Hard Bounce vs Soft Bounce in Email Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Though often ignored by some businesses, email marketing is the most cost-effective tool that is vital to your digital marketing strategy to nurture leads, increase return on investment (ROI), reduce churn rate, and create impactful and personalized customer experience. It takes time and effort to build an email list, and you should be careful while adding quality subscribers to your list to avoid bounces and harming your brand reputation.

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What is Email Bounce Rate & Why Should You Care?

In email marketing, a bounce occurs when an email is rejected by the mail server and fails to deliver to the intended recipient due to some temporary or permanent reasons. A bounce error message is an automated message, also known as non-delivery report (NDR).

A bounce rate is calculated by dividing the number of bounced emails by the number of sent emails and multiplying by 100.

A high bounce rate means there’s a problem with your email list management, which can severely hurt your email marketing campaign with a bad reputation and possible blacklisting. An acceptable bounce rate shouldn’t be higher than 2%.

Let’s have a look at hard bounce versus soft bounce in email marketing and how to avoid these.

What is a hard bounce in email marketing?

A hard bounce is a phenomenon where an email couldn’t be delivered to recipient for some permanent reasons, including,

  • When the recipient’s email is invalid, doesn’t exist, or is fake
  • When the recipient has moved to a new company
  • When the recipient’s mail server blocks delivery or doesn’t accept emails
  • When the email domain isn’t real
  • When an email address contains a typo (e.g. gmial.com instead of gmail.com)

Resolving errors such as typos or spelling mistakes can be an easy way to improve your email bounce rate; however, being blocked by a recipient’s mail server can be more difficult. It’s possible to ask a recipient to remove you from the block list to prevent hard bounce, but often these bounces are permanent failures. You may also attempt to resend the email a few more times, but it will only increase your bounce rate. A better practice would be to add these email addresses to a suppression list or permanently remove them from your email list for future campaigns.

While most email service providers (ESPs) will automatically suppress hard-bounced emails and remove them from your subscription list, make sure you have strict ESP practices in place to remove the possibility of accidentally sending emails to these addresses, as it’ll increase your bounce rate and ruin your email marketing effort.

What is a soft bounce in email marketing?

A soft bounce occurs due to some temporary yet fixable reasons. When an email soft bounces, an automated error message is displayed with details such as the date and time of the bounce, the mail server that initiated the bounce, and a code that shows the reason for delivery failure. These emails can usually be delivered at some later time. Some common reasons include:

  • Inbox is full or quota maximized
  • Email file or attachment is too large
  • Domain name doesn’t exist
  • The receiver’s email server is down or offline (DNS failure)
  • Email content may be marked as spam or blocked by recipient
  • Email content might not meet recipient server’s DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) requirements for authentication
  • Anti-spam or antivirus filtration at receiver’s end
  • Recipient has set out-of-office or auto-reply emails

How to Avoid or Reduce Email Bounce

To fix an email bounce, you need to take the following steps, so your email doesn’t land in the spam or junk folder or bounce back.

  1. Verify & keep your email list up-to-date

As an email marketer, it is your primary responsibility to verify the email addresses of all recipients. With email segmentation, you can regularly monitor, clean, and update your mailing list. You can either do this manually or use free or premium email verification software available in markets such as ZeroBounce, Bouncer, Bounceless.io, Debounce, Snovio, Emailable, Clearout, or another based on your needs.

  1. Develop a preference & permission-based email list

The best way to minimize bounce rate is to obtain permission from the recipient before sending emails. You can use the double opt-in method for this purpose. With a single opt-in, new subscribers are added to your list right 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 a confirmation email with a link. Once they click on the link and verify their email address, they’ll be added to your list.

Use a preference center that gives your recipients control over what type of emails they want to receive from you, how often, and whether they want to opt out of receiving emails. This will boost your sender’s reputation and minimize the bounce rate.

Also read: Small Business reporting software & platforms

  1. Watch out for possible spam triggers

Avoid using spammy words, phrases, or links in your email content. With advanced spam filtration features, your receivers have the control to set their content priority and protect their inboxes from unsolicited emails. Some of the phrases that might land you in the spam/junk folder are “30% off, Free offer, Act now, Click here, Great offer” and others. Avoid using these misleading and shady subject lines, because even if you make it to the inbox, readers are not likely to open the email.

Also, keep your email flow consistent including the frequency of emails you send, the subject lines, targeted audience segment, etc. Ask your recipient to whitelist you, in case nothing else works.

  1. Send valuable engaging content

Your brand image depends on your marketing efforts, and the success of your email marketing campaign relies heavily on the quality you deliver. Create relevant and interesting content that your receivers want to read. Use catchy subject lines and email colors but don’t overdo it so that it appears like a clickbait or manipulative tactic. These practices will build your brand image by reducing the bounce rate.

  1. Regularly monitor email deliverability & performance

Another good practice is to continually monitor your email performance and keep your click rates and open rates in check. It’s normal to have a few soft bounces now and then but consistent and close monitoring is necessary. If a recipient doesn’t open or respond to your emails for a long time, you should consider excluding such contacts from the list to improve your email health. 

Choosing the right email service provider (ESP) or email marketing software for your business

An ESP allows you to send bulk emails to your subscriber list and select from email templates as well as helps you track your email campaign. It’s important to use the right ESPs to handle email bounces. Some of the popular email service providers include Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook, Zoho Mail, AOL, Yandex, Hubspot, ProtonMail, and more.

Also read: Best Email Marketing Software & Platforms 2021

Advanced email marketing software comes at a premium price and helps you manage your large-scale digital marketing campaigns with advanced features such as A/B email testing, website tracking, capturing leads, custom templates, and other automation features. Some platforms include Mailchimp, Hubspot, Klaviyo, Sendinblue, Drip, ActiveCampaign, and more.

You can choose anyone based on your business scalability needs. Although it’s nearly impossible to get a zero bounce rate, with consistent monitoring and regularly cleansing your mailing list, you can improve your email marketing effort and achieve an optimum level of bounce rate capped at 2%.

Maheen Kanwal
Maheen Kanwal
Maheen Kanwal is a contributor at TechnologyAdvice. She's passionate about writing well-researched content about technology and business. As a freelancer, she has written hundreds of engaging articles and blogs over the years in various niches such as technology, business, HR, education, career, and other general stuff.

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