Hard and Soft Bounces

One of the great things about online marketing, such as email newsletters, is that there are so many great statistics that can be tracked and monitored. The downside to that is that there can be so much data and so many terms that it can be overwhelming. One term you’ll likely hear about in your newsletter analytics, is “bounce” – specifically, “soft bounce” and “hard bounce”. Let’s take a quick look at each and see what they might mean for your campaigns.

A “bounce” is an email delivery attempt that didn’t go through. What separates a soft bounce and a hard bounce, is whether or not it pays to keep sending emails to that email address. A soft bounce occurs when an email is sent to an email address, but for one reason or another it wasn’t able to deliver that email. If the user’s inbox was full and they’re maxed out on storage space, that would return as a soft bounce. Another example of a soft bounce would be if the recipient’s email server was down for a period of time.

While we may not know exactly why an email bounced, what we do know is that the email address is valid; the user just can’t accept email at that time. Most email newsletter systems such as Campaign Monitor will attempt to deliver to an email address a few times after it’s returned as a bounced email. If the problem was that the email server of the recipient was rebooting, when the newsletter campaign system sends the email a second time, it could potentially still be delivered.

Alternatively, a hard bounce is an email that will never get delivered because the email address itself is either no longer in use, or, was never valid to begin with – an invalid username. For example, if John Smith signed up for your email newsletter with the email address john.smith@company.com, but John is no longer employed by “company”, his email address will likely be deleted. This would result in a hard bounce. If someone signs up for your newsletter using a fake email address that doesn’t exist, this will also result in a hard bounce. For many email newsletter systems, an email that has a hard bounce will automatically be deleted from your list so you don’t send to that email anymore.

For many email newsletter systems, once an email address has experienced a soft bounce a few times, that email will automatically be converted to a hard bounce. For our Full Scope Creative newsletters, if an email address has a soft bounce 5 times in a row, it is then converted to a hard bounce and the email address is removed. If there is a soft bounce 4 times but the 5th time it’s opened, the count resets to 0.

It’s worthwhile to note that neither soft or hard bounces have anything to do with the spam folder. If your newsletter ends up in someone’s spam or junk folder, that is NOT reported as a bounce of either kind.

Soft bounces and hard bounces are really just two sides of a simple metric to see if your emails are being delivered to your users. Sending regular monthly or quarterly e-newsletters are a good tool in your online marketing toolkit, a great way to communicate with your customers, and a valuable component of any business’ marketing plan.