Email marketing is hard.

Some might argue that B2B email marketing is harder today than it was 5 years ago or 10 years ago, but I would probably counter with “its always been hard.” There are just different challenges today.

There are so many factors that contribute to the success of an email program: whether it’s a one-off promotion, a regular nurture or subscription program, or a sequenced email drip over the course of month.There’s subject line, content, graphics. And don’t forget Time of day, Day of week, Month of year. Or segmentation, personalization, automation …

And I have not even mentioned the “D” word yet: daunting and difficult email Deliverability.

Your ability to actually get your email in front of your intended recipient is kinda a big deal.

SendGrid breaks down a list of factors that contribute to successful email delivery:

High Email Bounce Rates and Sender Reputation

Before we drop the truth bombs, let’s talk about reputation.

What’s an email sender reputation?

As the name suggests, it is the “reputation associated with your email sending behavior” – specifically, your IP address and domain.

According to SendGrid, your reputation depends on 6 elements:

  • Properly Formatted Email
  • Consistent Volume
  • Avoiding Spam Traps
  • Low Bounce Rates
  • No Blacklist Appearances

Why is email sender reputation important?

Emails are critical for outbound marketing

 

“A low sender score may cause a service provider to divert your emails to the spam folders of recipients within their network. In some cases, the emails might not get delivered at all,” shares NeverBounce. “Maintaining a strong email reputation score is key to optimizing your marketing efforts.”

Did you know DiscoverOrg acquired Neverbounce in February 2019? Learn more.

How can you monitor sender reputation?

There are several organizations that track and monitor your sending behavior, and others that keep a running blacklist of those with poor sending reputations – email service providers (ESPs) look to both to determine whether or not an incoming email is safe to receive.

Whether or not you are monitoring your sending reputation regularly, it is being monitored. (Hint: You should be too!)

If you’re not sure where to start, here are the tools that we use at DiscoverOrg to monitor our sender reputation:

  • Mx Toolbox — We use this mostly to monitor blacklists as well as check the technical set up of our emails.
  • Sender Score – Monitoring the overall health of our IP and sending domain.
  • Reputation Authority — This is more focused on domain and allows you to see the volume impact on your sending reputation. Slightly confusing because the lower the score the better – which is the opposite of the other two.

Read it: How to Slay Email Verification and Email Deliverability

Why Emails Bounce

A really quick way to damage your sending reputation is to drive up your bounce rate!

Your bounce rate is the percentage of emails that you tried to send to that were rejected or bounced.

 

Not good. But how and why do emails bounce in the first place?

  1. Soft Bounce – Temporary failure (ex. Someone is out of the office and their inbox is full); Your email may go through if you try sending it another time.
  2. Hard Bounce – Permanent failure; Your email will not go through no matter how often yo try.

As with most things email-related, there are a lot of factors. But the primary reason for a hard bounce is simply that the email is not valid. This could be because:

A high bounce rate is the result of sending emails to multiple addresses that are no longer valid on a consistent basis.

As a rule of thumb, you should be aiming for a bounce rate below 3%. Most ESPs will not allow you to send out campaigns with a bounce rate over 5%.

Got it? OK – Time for two truths and a lie about email deliverability!

Learn more: Why 100 – 40 = 20…And Other Email Delivery Mysteries Solved (with Neverbounce CEO Brad Owen)

1) Sending to bad emails can impact your ability to send to good ones

high email bounce rates

 

If you look at the Deliverability Rate in your email sending platform, it is easy to think, Hey, 80% of my emails were delivered! That’s pretty good! … and then leave it at that.

However, not only could your ESP decide to suspend your sending behavior with a bounce rate that high, your sending reputation could also get dinged by organizations that are monitoring it.

High bounce rates signal potential of poor email sending practices.

Basically, a high bounce rate says, “Hey! This sender over here does not seem to care about how old their list is or how accurate! What else do they not care about? Relevant and helpful content? Maybe. Being CAN-SPAM compliant? Maybe that, too ….”

 

None of that may be true about you, of course – but your bounce rate implies otherwise.

