine which of your messages are most effective, and how you can improve your list in the future.
Learning From Your Failures
Even with a hypothetically perfect email marketing strategy, you’re going to see email bounces. You may even struggle with a relatively high bounce rate of 2-5 percent, and during certain email blasts, you may see spikes even higher than that.
It’s okay. Email bounces happen to every marketer, and while they aren’t ideal, they also aren’t campaign-breaking. What’s important is that you learn from your failures.
When you see your email bounce rate spike after a blast, study the message you sent out; which qualities could have triggered your recipients’ spam filters? When was the last time you cleaned your subscriber list? Incorporate new, better habits on a regular basis and eventually, you’ll see the results you want.
The better you understand your email habits, the more productive—and more effective—you’ll be. That’s why you need a tool like EmailAnalytics. Once integrated with your Gmail account, EmailAnalytics will pull data on your email habits, including your average response time, number of sent and received emails, and more. Sign up for a free trial today, and give it a try yourself!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.