What is a soft bounce in email marketing?

What is a soft bounce in email marketing?

Having an email list is one of the most important things that you can do for your business, but it’s not as easy as just collecting someone’s email address. Email marketing is actually pretty heavily regulated, and if you aren’t managing your list properly then you could be in for a nasty surprise. So in this article we’ll answer the question: “What is a soft bounce in email marketing?” and what you can do to limit their occurrence.

What is a bounce?

In email marketing, when mail is undeliverable it’s called a bounce. This is obviously not something that you want happening, because it means that your subscriber isn’t getting your messages, and you lose out on the ability to market to a potentially interested client.

When a bounce occurs though, you’ll be notified. You’ll also receive some helpful information which could help you to determine the cause of the bounce. A bounced email will be returned with the time and date that the message bounced, which mail server turned it away and an RFC code to help you identify the type of bounce.

Some examples of RFC codes and their meanings

RFC codes - not the matrix

Every bounced message will return an RFC code, and you’ll need to use this to figure out why your message was not delivered. Here are some examples of RFC codes and what they mean.

  • 500 – Address does not exist
  • 516 – Mailbox has moved
  • 534 – Message too big for system
  • 522 – Mailbox full
  • 421 – Service not available
  • 450 – Mailbox unavailable

What is a soft bounce in email marketing?

What is a soft bounce in email marketing - hint: not doggy on ball

If your email has to bounce, then a soft bounce is what you really want to see. When a soft bounce happens you at least know that your address is correct and it made contact with the desired email server. A soft bounce in email marketing typically refers to issues which are temporary, and in many cases, this problem may even work itself out on its own.

Some reasons that you may experience a soft bounce include downtime for the mail server or that your recipient is just not very good at keeping their mailbox empty. In most cases, the RFC code returned for these errors will start with a 4, but there are a couple of outliers, like the mailbox full code listed above which is really a soft bounce issue but coded as a 5 level error.

Most email marketing services will continue to attempt to deliver your message to these addresses for a short period. However, if the bounce continues, then they may upgrade it to a more severe status and put it on a block list which will stop emails for this address permanently.

What’s the difference between soft and hard bounces?

We talked about how soft bounces are a temporary problem already, but what about hard bounces? A hard bounce is a permanent issue that will not be resolved on its own. This is a bounce which really has no solution other than to delete the address from your list. The cause for these types of bounces could be that the email address you’re trying to send to does not exist or that there was no answer from the host server.

Hard bounces are not a good thing to have, and you should regularly remove them from your list. Email marketing is serious business. Web servers have a low tolerance for what they consider spam. If you continue to send a large number of hard bounce emails to them then they could blacklist future emails from you.

How do soft and hard bounces impact your list?

Having a high bounce rate of any kind could be an indication that your list quality is poor. A rule of thumb for your bounce rate is to keep it at around 2%. If it’s any higher than that, then you might have a problem and you should start looking into improving the health of your list.

Sending to addresses which are known to be bad can harm your reputation with service providers. Email marketing is heavily based on whether or not providers think you are sending worthwhile messages, and it’s possible that your sending address could be blacklisted if you don’t play ball. This is obviously not something you want, because it will greatly impact your ability to monetize your list.

To keep providers happy, keep a close eye on your bounce rates. Purge any hard bounce addresses, and practice good email list housekeeping to keep your overall bounce rate low.

What can you do to lower your list’s bounce rate?

Using some good practices when it comes to your email list can avoid many problems. The name of the game is to only have people on your list who really want to be there. So make sure to do the following to keep your list in tip-top shape.

  • Use Double Opt-in to confirm subscriptions

You should be using double opt-in for your list at all times if you want clean email lists. While it can seem like a negative to use this when you can just use single and have their email address in one go, this is bad for quality management. People who double opt-in really want to be on your list.

  • Organize your list into segments

Managing your list is much easier when things are organized. Almost every provider should allow you to filter your list recipients into categories based on open rates, deliverability, etc. Use this to your advantage to weed out any issues.

  • Regularly remove bad email addresses

Once everything is organized, keep a good reputation with email hosting providers by removing bad addresses so you don’t deliver to them. Get rid of any fake addresses or those which are undeliverable. mailfloss will do this for you automatically.

  • Consider removing users who have never opened your emails

You might also consider removing people who have never opened your emails in say a six month period. These could be spam catcher addresses, and delivering emails which are never opened can often get you pushed into the spam box because providers like Gmail assume your message isn’t worth displaying. However, if you have a very high number of users not opening your messages, then you should try out better headlines first to improve your open rates.