What’s the best way to handle email bounces? Below are three best practices to employ when dealing with invalid email addresses. But first, let’s establish a basic understanding of the two types of bounces that you’ll find in your email stats dashboard.

Soft vs. Hard Bounce

A soft bounce is a temporary failure that happens when an email smtp server rejects an incoming message. This could be caused by a full mailbox or connection error. A soft bounce simply means that you can try to send your message again later when the condition has resolved.

A hard bounce is a permanent failure in which the host or recipient is unknown. This could be caused by a bad or expired email address. In this case you should not attempt to send the email again.

Three Rules of Thumb

1. Keep your email lists sparkling clean. Remove hard bounces immediately from your email file. A hard bounce is a permanent failure, so there is no need to continue attempting email delivery to an invalid email address. Repeatedly sending to addresses that result in hard bounces will inevitably make you look like a spammer and causes email deliverability issues. On the other hand, while soft bounces are temporary failures, you should pay close attention to why email is being soft bounced. For example, “mailbox full” messages could indicate low engagement in the inbox and lead to delivery problems as well.

2. Prevent invalid emails from getting on your list. Validate emails at the point of sign up by requiring subscribers to enter their email twice; then validate those entries against each other. This practice helps to filter out errors before they enter your email management system. Next, immediately confirm the email address with double opt-in and/or a welcome message. These steps help ensure the subscriber truly wants your messages.

3. Empower your subscribers to help you. Promote your preference center by inviting subscribers to update their email and preferences via a yearly email campaign. Also, make your preference center accessible from every email you send. This way you can actively prevent invalid email addresses and gain valuable data by letting your subscribers help maintain your file for you.

A firm understanding of what bounces are, why they happen and how to avoid them, will not only make you a much happier emailer, but you’ll be able to go to sleep knowing that you’ve done your part to clean up the world’s email environment.

Director, Developer Relations at @SendGrid. Passionate about bringing people together around things they love. I tweet at @TimFalls.