Now that digital marketing is becoming an increasingly important piece of the industry (it's projected to take over 54% of overall marketing budgets within the next 5 years, with even greater increases for smaller companies), the role of a marketer has evolved. It's no longer enough just to create great engaging campaigns; you have to know how to optimize the technical infrastructure you use to deliver them, too. Quality marketing does not matter when your technical specifications are not in order. The most successful email marketing campaigns actively manage email bounces, and to make it to that level yourself, you'll have to do it too.
What Are Email Bounces?
An email bounce occurs when an email message fails to make it to the inbox of the person it was addressed to. There are two ways this can happen: hard bounces and soft bounces.
Hard bounces are the worst of the two possibilities. These happen because of serious problems like a non-existent addressee or a typo in the email address. These issues cannot be resolved regardless of what actions you take, but you may or may not be able to avoid more of them in the future.
Soft bounces are a little trickier to quantify. Some, like the kind that happen because of a full inbox or a temporarily downed server, are only minor nuisances and often correct themselves before too long. Others, though, are a little harder to solve. You might experience a soft bounce if a user places a spam complaint against you, or if you end up on a particular blacklist.
Why Manage Email Bounces At All?
Most marketers are working with limited resources and must spend them on the tasks and projects that are most likely to generate value for the company they represent. With this in mind, is it worthwhile to take the time to track and minimize email bounces?
The answer is a resounding yes. Even the initial effects of email bounces are quite harmful. When an email doesn’t make it to one of your leads, that person will not be influenced by your email marketing strategy. You’ve lost the ability to influence them through one of marketing’s most productive channels, and whether or not they eventually make a purchase from you is now mostly a matter of chance. This is clearly not an optimal situation for you to be working within. Paying attention to your bounce rates and determining why they happened will ensure that you can cultivate proper relationships with your leads and give you more chances to convert each one into a paying customer.
However, there's actually even more than just that to consider. Each of your email bounces affects far more than just your relationship with that one lead. Every single one is tracked and counted against your sender reputation. This is a score tracked by every Internet Service Provider (ISP) your leads might be using, and its purpose is to help weed out email traffic that users are not likely to want to receive: in other words, spam. A high bounce rate signals that you're sending out emails that may be poorly received with little care for where they end up, a philosophy which typically correlates with spam. This causes your score to fall. If your score dips too low, you may be placed on an ISP blacklist, which will cause all of your emails to people using that ISP to be filtered out of their inboxes. This can lose you dozens (if not hundreds) of leads in one fell swoop.
Even marketers who are aware of these facts sometimes fail to account for their full impact. Without good email bounce management, it won’t matter what you do in the future; all of your email marketing will be hobbled for a significant length of time. Poorly managed data is responsible for an estimated $15 million annual financial cost, according to Gartner’s Data Quality Market Survey. This underlines the importance of swift action to salvage your bottom and top lines. The earlier you can intervene on this issue, the better your results will be.
Slashing Your Bounce Rates
Now that we've established that you definitely want to cut down on your email bounces, how might you do it? Improving in this area is actually a much more holistic process than it might first appear. You should make sure that you:
- Get the Right Information
In order to improve on something, you must first know what the problem is. If you don’t know how many email bounces your typical campaign incurs, you don’t know if anything is wrong. This means that you won’t have a clear understanding of what kind of interventions are needed to solve your issues or how extensive they’ll have to be. For maximum effectiveness, you’ll also need to know what caused the bounces in the first place. Make sure you're using an email service provider that can display this information for you, and don't forget to check it often.
- Check Your Coding
Email bounces sometimes happen due to a stumbling block in the data collection process that causes you to have a high proportion of misspelled or incomplete addresses in your list. This could be something like a glitch that is disrupting the entry screen and causing it to accept the data while the user is still modifying the field. It could also be as simple as a text box that is too small for users with poor eyesight to easily verify that they have given you the correct address. These are relatively easy problems to fix, and doing so will pay off in spectacular fashion over time. Make sure you pick out the defective emails before you make any changes, though; you need to start with a clean slate for it to be effective.
- Revise Your Work, If Necessary
On the other hand, if a marketer experiencing a problem with email bounces can find no technical errors in any of their infrastructure, this may be a sign that there is a problem with some of their techniques. A lot of hard bounces might point to a large number of fake email addresses on their list. In that case, there may be a problem with their lead generation strategy failing to target truly interested people, and the bounce issues should be addressed from that angle. Unexplained soft bounces are an even more serious problem because they may be due to spam reports or even blacklisting due to poor email quality.
It's hard to have to face the fact that you may have done wrong, but you won't improve your revenue by sitting around and feeling sad about it. If you make up your mind to improve, you will almost certainly succeed in doing so. Brush up on current email marketing practices and run your messages through helpful tools before you send them out. With a little extra caution, you should be able to iron out any difficulties you may have accidentally caused.
- Make Contact Updating Easy
It's quite common for people to change email addresses every once in a while; statistics say that up to 30% of subscribers will do so each year. With the sheer amount of correspondence we all deal with now, it's no wonder that some subscriptions and contacts occasionally get left behind. This means that your emails will be going to an inbox that is unattended and will likely fill up quickly and start to cause soft bounces - that is, if the user doesn't delete it altogether and saddle you with a hard bounce.
Many leads may want to keep in touch with your brand but simply forget to do so once they've made the switch to a new address that isn't in your records. Make it clear that you value their continued attention by creating a button for contact information changes that is easy to spot and included with every email. This will increase the likelihood that leads will see it while they're still only planning to change their address and provide you with the new information before they make the change, solving a probable bounce issue before it even crops up.
- Take Advantage of Outside Help
In order to cut down on your bounce rates, you'll need to actively remove the offending users from your list. This, however, is an extremely time-consuming process that can't be easily managed by just one or two people. An average-sized subscriber list could easily incur hundreds of bounces that need investigating, and this won't only happen once - you need to clear out your list regularly as you accumulate new subscribers in order to keep it optimized.
Trying to do all that yourself will only result in sub-standard performance rates and you becoming burnt out. Meanwhile, those who have taken the plunge and started to implement solutions like email quality verification will likely not only have better performance, but will also have to put in considerably less effort to attain it. This means that they are free to spend their time on other high-ROI tasks without compromising their email management strategy at all. This does represent an additional expense, but it's one of the surest ways to greatly boost your confidence in your ability to manage your email bounces.
Lock Down Your Email Delivery
There are always exceptions, but a general rule about email bounces typically holds true: the lower your bounces, the higher your sales. It makes no sense to spend hours crafting the perfect marketing email only to leave its delivery essentially to chance. Taking the time to measure and address email delivery issues like this is one of the many things you can do to demonstrate the full extent of your skills to your employer - when that happens, everybody wins.