The Difference Between Hard Bounced & Soft Bounced Emails Explained

by Nicolae Buldumac
The Difference Between Hard Bounced & Soft Bounced Emails Explained

Every email campaign requires time, human effort and money to be set up and launched. Being the B2B marketing channel that generates some of the highest return on investment, it is also quite costly. Therefore the more recipients you are willing and able to reach, the better for your business. Yet even when you are sure about all the contacts’ addresses on your list you still get frustrated when receiving that undeliverable email message. 

According to EmailToolTester, in 2019 the average deliverability rate across email service providers was 79.6%. Therefore, a bit over 20% of emails, on average, were not delivered. Assuming that a business spends over 100 thousand pounds per year on email marketing only, and over 20% of that is wasted due to emails bouncing back to sender, that company has thrown £20,000 into the abyss. Add to that the fact, that not all emails delivered are opened too. Hence the question - how can email marketing brag about the highest ROI? Well, with the right effort, your deliverability rates can (and should) exceed 95%. For that, first of all you should understand why your emails get bounced, the types of email bounce, as well as ways how to handle bounced emails, and this is what this article is intended to help you with.

What Is Bounced Email?

Bounced emails are those that for a certain underlying reason were not delivered to the recipient’s inbox. If this happens, you, as the sender, receive a notification in the form of a bounce message, which in its turn usually comprises information that gives you an idea about the causes why your email bounced back and what can the consequences thereof be for you, be it a soft bounce or a hard bounce. But before digging into email bounce reasons, let us first see what is a soft bounce in email marketing and what is a hard bounce in email marketing.

Soft vs Hard Bounces

An email soft bounce occurs when the email address you were trying to reach out to does exist, yet was not able or not supposed to receive an email from you. Soft bounces are temporary because usually they happen when the recipient’s server is reached however cannot make it to his/her mail at this point in time. This means that you can still try again later, and many email service providers resend them automatically. Yet if your email continues to return respective errors during a certain period of time, various email service providers might stop trying to reach the email address that keeps bouncing. There is a wide range of determinants that would make your emails soft bounce:

  • Your email message does not meet the recipient’s server anti-spam or anti-virus requirements

  • Your email can not be transmitted between servers

  • Your email message was blocked due to content 

  • The domain name is non-existent

  • Your email message is too large or does not correspond to the recipient’s server’s DMARC requirements or policies

  • Too many email have been sent to the receiver’s email address during a certain period of time lately

  • The recipient’s inbox is full

  • The recipient’s mailbox is inactive or incorrectly configured

  • The email server of the recipient is offline or down

Email soft bounces, aside from usually being temporary occurrences, are not as harmful to your sender reputation as email hard bounce. 

The email hard bounce definition states that those emails that are returned to the sender because of a permanent delivery failure as retrying to deliver did not change the outcome are considered hard bounce emails. The types of underlying reasons can help you better understand what is an email hard bounce:

  • The email address you are trying to reach out to does not exist

  • The domain name does not exist

  • The recipient’s email server has completely blocked the delivery of your emails, either based on your IP or your domain name.

According to Statista, 14% of the companies they analysed had spent over £100,000 in 2018 on email marketing. We do not know the exact email bounce rate for that spending, however considering the averages, one can easily get an overall image of the dissipation incurred due to email bounces. 

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