When you think about it, marketing is difficult.
We have to reach our customers at exactly the right time, with exactly the right message and offer.
Get it wrong and they’ll keep their money in their pocket, or even worse, buy from our competitors instead.
So the last thing you want is to make it even more difficult by limiting the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns. And that’s exactly what you’re doing if you’re not actively taking steps to reduce email bounce backs.
According to Constant Contact, the average email bounce back rate across all industries is 10.29 percent.
In other words, if you launch a new email marketing campaign targeting 1,000 prospects, odds are more than 100 of those emails will bounce.
Clearly, that’ll massively impact the performance of your campaign. So email bounce backs are a big problem.
How to Reduce Email Bounce Backs
What Is an Email Bounce Back?
An email bounce back happens when your message can’t be delivered to the recipient. (Just as how a snail mail gets returned to the sender when there’s a problem with the address.)
There are two different types of email bounce back: hard and soft.
Think of a hard bounce as a permanent reason why your message can’t be delivered; a problem that isn’t going away. Hard bounces typically mean one of two things:
- The recipient’s email address doesn’t exist; or
- The recipient’s email server has completely blocked delivery.
Soft bounces indicate a temporary delivery issue.
In the event of a soft bounce, your email service provider will attempt to resend the email several times before admitting defeat.
There are many scenarios in which soft bounces can occur, such as:
- An offline mail server;
- A full, inactive, or incorrectly configured mailbox;
- An incorrect or non-existent domain name; or
- An email that’s too large or that doesn’t meet the recipient server’s DMARC authentication requirements.
Bouncebacks matter a lot because a high email bounce rate causes damage to your IP address, which will hamper your email deliverability over time.
In the worst-case scenario, your IP address will be flagged as spam, meaning few (if any) subscribers will ever see your email marketing communications.
So we’ve agreed: email bounce backs are bad. Now, let’s dive into seven tactics to help reduce your email bounce rate.
1. Don’t Send Emails From a Free Sender Domain
If you’re an e-commerce business, you almost certainly won’t be doing this anyway.
But it’s an important point, so I’ll make it nonetheless: make sure you have a professional domain before launching an email marketing campaign.
Using free email domains (e.g. email@example.com) makes it more likely your messages will be flagged up as spam. In turn, that can damage your sender’s reputation and increase your email bounce backs. Check you SPF record to make sure you have email security protocols active.
2. Use a Double Opt-In
Every time a new subscriber signs up to receive your newsletter, don’t add them to your mailing list straight away.
Instead, send them a confirmation email containing a link to verify their address. That way, you’ll only ever send emails to active (and receptive) accounts.
Your verification email doesn’t need to be anything too complicated; just a simple message with a link, much like Cotton Bureau does here:
3. Practice Good Email List Hygiene
I bet there’s a place in your house or apartment where “stuff” just builds up over time.
For me, it’s the dining table. If I don’t make an active effort to keep it tidy, within a few days it’s piled high with unopened letters, books, pens, post-it notes, and various other detritus that I’ve absent-mindedly put down.
Your email marketing list is the same as my dining table (kind of).
If you don’t keep it clean, it’ll quickly fill up with inactive or generally problematic accounts that generate hard or soft bounces when you try to contact them.
Dedicate time once a month or so to clean up your email list so it’s exclusively populated with healthy, active, engaged accounts. Beyond that, consider running re-engagement campaigns to capture the attention of recipients who haven’t clicked on your emails for a while.
Some of those accounts will be dead; others might just have dialed out of your marketing and require a little nurturing to bring them back.
Here’s an example of how that could look, courtesy of skincare brand Y’OUR:
4. A/B Test Signup Incentives
Let’s be honest: most people aren’t going to fork over their email address for no reason whatsoever.
Remember, the average person currently receives almost 320 emails a day. No one’s going to add to that constant barrage of noise unless you give them a good reason for doing so.
That’s why e-commerce brands often use incentives to drive newsletter signups. For instance, Kensie offers a one-time 35 percent discount code to people who register for its newsletter…
…while Elvie & Leo gives away a $30 gift voucher toward your first purchase:
(Check out our extensive guide on email popups for more inspiration.)
