There was a time when the programmed death of email was pretexted in favour of instant messaging because it was more direct, more interactive and more in tune with the age of immediacy. But almost 15 years after the launch of WhatsApp, email is doing more than holding its own: it is establishing itself as a decisive marketing channel, and the figures are there to prove it:
· One in two recipients say they make a purchase at least once a month after receiving an email (Salecycle) ;
· 37% of brands surveyed intend to increase their email marketing budget despite the uncertain economic climate (Litmus) ;
· When asked which form of content they use most in their efforts, 81% of B2B marketers cite email newsletters (Content Marketing Institute).
It’s a fact: despite their modernity and richer format, webinars, podcasts, video marketing campaigns and social networks have not eclipsed email marketing, which still generates a dithyrambic ROI, estimated at €36 for every euro spent. But if you want to make the most of this lever, you need to pay particular attention to a KPI that can restrict or even cancel out your efforts in this area: Hard Bounce. Here’s how it works…
What is Hard Bounce?
In simple terms, Hard Bounce refers to the irreversible failure of an email to reach its recipient. Unlike Soft Bounce, which can be the result of a temporary problem such as a full inbox, Hard Bounce signals a permanent problem that prevents the email from being delivered in the long term.
This failure to deliver can have several causes. Most often, Hard Bounce occurs when the recipient’s email address is incorrect, non-existent or has been deleted. It can also occur when an email domain blocks delivery, often for reasons relating to security or the internal policy of the email service provider.
Marketers need to track and analyse Hard Bounces to avoid compromising the reach and ROI of email campaigns. In addition to the undeliverability of a proportion of emails from polluted databases, email service providers keep a very close eye on hard bounce rates, with the consequences that we will develop in a moment.
Causes and risk factors of Hard Bounce
Effective management of hard bounces requires an in-depth understanding of their underlying causes and the associated risk factors, especially as marketers do not always have in-depth knowledge of data quality or network infrastructure.
These delivery failures are not isolated incidents, but rather indicators that reveal deeper problems in the email marketing strategy. They may, for example, highlight errors in data collection and management, technical problems or even failures to comply with regulations.
Understanding these causes and risk factors will help to reduce their occurrence, protect the sender’s reputation and, more generally, improve the ROI of campaigns. Let’s take a closer look at these factors:
- Blocking by the email service provider: if a sender is identified as a potential source of spam or if their emails contain elements considered harmful (suspicious links, malicious attachments), the email service provider may block delivery and cause a Hard Bounce ;
- Incorrect or non-existent email addresses: sending emails to incorrect, non-existent or deleted addresses leads to a hard bounce. This is most often a problem with Data Quality Management, with databases that are polluted, poorly updated or not updated at all, or purchased from dubious third parties ;
- Incorrect configuration of the sending domain: if the sending domain is not correctly configured, particularly with regard to standard authentication protocols such as SPF (Sender Policy Framework), DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance), a Hard Bounce is highly likely;
- Suspicious or non-compliant content: emails containing elements deemed suspicious by anti-spam filters, such as dubious links, unusual formatting or excessive use of blacklisted terms, can cause a Hard Bounce.
Hard Bounce: potentially serious and irreversible consequences
As you will have realised, Hard Bounce is not simply a technical failure in the delivery of an email. It is a major brake on the performance of your marketing campaigns. The repercussions can be both significant and long-lasting for your marketing efforts and your ROI. In a nutshell…
1. Damage to the sender’s reputation
A high Hard Bounce rate indicates to email service providers that your practices are suspect (spam, failure to respect the right to unsubscribe, dubious links, etc.). A blacklisted domain name will no longer be able to launch email campaigns, and even emails that are not guilty of borderline sending will be affected if they have the same domain name.
2. Drop in delivery rates
A series of hard bounces will inevitably undermine the deliverability of your emails, even if the domain name is not blacklisted. The reach of your campaigns is therefore severely limited, and you will only reach a fraction of your customers and/or prospects, with a direct impact on sales performance.
3. Impact on the campaign’s ROI
Every undelivered email is a loss of revenue. If your messages don’t reach your recipients’ inboxes, your email marketing KPIs take a hit, and you’ll find it hard to negotiate new budgets;
4. GDPR compliance issues
In France and the EU, the GDPR governs the way in which personal data must be handled. A high Hard Bounce rate indicates inappropriate management of email addresses, and perhaps even the use of lists that do not comply with the regulations. This is a signal that can trigger investigations by the CNIL, and potentially lead to heavy penalties.
5. Waste of resources
The time and money spent designing and sending emails to incorrect or blocked addresses are wasted resources… an important factor in an uncertain economic climate where CMOs are looking to optimise operations to reduce costs.
6. Tarnished brand image
If you are marked as spam or if your emails are constantly rejected, the perception of your customers and prospects will logically suffer. Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose, especially on digital channels.
The consequences of Hard Bounce range from the irreversible loss of your reputation as a sender to problems with GDPR compliance, but they all point to one thing: the erosion of the ROI of your marketing campaigns. Preventing hard bounce is therefore not an option, but a necessity if you want to remain competitive. Good practice can easily be derived from the causes and risk factors:
- Data Quality Management, in particular with a solution for checking email addresses when they are entered (on contact forms) or curatively, on established databases ;
- Use only consented and legitimately acquired contacts in your mailing list ;
- Configure authentication protocols correctly, using standards such as SPF, DKIM and DMARC, so that emails are perceived as “legitimate” by email service providers ;
- Avoid suspicious content, including dubious links, unusual formatting, blacklisted terms, etc.