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Email Bounces: Must-Know Info for COVID-19…

There are plenty of ways the world has changed recently, and companies both large and small are working at breakneck speeds to adapt to the constantly evolving “normal.”

And this is no less the case for email marketers, especially when it comes to changes in email deliverability during COVID-19.

In our recently published Email Benchmarks: COVID-19 Edition, we discovered that, despite the broadcast email fatigue during the first major changes in March, email send volumes weren’t vastly different from what was expected. Behaviors around these sends may have been different (some industries and/or brands had the need to send more than others), but we found that send volumes only had a slight increase, while open rates climbed.

But the world’s changes are still causing us to think through our reactions. So let’s look at what marketers might be worried about during this time, in terms of email bounces, as well as what can be done to combat any undesired change.

Factors that could influence bounce rates during COVID-19

Some of our customers have expressed concern lately about the effect the changing world may have on their email lists. Let’s explore two major themes that email marketers may be concerned about, and then we’ll work to debunk any myths and give practical steps to handle any issues.

Factor #1: There’s more opportunity for bad actors.

With any worldwide event, catastrophe, invention, or milestone, it’s not uncommon to see a corresponding slew of bad actors work to take advantage of people. This can birth what most people know as spammers.

There have been a few reports of this happening, like the “reopen” domains that were bought in response to President Trump’s tweets about reopening states. Or the rise in COVID-related domains that have been purchased and are now associated with sending spam. And, while this may alarm some newer to email deliverability and spamming, this isn’t a surprise to experts in the industry.

The rise in COVID-related spamming may cause email clients to be slightly more conservative at this time when considering what emails to allow through to their customers. But, at this point, inbox providers are adapting at such a rapid pace that this should really only concern you (and will likely only affect you) if you’re a bad actor or spammer.

Next step: For essential industries related to COVID-19 (like pharma, finance, government, healthcare, etc.), one key takeaway is to protect your deliverability by setting up DMARC authentication. This is a vital way to prevent bad actors misusing or spoofing your sending domain. Read our help article on authentication or learn more from this article on Vox.

Factor #2: Emails are being deactivated due to the rise in unemployment.

With an incredibly high unemployment rate occurring around the world, some marketers are concerned about contacts on their lists having deactivated emails.

And, while this is something that could be happening, it actually happens year round.

Companies choose how and when to deactivate an email account on their own accord. Sometimes emails are forwarded to another role in the company, and the email isn’t actually deactivated. If an email does actually get deactivated, there’s no telling whether it’s right when the employee leaves the company, or months later in a batch with hundreds of other emails when IT gets around to it.

Bottom line: Email deactivations happen pretty consistently around the year, which is why your email strategy needs to include methods for handling these changes, as well as other practices to address bounces. So, with that, let’s uncover what you can do.

Tips for addressing bounces during COVID-19

As stated in the last section, these tips are really just slightly expanded over the typical deliverability practices your email team should have in place already.
When it comes to bounces and deliverability, there’s a consistent playbook to run off of, even when new circumstances force you to call an audible. But that playbook should stay the same, and you should know it by heart.

And, as always, it’s best to consult a deliverability expert before making any large or sweeping decisions that may impact your sender reputation.

Here’s our playbook on deliverability during COVID-19—and beyond.

1. Protect email engagement.

Engagement is the primary indicator for how inbox providers are going to treat your incoming emails.

If you have a tiny but extremely engaged list (subscribers are consistently opening and clicking), it’s likely that every message is going to have a strong delivery and deliverability rate, pending any issues with deactivated emails. But, on the other extreme, if you have a huge list and only two percent of people are engaging with your emails, inbox clients are going to view your emails as undesirable, and may not place them in the inbox.

So the first step is to constantly monitor engagement and make sure you’re looking at it over time.

If engagement looks off, try a temporary suppression.

If things look off from the norm, it might be time to focus on only engaged subscribers for a while, and suppress inactive recipients for a while. The timeframe for a temporary suppression should be based on your typical send cadence (e.g. if you’re sending daily, then maybe you suppress them for two weeks, as opposed to six weeks).

Temporary suppressions can be a great tactic to give fatigued subscribers a break and let them be delightfully surprised when an email from your brand pops back into their inbox. Another great tactic is to let subscribers opt in to a temporary suppression by using a preference center with options for varying email cadences.

Have a regular cadence for re-engagement campaigns.

Anyone remotely acquainted with deliverability has heard this before: A healthy list requires regularly scheduled re-engagement campaigns.

Put simply, re-engagement campaigns are last-chance emails sent to inactive subscribers, giving them a chance to re-engage (to re-opt in) or say goodbye. (If you’re not familiar with re-engagement campaigns, you can learn more on the subject here.)

A re-engagement campaign can be regularly sent anywhere between three to 12 months, depending on your send cadence. For daily senders, it might make sense to send a re-engagement campaign more frequently, like every three months. For monthly senders, a nine to 12 month schedule may be more appropriate.

When you run a re-engagement campaign, it’s important to remove those that didn’t respond from your list. A non-response is as good as saying “no,” so make sure to honor that and remove them from your list at that point.

While you can’t prepare for email addresses being deactivated after an employee leaves a company, a regularly scheduled re-engagement campaign will expose these emails and keep your list engaged and healthy.

Here’s a help article on how to run an effective re-engagement campaign in Campaign Monitor.

2. Stick to your email fingerprint.

Your email fingerprint is formed by your normal email behavior: your typical send days, email layout and content, sender domain, etc. Inbox providers create an email fingerprint for anyone entering their customers’ inboxes, making it easier for them to allow delivery of emails from known senders.

Written another way, the more you stick to your normal send habits, the more inbox providers can expect your messages and feel safe delivering them to customers.

For many email marketers, sending habits have changed a lot since the beginning of March (data to prove it here). You’re likely sending irregularly if your business is closed. You might be sending longer, text-heavy emails instead of image-heavy newsletters. You might be sending more emails than ever as you try to stay afloat amidst an economic recession.

If you’re noticing any changes in deliverability, take a look at how your sending has changed, and consider getting back to your regular sending behavior.

3. Investigate any irregularities.

While this is an irregular time in our world, investigating irregularities in your email performance shouldn’t be a novel concept. Any time you notice spikes in bounces or dramatic drop in opens or unsubscribes, it’s time to take a deeper look and maybe consult with your ESP’s customer support.

Make sure you keep a close eye on each campaign you send out—or, at least, have a regular cadence of reviewing, so you can catch any unusual spikes and make sure they’re not consistent.

In terms of bounces, anything consistently above 2% needs to be evaluated. If a single send has a bounce rate 5% or higher, this campaign needs to be evaluated with a deliverability expert.

Squashing any issues as they come up is vital to success in the long term.

Wrap up

Even though the times we face are unusual, the approach we take to troubleshooting deliverability isn’t novel. These best practices are tried and tested, sure to give you guidance no matter what changes we encounter.

If you’re facing any challenges with email bounces, make sure to reach out to a deliverability expert. Campaign Monitor customers can reach out to our support team here, where we’ll work alongside with our deliverability team to make sure you take the best next steps for your email marketing.


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