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Improve your email bounce rate: The deliverability mindset

In the marketing world, metrics are king, and everyone is eager to crack the code of email bounces and lock in what the ideal rate should be for any given sender. It turns out that the secret to lowering bounce rates lies in deliverability. Not convinced? Let us change your mind.



Oh, the elusive email bounce rate, the bane of email marketers everywhere. Email marketing metrics like open rate, conversion rate, click-through rate, and engagement rate can reveal a lot about your email marketing strategy. So it’s understandable that everyone is eager to crack the code of email bounces and lock down what the ideal rate should be for any given sender. After all, more bounces mean fewer emails in the inbox, which further means fewer of your intended recipients even get to read your email.

We can talk endlessly about the differences between hard bounces and soft bounces, but it makes more sense to focus on your email deliverability strategy as a whole. So, let’s zoom out and talk about what “good” and “bad” bounce rates mean, and how you can reduce your bounce rate by optimizing your email program.

What’s an email bounce rate?

Your email bounce rate is determined by the number of emails that are not delivered to your recipient’s mail server versus the total number of emails sent.

There are two types of email bounces:

  • Soft bounces: Caused by temporary issues, outages or delivery failures that can resolve over a period of time.

  • Hard bounces: Permanent delivery failures because the recipient’s email address isn’t valid or the domain is unknown, etc. Too many email hard bounces can impact your email deliverability.

A high bounce rate raises alarms, especially if it comes out of nowhere. Senders are left scrambling when they’re hit with a sudden bounce rate increase, and will immediately start looking for the root cause.

Chances are, an unexpected email bounce rate increase is the result of some sort of outage on the email service provider (ESP) or inbox service provider (ISP) side of things. Outages that affect your recipient’s email server are out of your control, but the other culprits are things you can influence. Maybe something is off with your email list, or maybe your content is being spammed. A good place to start is to learn what your bounce rate is.

How can I check my email bounce rate?

Your bounce rate is a way to gauge how many emails you can place into your recipient’s inbox. Let’s take a look at an example:

Let’s say you sent out 100 emails for your latest email campaign. Five of those emails bounced. Your email bounce rate is 5/100, or 5%.

Check your bounce rate by using your ESP’s logs and analytics to see how many of your emails bounced. From there you can delve deeper into reports and maybe even create some a/b testing to improve your bounce rate.

What’s a good email bounce rate?

We get this question a lot, especially when it comes to email marketing campaigns. While your bounce rate is a good email marketing benchmark, we aren’t huge fans of the terms “acceptable bounce rate” or “average email bounce rate”.

In an ideal world, bounces would only exist on trampolines, and your emails would deliver straight to your user’s inbox every time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen, and senders get stuck on statistics like a 2.1% bounce rate, wondering what went wrong. A 2.1% bounce rate arguably isn’t that worse off than 2%. Sure, you want a low bounce rate, ideally under 2% as a standard, but to some senders, 2% is too high.

People fixate too much on the bounce rate and not enough on their deliverability.

What’s the bounce rate analysis paralysis?

Getting bogged down in bounce rate metrics can distract you from your email deliverability. We’ll bite and admit that, yes, decreasing your bounce rate would increase your chances of landing in the inbox, but — if you have them in place — email sending best practices will do the heavy lifting for you.

For example, when you improve your email lists by cleaning them up and using subscriber list generation methods that involve double opt-ins, you’ll have a lower number of bounces because your contacts will be validated and your recipients will have actively chosen to receive your messages.

Shifting the focus away from solving the bounce rate issue, and shining it on establishing a better sending practice, will allow you to build improved email campaigns that yield more pleasant metrics. If you create engaging content that resonates with your recipients, great analytics are bound to follow.

What are some tips to reduce my bounce rate?

Remember, the best way to reduce a high email bounce rate is to focus on improving your deliverability and overall sender reputation and practices.

Here are some best practices for you to reduce your email bounce rates:

1. Use double opt-in

Check yourself before you wreck yourself! Better yet, have your customers do it for you. While it may seem counterintuitive to add another step to your customer’s path to purchase, or an additional step to signup forms for new subscribers, giving your users a chance to verify their intentions with a double opt-in (usually with a confirmation email) can help reduce bounce rates but also increase open rates.

2. Make it easy to unsubscribe

It’s always sad to wave goodbye, but like in a relationship, sometimes it’s just time to let your subscribers go. Make it easy for them to opt out of your emails by adding a clear unsubscribe option to your email templates. Otherwise, your subscribers may mark your messages as spam. Too many spam or abuse complaints spell disaster for your email deliverability. In a best-case scenario, you land in the spam folder. In a worst-case scenario, you end up on a blocklist which increases your bounce rate.

3. Perform email validations

Keep it clean. A key strategy to keep your email list clean is to perform regular email verifications. Catch and remove disengaged users, invalid email addresses, and spam traps from your email list before your emails bounce. Check out Mailgun’s Email validation Service to streamline your workflow. Maintain a clean email list filled with valid email addresses from users who want to receive your emails.

4. Don’t forget to authenticate

Is it really you? You need more than a great email subject line to get into your reader’s inbox. You need to prove you are who you say you are. Remember to set up your authentication records, including SPF, DKIM, DMARC, and BIMI. These email authentication protocols tell ISPs that the emails coming from your email domain name are actually sent by you. This helps ISPs trust you and decide to place your email messages in your reader’s inbox.

Change your mindset

Focusing less on a high bounce rate can be a challenge – especially if that’s been one of your more important metrics over time. A good way to make this change is to audit your email program.

When was the last time you cleaned your mailing list? Have you authenticated everything to avoid hitting spam filters? Are the file sizes reasonable? These are just some questions to get you started, but they’ll quickly relieve some of your bounce rate woes.

We hope these best practices help clean up your sender reputation and increase your email delivery rate. More deliveries and better deliverability will mitigate your bounce rate problem in no time, and you’ll spend less time hunched over the analytics page with your hands on your head.

Time to bounce

Time for us to bounce… not your emails. Remember, it’s better to focus on deliverability as a whole rather than get lost in the particulars of bounce rate metrics.

Deliverability is a smorgasbord of metrics and strategies, and bounce rates are just one slice of the pie. Ready to start sending? Let Mailgun help you keep your deliverability up with our Inbox Placement suite of deliverability tools.

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