E-mail has become a favored promotional vehicle for publishers. But among the problems associated with this delivery choice is the hard bounce: Messages that are returned to sender with a permanent error that basically says an e-mail will never be delivered to that address. But in the b-to-b world, where corporate domains are administered by the IT staff, a hard bounce may not be a hard bounce after all. By setting up a policy to manage these messages, publishers can achieve dramatic reactivations of hard-bounce e-mail addresses.

Consumer Versus B-to-B

A hard bounce from a consumer-based domain such as a Yahoo or G-mail account can safely be considered a hard bounce;thanks to the resources and development teams behind automating those systems. The same cannot be said for corporate domains where IT staff can configure messaging protocols that signal an address’s receptiveness. "Administrators have the ability to configure those messages however they want, or may not be sophisticated enough to configure them correctly, so we get some false positives," says Abraham Langer, director of circulation and data services at b-to-b publisher 1105 Media. And since administrators of corporate domains can set communication protocols as they see fit, incorrectly or not, a hard bounce becomes instantly suspect.

Langer has set up an internal policy that tracks returned e-mails until they can be officially confirmed as a hard bounce. "A person has to hard bounce six times, and only then do we consider them a hard bounce," he says.

Langer set the dial at six because any fewer would require hitting that address too quickly. "It used to be at four, but after consolidating four e-mail systems into one, we realized we’d be hitting people quicker," he says. But for corporate domains that are confirmed as reliable, he’ll set the bounce meter at one.

Keep Track

From there, Langer is having his fulfillment company build a table that keeps track of hard bounces by domain, with the end goal of whittling down offending domains from the six-bounce status to one.

1105 Media, which went through a round of acquisitions late last year, had to merge its hard-bounce files. By following the procedure he set up, Langer realized a 40 percent reactivation rate on files that were previously labeled as hard bounces. "The e-mail systems they were using weren’t as sophisticated so we tested their hard-bounce files and it turned out 40 percent were actually viable," he says.