Not All Email Bouncebacks Are Created Equal. Some Drive Revenue.

October 3, 2017 12:24:37 PM | By Matt Benati

Not All Email Bouncebacks Are Created Equal

When talking with marketers about reply email mining, the conversation often includes talk of email bouncebacks. I’ve discovered over the years that people have a variety of definitions as to what an email bounceback actually is. You may be surprised what the difference is between an email bounceback and an auto-reply — and how to handle each within your Marketing Automation Platform (MAP).

Let’s take a look at what technically defines a bounceback, and also talk about the auto-replies that result from your email marketing campaigns. While those aren’t actually bounces, they are coming back to you and most importantly, they contain valuable nuggets of information that you don’t want to miss.

What Is A Bounceback, Really?

When your email server is unable to deliver a message, it returns a “bounceback” error message – also called a Non-Delivery Report/Receipt (NDR) – outlining the specific delivery problem. Bounces are either “hard” or “soft” depending on the error.

While some are temporary errors and your MAP or email service provider (like Marketo or MailChimp, respectively) will attempt to resend, others are permanent and you can no longer send to those contacts anymore.

Your MAP or email provider typically manages these bouncebacks by leveraging a specific header element (well-known header information includes To, From, Subject, ReplyTo) specifically for monitoring bounces. In doing so, theses systems are able to automatically trap, categorize, and hold all bouncebacks in a designated inbox or folder. This allows you to review your bounced emails in one place, versus having them come to your marketing inbox with other useful reply emails.

Soft Bounces

A soft bounce typically occurs when encountering an error or problem with the delivery of your email. This is usually a temporary issue like the recipient’s mailbox, server or ISP is misconfigured, their mailbox was full, or their server timed out. It could also be an issue on your side. If you’re a new sender, your IP reputation may not be strong enough to be accepted by some corporate servers, or your IP may have been temporarily graylisted as you work on building your reputation.

In these cases, the bounced email addresses will remain in your MAP and you can continue to try to send to them. If this same email address continues to trigger a soft bounce, however, it will eventually be considered a hard bounce. MAP and email service providers have different thresholds for how many soft bounces they’ll permit before classifying an email address as a hard bounce. MailChimp, for example, allows seven soft bounces for email addresses that have had zero activity and up to 15 soft bounces for those with previous subscriber activity before converting a soft bounce into a hard bounce.

Hard Bounces

A hard bounce is when your email cannot be delivered and typically indicates a permanent error. If the email address is invalid, expired or doesn’t exist, or if the recipient or their email server flagged you or your content as spam, you’re not getting in. Hard bounces also occur as a result of the recipient’s security policy. (But by using email best practices, you can avoid these hard bounces!)

In these cases, your MAP or email service provider will remove the bounced email addresses from your lists and will not send to them in the future. This protects your sender reputation, keeps deliverability rates stable, and ensures accurate email marketing statistics. It also protects the sender reputation of your email service provider, if you’re using one.

A Word On Bouncebacks & CRMs

It’s important to note that while your MAP or email service provider will manage hard bounces internally by removing them from your lists, it does not update your CRM. Ideally, you want a process to “flag” contacts in your CRM that hard bounce so sales people are aware and don’t waste time selling to someone who is no longer there.

Email Auto-Replies

Auto-replies (or auto-responses) such as Out-Of-Office (OOO), Left-The-Company (LTC), Sender Verification Request, etc. are not technically bouncebacks. It’s easy to lump them into the same category because they do come back quickly after sending a campaign.

But the distinction is two-fold.

First, auto-responses land in your marketing inbox.

Your MAP will automatically try to resend soft bounces and will remove hard bounces from your list. However, auto-replies need to be reviewed by a person – or an automated reply email mining service like LeadGnome – and acted upon accordingly.

Second, auto-replies provide actionable intelligence about your target accounts.

An OOO auto-reply can tell you exactly when your lead is back in the office, helping to increase connect rates. Additionally, an OOO may contain referral contacts and additional information like phone numbers, addresses, and titles that act as a super-fresh data source for continual database cleansing.

Likewise, a Left-The-Company (LTC) auto-reply indicates your lead is no longer with the company. This is a valuable sales trigger event because this type of email reply typically contains a replacement contact, giving your sales team a significant competitive advantage. Had the LTC not been caught, you would have eventually received a hard bounce (possibly 6+ months later!) and the timing advantage would have been lost.

Managing Bouncebacks vs. Reply Emails

Your MAP or email service provider likely have built-in protocols for managing hard and soft bounceback emails. Understanding how these bounces are handled will help you develop processes for tasks, such as flagging records in your CRM or adjusting campaign frequency.

Because auto-replies like LTC and OOO are not bouncebacks, they require an internal system for managing and mining the information from them. While this task has traditionally been done manually (or not at all!), a service like LeadGnome can automate the process.

LeadGnome manages reply emails by automatically mining them for Account Based Intelligence (ABI), saving you countless hours in human resources, eliminating data entry and human error, and acting as a data source that:

  • Cleanses customer databases continuously
  • Enriches existing leads continuously
  • Provides insight into target accounts
  • Delivers actionable sales trigger events
  • Generates >20% net new contacts
  • Increases engagement
  • Helps align sales and marketing

If you’d like to see examples of the most popular types of email auto-replies and highlights of exactly what data LeadGnome is able to mine from each, check out our free eBook: Transformative B2B Demand Generation.

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