What is a soft bounced email?

Emails bounce for many different reasons and there are two high level classifications to describe each one. There are hard bounced emails for permanent failures (you can read about those in this blog post) and then there are soft bounced emails which are intermittent, temporary or reputational issues.

It takes time and effort to grow your list as it does to build and nurture your sender reputation and how your deal with emails that bounce is a key factor in the success of your email marketing campaigns.

Read on to find out more about what soft bounced emails are, what impact they can have on your email marketing activities and what you can do to protect your sender reputation.

Soft bounced emails explained

A soft bounce is where an attempt to send an email to a mail server is made and at that point the email is rejected.

Depending on the type of soft bounce the email may stay in the mail queue and be retried later automatically, which could result in successful delivery to the inbox.

As with hard bounced emails, there are a range of reasons why an email is soft bounced including… 

  • Mailbox is full
  • Mail server has some technical issues
  • Sender is being rate-limiting
  • The email message is too large

When mailbox providers rate-limit senders it relates to sender reputation and it’s their way of slowing down the rate at which you can send emails to them. Generally, the better your sender reputation the faster you can send emails.

Rate-limiting isn’t always a bad thing and over-time the speed at which you can send emails, to Yahoo for example, will increase. It’s common to see rate-limiting when you’re a new sender, you’re using a new sending domain or your sending from new IP addresses.

Which is worse, hard or soft?

Hard bounced emails are more detrimental to your sender reputation than soft bounced emails ever will be but most ESPs will automatically suppress hard bounced email addresses for you anyway and that helps to keep your lists clean.

That’s not to say that soft bounced emails are never an issue, especially if emails are being rejected because your domain and / or sending IP addresses are blacklisted or the content you’re sending looks like Spam.

Deciding which is “worse” is not really the right thing to do and providing you’re paying attention to the reasons why emails are being rejected and then taking the correct course of action to remedy the situation (e.g. suppression, blacklist delisting etc.) then your sender reputation will continue to benefit as your send more email campaigns.

Tips for helping to avoid soft bounced emails

There are a number of things senders can’t control when it comes to reasons why emails are soft bounced and that’s simply down to how email works but there are things that you can do to start your campaigns off in the right way and to keep them on the straight and narrow. 

Use double opt-In 

Since you want to reach the maximum amount of people possible, it’s tempting to add users to your database as soon as they sign up. However, if you do this, you could run into the problem of invalid / incorrectly type email addresses.

This is where double opt-in is good option It provides a safety net, preventing this problem from occurring. A double opt-in will guarantee that the correct email address has been entered and confirmed before it makes it’s way onto your list. 

The GDPR states that a lawful basis to send an email to someone is required by law – an example of this would be where someone gives consent by subscribing to receive your monthly newsletter.

Without a lawful basis you run the risk of not only damaging the reputation of your brand but also being prosecuted by The Information Commissioners Office.

Stay on-top of list hygiene

Your email list should be cleaned regularly to remove people who are not interested in receiving emails from you. If your email list is full of people who are no longer interested in your marketing, you are far more likely to receive Spam complaints. 

Dormant email accounts may also become recycled spam traps and if that happens then it can be really bad for your campaigns, especially if one of the big mailbox providers blocks you.

Avoid Spam triggers

We know you’re not trying to create Spammy looking content but mail filters don’t care. They take a big sniff of the content and if it smells like Spam then that’s how it gets treated.

A good thing to do is to test out your content with Mail Tester – it runs your content through a series of health checks and gives you feedback on how you might be able to improve things.

Here’s a short list of a few other things to think about when preparing your email content…

  • Don’t ‘SHOUT’ – avoid using excessive capitals, exclamation and question marks
  • Proof read. Spam sounds like Spam
  • Do not use fake subject line prefixes such as ‘RE: …’ or ‘FW: …’
  • Use personalisation to make messages more focused
  • Avoid generic personalisation such as ‘Dear Friend’, ‘Dear Member’
  • Don’t command Users to ‘ACT NOW’ or use similar forceful phrases
  • Don’t attempt to disguise phrases using spaces or by obfuscating text

Put the information gathered to work

No sender wants emails to bounce but when it happens take the view that it’s an opportunity to use the information to fix things up. Whether that’s cleaning up your list, delisting domains & IP addresses or reviewing your email content to ensure it isn’t ‘Spammy’.

Oh, and don’t forget that not all ‘delivered’ emails stay ‘delivered’ so make sure you’re checking out those asynchronous bounces as well.

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