So, your sending reputation will decline. Blacklist operators could get wind of your implied sending behavior and decide to list you as well. And to be safe, email servers and email filtering services will start to block your emails based on what they know about your sending reputation. Your own ESP could betray you as well, assuming that with a high bounce rate they should investigate and suspend your account in the meantime.

The more frequently you send to invalid emails, the harder that it will be for you to get any of your emails through to your intended recipient – valid email or not!

Fortunately, all hope is not lost!

Just take some time to validate emails before sending to them and regularly update your marketing database.

Internally, we validate emails as they enter our system in near real-time and quickly filter out the invalid addresses. In addition, we have processes in place in our Marketing Automation Platform to timestamp the last date of email validation, and we validate the on a regular, ongoing basis.

This process does not solve for all email reputation woes, but it definitely takes care of the bulk of them!

Read it: What is SPAM: The Truth About Cold Email

2) Organically-obtained emails – like from web form fills – are the most trustworthy.

High bounce rates signal potential of poor email sending practices

 

This seems logical, right? Someone who wants to download an ebook or – better yet – have someone follow up with them should be the most likely source for their valid email address.

Logical? Maybe. Truth? Actually – no.

Here’s the reality: A web visitor might really want your ebook, but they don’t usually need you to email it to them. More often, they’re directed to the asset itself, or a download, regardless of whether the email is valid. So, type [email protected] or [email protected], and repeat.

Sometimes a web visitor isn’t actually a person. Crazy, right? Bots, hackers and the like fill out web forms in mass just for kicks! IndustrialMarketer says, “To better understand, consider spam at a large scale. These spammers have “bots” (automated systems that crawl the web). These bots look for web forms, fill them out with spammy text and links, and finally submit the form.”

Even the most authentic and sincere of web visitors sometimes make mistakes and submit an email with a typo. (Hey, web visitors are people too!)

 

And even those that submit their correct email – well, that email is only valid for a short period of time. Maybe they leave the company next week or next month when you decide to target them for your next great campaign. Or maybe they get married and IT forgot to forward their previous email address.

Even if an email address is correct when it was submitted via your web form, it won’t stay valid for long. Data typically decays at 30% per year, at minimum.

Need I remind you of our first truth?

Sending to bad emails impacts your ability to send to good ones. You should validate every email address – even those that are organically obtained – prior to sending an email. And then keep validating regularly.

3) Email data quality is the most important piece of your email marketing strategy

email performance metrics are not helped by invalid email addresses

 

Email senders spend a lot of time and effort on the content of the email: the copy, the layout, the design … think that enough A/B testing alone will have the biggest impact on email performance.

I admit that there was a time when I would have wholeheartedly agreed. Not any more.

If a package gets lost in the mailroom or delivered to the wrong address, does it matter what’s inside or how beautifully it’s wrapped? Nope.

The same goes for email: In order for the copy and content to have an impact, your email has to be seen! Having a valid email address ensure that a perfectly crafted, thoughtfully designed email actually makes it to the inbox of the intended recipient.

Additionally, the fewer individuals who receive your email, the lower your open, click-to-open, and response rates will be. So your email performance metrics are not helped by invalid email addresses either.

Refer back to the first truth: Sending to bad emails impacts your ability to send to good ones. Said another way: The more bad email addresses that are included in your email campaign, the more likely that your email will not be received by others with valid email addresses. It will land in the junk folder, or worse, rejected all together – wasting all of that effort that you put into the subject line and placement of the buttons!

While having good data is not the only factor in determining your sending reputation or the performance of your emails, it is the most important – simply because nothing else matters if you don’t get this piece right.

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About the author

DeAnn Poe

As the Vice President of Marketing at DiscoverOrg, DeAnn and her team are responsible for sourcing 50% of the company’s pipeline and revenue through inbound and outbound demand gen programs. DeAnn has over 15 years of experience serving in Demand Gen and MarComm functions at software companies across a variety of verticals. DeAnn holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from California State University, San Marcos. She is Inbound Marketing certified, a Certified Trade Show Marketer (CTSM), and a 2017 Marketo Revvie Award finalist.