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Why do e-mails bounce?

In every mass mailing there are usually a number of hard bounces – meaning that we can no longer deliver mail to these addresses.  Why?  Well there are several good reasons. People change their e-mails all the time. When this happens, opt-in signed up e-mail subscribers can no longer be reached. It is a nuisance.  It is not your fault. There is nothing you can do about it.  It is not something you did. It is something that they did.  Right?  Well, yes, except possibly no. In some research we have been doing at the Institute we have found an interesting correlation between frequency and the undeliverable rate.  This surprising fact emerged from a study of 213 e-mail marketers who send an average of two billion e-mails per month to over 417 million subscribers – mostly in the US.

First, how many hard bounces are there in a typical commercial e-mail situation? We found that the number is much lower than we had anticipated.

As you can see, the average rate is 2.85% and the median (the one in the middle) is 3.15% per year. Many are quite low, But some are as high as 20% loss per year.  What are the determining factors?  Is it possible that some subscribers are doing something to stop the flow because they are upset at the number of e-mails that they receive and, instead of unsubscribing, are taking the drastic step of changing their e-mail to get rid of it?  Of course, when they do this, they cut off all commercial e-mails –not just yours.  Here is what we found:


You can’t argue with these numbers. There is a definite trend. Despite the dip at 15-19 and at 30+, it is impossible to escape seeing that something we have done (sending more e-mails per month) correlates with the permanent bounce rate.

If this is true, what can you do about it? You can do the same thing that we recommend for the unsubscribers.  We can get in touch with them to see if we could turn them around by offering to reduce the frequency of their e-mails. But how can we do that, when the subscribers’ emails are undeliverable?

The answer, of course, is to apply ECOA to these undeliverables.  Fresh Address has an excellent record in finding new addresses for undeliverables. It is possible that our subscribers did not intend to drop our promotional e-mails. They were just trying to eliminate someone else’s frequent e-mails.

What would it cost and what would it be worth for us to do that? Fresh Address takes the e-mail addresses we give them, looks up the new address, and asks these folks whether they want to continue to receive promotional e-mails from us.  They charge only for those who say yes. Not for those who say no.  So we are not risking much by asking them to do this.

Suppose we have done our subscriber lifetime value analysis. We have determined that each deliverable subscriber produces an average $20 in three year profit – a typical result.  If Fresh Address charges $0.50 for each new opt-in address, we will make $19.50 for every recovered address – a pretty good return on investment.  It is worth looking into.

Then, as soon as we recover them, we send them an e-mail asking them if they feel they have been getting too many e-mails and would like to reduce the frequency of their e-mails. Better to send them only two or three a month, and keep them, that continuing to send them more than they want.


Arthur Middleton Hughes, vice president of The Database Marketing Institute, has presented 28 seminars on database and email marketing.  Arthur has also authored several books includingStrategic Database Marketing 4th Edition (McGraw-Hill 2012). He and Andrew Kordek, chief strategist and co-founder of Trendline Interactive, are hosting a two-day Email Strategy Study Group in Fort Lauderdale  March 26-27, 2013, featuring group competition for email marketers responsible for subscriber acquisition, lifetime value, ratings and reviews, boosting their email budget, and doubling their ROI.  To learn how to attend the Study Group,click here.

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About Arthur

Arthur Middleton Hughes has published over 200 articles on Database and E-mail Marketing. Click Here to read them.

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