Let’s start with simple definitions: in email, a bounce happens when a recipient’s mail server rejects an email. It’s the email server equivalent to swiping left on a dating profile app. Hard bounces and soft bounces can be triggered for several reasons, and it’s important to know which type is affecting your email marketing campaign from reaching some of your contacts. Knowing the difference between a hard bounce versus a soft bounce will help you effectively handle each situation when they come up, while still maintaining your deliverability reputation and avoiding future bounces. 

What is a Hard Bounce?

A hard bounce is when an email is returned to the sender because of a permanent failure.

Possible Causes of a Hard Bounce

  • The email address is invalid
  • The domain name doesn’t exist
  • The recipient’s email server has blocked your emails

 How to Deal with a Hard Bounce

Because it’s a permanent failure, you can’t retry sending the email; this will negatively impact your email deliverability. The best step to take is to stop sending emails to this contact immediately. To avoid future hard bounces due to invalid email addresses, make sure to clean your contact lists regularly. When hard bounces do occur, analyze them to determine if the cause is an invalid email address or a non-existent domain. You should also check if you have been blacklisted or spam blocked by the mail server.

What is a Soft Bounce?

A soft bounce is when an email reached the recipient’s mail server, but it was rejected before it made it to the recipient.

Possible Causes of a Soft Bounce

  • A recipient’s mailbox is full, not configured correctly, or inactive
  • The email server is offline
  • The email server is rate limiting the number of messages it receives
  • The email message may be too large
  • The email message was blocked due to content
  • The email message doesn’t meet the email server’s policies
  • The email message doesn’t fulfill the email server’s DMARC authentication, anti-spam, anti-virus, and/or sender requirements
  • The email is not relaying between email servers or not relayed for other unknown reasons

How to Fix a Soft Bounce

A soft bounce is not permanent. You should retry sending a soft bounced email for up to 72 hours for one campaign; after that time period, you should suppress the email address for that campaign. Watch if this same address soft bounces in other campaigns, too—it may need to be suppressed entirely. If the soft bounce was caused by an out of office reply, check if the reply mentions anything about the recipient’s email address changing in the future and update your contact list if necessary.

If you use the emfluence marketing platform, you can track and find out more information on which bounces are happening to your emails. Look in the Reports tab of an email for a Bounce Reporting breakdown or see which email addresses bounced on the Message Summary page.

For more details on tracking bounces, check out the platform documentation.

How Can I Stop My Emails from Bouncing in the First Place?

Now that you know what a hard bounce versus a soft bounce is in email marketing, how can you prevent them from happening in future campaigns?

When gathering contact information, ask users to enter their email address twice to prevent typos. You can also use double opt-in: the recipient confirms subscription to newsletters or other digital correspondence with a link in an email. This guarantees the recipient is able to receive your emails at the correct address.

Another easy step is to clean your contact lists regularly and acquire them by legal means. Do NOT purchase email addresses from third parties. Addresses from third parties may have been acquired using illegal practices like scraping, which is gathering email addresses that are publicly posted online.

At emfluence, we recommend running a list cleanse at least twice a year so that you can ensure your list doesn’t have spam traps, inactive inboxes, or other issues. Take heart, however, that we will automatically handle hard and soft bounces for you and move them to the appropriate reports in the emfluence Marketing Platform.

Rebound from Email Bounces

What’s next? Watch your bounce logs and use your knowledge of a hard bounce versus a soft bounce to keep your email campaigns running smoothly and maintain your deliverability reputation. With the resources above, you can keep the email server swiping right on your emails.

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