Clearly, the more attractive your incentive, the more email addresses you’re likely to capture. But be aware of the fake (or inactive) email addresses if you don’t want to increase your email bounce rate.
For that reason, it’s sensible to A/B test your signup incentives to understand which ones produce the highest-quality email addresses with the lowest percentage of bounces.
After that, it becomes a bit of a balancing act.
Maybe Incentive A gets you 1,000 addresses with a 5 percent bounce rate, while Incentive B generates 500 addresses with a 1.5 percent bounce rate.
If what you really need is to grow your email list as fast as possible, maybe you’ll be happy enough to put up with the higher bounce rate of Incentive A.
5. Send Emails That Make It Through Spam Filters
This might seem like an obvious point, but sending spam emails is a bad thing.
It’s bad for a lot of reasons, one of which is that it’ll increase your bounce rate.
Email service providers can block IP addresses if they suspect them of spamming recipients. If that happens, your emails won’t make it through the filters of the recipient’s server and you’ll get a bounce back.
Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to avoid sending spam. I’ve written a whole article on why emails go to spam (and what to do about it), but here are some quick pointers.
i. Avoid Spam Trigger Words
We’ve all seen spam emails before; we know the sort of language they use. As a general rule, steer clear of spammy language like “Amazing”, “Guarantee”, and “Risk-free”. Oh, and don’t start your email with: “Dear Friend.”
ii. Follow HTML Best Practices
If your emails are text-only, this point doesn’t apply. But if you use HTML elements, make sure you:
- Optimize your image alt-tags;
- Maintain a low image-to-text ratio;
- Stick to a maximum width of 800 pixels;
- Ensure your HTML code is as clean and simple as possible;
- Optimize your emails for mobile; and
- Steer clear of wacky fonts.
iii. Write Accurate Subject Lines
As the CAN-SPAM act states, it’s against the law to write intentionally misleading subject lines that coax recipients into opening your message.
We all try our best to make our subject lines as compelling as possible, but don’t cross the line into the misleading territory.
6. Segment Your Email Marketing List
Avoiding activity that’s likely to fall foul of email spam filters is one piece of the puzzle; another is writing content that your audience actually wants to read.
And the best way to do that is through effective email list segmentation.
Rather than sending mass emails to everyone on your list, divide them by different characteristics. For example, a typical fashion e-commerce brand might:
- Segment their emails by gender;
- Have a segment for customers who have kids (if they sell a children’s clothing range;) or
- Segment subscribers by location so they can promote an in-store sale to customers who live within easy reach of the store.
Beyond those common demographic segments, you might want to target existing customers with a message that wouldn’t be relevant to newsletter subscribers who haven’t bought from you yet. That’s exactly what Bombas does here:
The lesson here is simple: the more you segment your email list, the more highly personalized your content will be, which means higher response rates.
In turn, higher engagement means fewer people flagging your messages as spam.
7. Run Consistent Email Marketing Activity
There are many reasons for building a consistent email marketing strategy that goes way beyond the realms of reducing email bounce backs.
If you’re landing in customers’ inboxes at the same time every day (or every week), they’ll come to expect your message, which can help to improve engagement.
By maintaining a consistent approach, it becomes far easier to build an accurate picture of who is and isn’t engaged with your email marketing.
Think of the alternative: you send emails sporadically. Sometimes three a day; other times you go silent for weeks on end. In that scenario, how can you possibly tell whether people are engaged, or whether external factors are at play?
Get into a routine, stick to it, and regularly purge your email list to get rid of accounts that never interact with your messages.
That means a higher email engagement rate and a healthier email account, which in turn reduces your chance of getting hit by bounce backs.
Reducing email bouncebacks is partly a matter of nailing the technical elements of your email marketing campaigns, and partly down to simply understanding your audience.
Start by getting the technical aspects right:
- Never use a free sender domain;
- Regularly cleanse your email list of inactive and disengaged accounts; and
- Follow email marketing best practices to steer clear of the spam filters.
Then it’s time to focus on your audience.
Segment your email list and target each segment with relevant content; send emails at a time that suits your customers; test different signup incentives, subject lines, copy, and creatives to understand what drives the highest engagement.
Do all of those and your bounce backs will plummet, which means more ROI from your email marketing activity.