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9 Ways to Reduce Your Email Bounce Rate

Rachelle Gordon
Rachelle Gordon

Your email bounce rate is a key performance indicator that demonstrates how many subscribers aren't receiving your communications.

Email marketing is a crucial engine for any business. One of the easiest ways to engage with customers past, present, and future, emails have an amazing ROI (return on investment) when deployed efficiently. The results of email marketing campaigns are important to note and may shape your future efforts based on both successes and failures. Key performance indicators (KPIs) include the percentage of recipients who opened the email, what they clicked on, and how many recipients opted out of future communications.

Email bounce rates are another important metric to consider, yet they are often overlooked by digital marketing teams. By understanding this data, you can fine-tune campaigns to achieve better overall outcomes. But what exactly does your bounce rate measure, and how can you improve it?

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What is an email bounce rate?

A bounce rate represents the number of emails in a campaign that get "bounced" back, meaning they could not be delivered to the intended recipient. A high bounce rate negatively impacts engagement and email deliverability – two crucial performance indicators for any marketing team.

There are two types of email bounces: soft and hard bounces.

  • Soft bounce: Typically due to a full inbox or server issue (or even an unusually large email), soft bounces are temporary delays and generally less problematic for marketing teams. Contacts that yield soft bounces do not need to be removed from email lists, but if problems persist, you may want to remove those addresses in the future.

  • Hard bounce: A hard bounce is more serious, as it means there is a permanent delivery failure. This can occur when an email address is incorrect or a domain has expired. Worse yet, a hard bounce may be indicative of a spam label. You should always take these contacts off your email list as soon as you identify the hard bounce, since increased bounce rates can lead to spam designation (more on that later).

How do you calculate bounce rate?

Bounce rates are fairly easy to determine, even if your company doesn't use email marketing software. Use this equation to determine your campaign's bounce rate as a percentage:

(Number of Bounced Emails ÷ Number of Emails Sent) x 100

For example, if your email newsletter goes out to 10,000 contacts and 15 bounce back, your bounce rate would be 0.15%.

You should monitor your bounce rates closely, as they represent the health of both your company's email list and the marketing campaigns themselves.

What is a good email bounce rate?

Even the best email marketers experience a bounced email from time to time, but consistent hard bounces are definitely worth noting. Acceptable bounce rates vary slightly between industries, but they should be around 2% on average. Bounce rates between 2% and 5% are slightly troubling, and anything above 5% is a definite cause for concern. This may demonstrate an issue in the email acquisition process or the emails being sent in general.

Fortunately, there are several ways to keep bounce rates low and simultaneously increase deliverability and engagement.

How to reduce your email bounce rate

If your marketing emails are seeing higher bounce rates than you'd like, try one (or all!) of the following tactics:

1. Clean your email list regularly.

It's inevitable that some email addresses on your list will become inactive over time. Subscribers may change their emails, and business associates may move to new companies – these contacts are bounces waiting to happen. By systematically scrubbing your email list every so often, you can keep your bounce rates low.

Delete any addresses that have sent a hard bounce (or several soft bounces) or that have not opened an email in several months. You can do this manually or via third-party service such as NeverBounce, which automatically determines which email addresses are legitimate, still valid, and worth your valuable time.

2. Ensure emails aren't spammy.

Marketing emails should be thoughtful and captivating, not obnoxious and aggressive. Spam accounts for 53% of emails sent around the world, and email service providers have taken steps to reduce the barrage of fake inheritance letters and weight loss pill advertisements flooding inboxes every day. This could mean your useful company newsletter gets flagged, even if it's not technically spam.

Follow these tips to break past spam filters:

  • Triple-check for broken images and other formatting problems.
  • Avoid copy commonly used in spam, such as "100% satisfied," "free" and "act now!"
  • Include business information such as your company's address and phone number in the email footer.
  • Use sentence case and contacts' first names in subject lines to appear less imposing.

3. Double your opt-ins – and make them count.

Deploying a double opt-in strategy when a new subscriber signs up for your marketing emails will help you keep spam accounts and bots at bay, so it's an excellent way to combat high bounce rates.

