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What Is a Hard Bounce and How To Avoid Them

Bounces are a part of email marketing and managing them is important to achieve email marketing success. Despite this, many emailers find bounces confusing and hard to understand.

To help clear up this confusion, we’ll break down exactly what bounces are and the best practice for dealing with them.

What is an Email Bounce?

A bounce occurs when an email you send fails to deliver to the recipient due to an issue with the recipient’s mail server. That is, the email was successfully sent from your end, but hit a roadblock before reaching your subscriber’s email server.

Bounces are often referred to by what type of bounce they are: hard or soft.

The Difference Between a Hard and Soft Bounce

Hard bounces refer to times your email cannot be delivered due to a permanent reason. This means that trying to resend the email again in the future will result in another bounce.

There are a few reasons a hard bounce may occur. The most common reasons are:

  • An invalid email address (e.g., a mistyped address)
  • The email address has been deactivated (e.g., someone has left a company)
  • Email deliveries have been completely blocked by the recipient’s email server.

A soft bounce refers to when the issue preventing delivery is only temporary. That is, if you resend the email in the future there’s a good chance it can be delivered.

Some of the most common reasons a soft bounce will occur include:

  • The recipient’s mailbox is full (they need to make more space for new emails)
  • Your recipient’s email server is temporary offline
  • A particular email is too large to be delivered
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How to Deal With Email Bounces

Due to the temporary nature of soft bounces, many times these will resolve themselves and require no further action. If multiple send attempts to a particular email address is results in soft bounces, then this should be considered a hard bounce.

Hard bounces should be treated seriously as if left unmanaged they can severely damage your sending reputation and harm the deliverability of your emails. This is because repeatedly sending addresses that hard bounce is taken by inbox service providers (ISPs) that you have poor list hygiene practices and are more likely to be a spammer. This will increase the chance your emails will be marked spam and not appear in a subscriber’s inbox.

Good email service providers (ESPs) will automatically unsubscribe addresses that result in a hard bounce. For example, SmartrMail will automatically suppress any address that results in a hard bounce as well as addresses that see multiple soft bounces. You can learn more about how SmartrMail handles soft and hard bounces here.

If your ESP does not automatically suppress hard bounces, or doesn’t treat multiple soft bounces as a hard bounce, then you either need to switch to one that does or manage this manually. This involves ensuring that all addresses that have hard bounced are deleted from all of your email lists. To be extra sure that you don’t accidentally send to these addresses in the future, you might also want to first add them to a suppression list. Doing this removes the possibility that the address will accidentally be added again in the future.

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How to Reduce Email Bounces

If you find you are experiencing a high number of bounces, then it might be worthwhile looking into what’s causing them and ways to reduce your bounce rate.

A lot of hard bounces are caused by people misspelling their address when signing up to your list. Poor handwriting can also be a factor if you’re collecting addresses with pen and paper. In these cases it’s important to check over addresses before they’re added to your list. For example, if you see [email protected] then gmail has obviously been misspelt. Do not try sending an email to the address as it was originally spelled.

You might also want to consider enabling double opt-in on your mailing lists. Doing so will eliminate the chance that invalid or misspelt addresses make it onto your email list.

By keeping track of bounces and making adjustments when necessary, you will see an improvement in deliverability and email engagement rates. Something that definitely makes the effort worth it.

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