A double opt-in requires a contact to confirm their email address through an initial email that they receive automatically upon registration. This ensures the email address they provided is correct and able to accept your company's correspondence. You may also want to remind the subscriber to add your marketing email address to their contacts to prevent spam filtering of your emails.

4. Segment email lists by engagement.

Email service providers analyze many different metrics in an attempt to identify junk mail, including open rates (the percentage of sent emails that were opened) and click-through rates (what portion of the opened email was read or interacted with). While they aren't the most important factors, they still play a key role.

Segmenting email lists by engagement is a great practice for marketing departments and businesses in general, as it can help you effectively target your efforts. In this case, you determine which contacts had the highest engagement rates with your past email campaigns and send your future emails to these people first. This is an easy way to evade an automatic trip to the spam folder.

5. Send campaigns consistently.

Remaining in touch with the people you care about is the cornerstone of any relationship, and email marketing is no different. If you send newsletters or product announcements sporadically or irregularly, subscribers might forget who you are and why they signed up to receive your emails in the first place, priming them to unsubscribe and mark you for their spam folder.

Regular, meaningful campaigns will encourage your contacts to anticipate your content, increasing your open rates. (Don't overdo it, though – too many emails will feel intrusive.)

6. Avoid buying email lists.

Purchasing contact lists is never recommended, as this will almost always increase your bounce rates. Whether from trade show organizers looking to further monetize attendees or a service that offers curated, industry-specific B2B targets, the promise of instant success from a sea of strangers is really just a bait-and-switch.

The contacts on these email lists never opted in to your marketing campaigns and will likely mark your communications as spam. One too many spam designations and the entire domain may blacklist your organization, which is an extremely challenging and costly problem to overcome. The risks of buying email lists outweigh any possible rewards – it's simply not worth it.

7. Use your own domain.

Sending emails from an owned domain is another simple way to avoid spam detection, as it legitimizes your business. While free Gmail or Yahoo accounts may be acceptable for personal correspondence, professional communications should always come from a company email address.

Most website providers can integrate emails with mainstay service providers such as Google, offering a streamlined way to keep in touch with your subscribers without setting off junk-mail alarms.

8. Conduct A/B tests.

To help determine how emails resonate with subscribers, you might want to perform A/B tests. This means you send two slightly different versions of the same email to select contacts, with the version that attracts the most engagement winning the right to be sent to the rest of your contacts. Variations you can test include different subject lines, text links vs. buttons for your call to action, and different placement of the lead content.

A/B tests are particularly useful in reducing bounce rates, as they may reveal which emails are perceived as spammy and, better yet, what your audience enjoys engaging with the most.

9. Invite contacts to update their information.

This seemingly obvious tactic is often overlooked in the sea of email marketing strategies, but it could make a world of difference. As discussed earlier, people change their email addresses for various reasons. Some choose to phase out one address while transitioning to another one, offering a window of opportunity for businesses looking to stay in touch.

A message with an "update profile" form will allow subscribers to inform your company of any changes in their contact information, including their email address. You can then amend this data in your master contact list, preventing a hard bounce.

Email bounce rates – a small but crucial metric

Maximizing ROI is a key goal of any business or marketing department, and email campaign metrics are important indicators of performance. Bounce rates, while only one small piece of the puzzle, are still imperative to analyze. They serve as health indicators for your email list, leading you to the data insights you need to ensure your future campaigns' success. Consider this data the low-hanging fruit of your email marketing strategy, using the techniques above to pick off your soft and hard bounces consistently and effectively.

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Rachelle Gordon
Rachelle Gordon
business.com Contributing Writer
Rachelle Gordon is a Minneapolis-based content writer who has written extensively on topics such as finance, marketing, cannabis, sustainability and tech. Her work has appeared in Benzinga, SlickDeals, and High Times. Prior to her career in journalism, Rachelle was an educator and has a passion for sharing knowledge. She enjoys helping businesses maximize efficiency while staying true to their core values.