Amazon SES Blog

What do I do if my registration emails themselves have high bounce rates?

We occasionally hear from customers we have pinged about high bounce rates that they are already doing everything they can… Specifically, they remove addresses that bounce and make sure they never send to them again, and when someone registers for their website or service, they send an initial confirmation mail that the user needs to click on to opt in. If the user never clicks on that message, they don’t get emailed again. Yet, these customers might still have an unacceptably high bounce rate…due to the registration process itself.

What is going on here?

There may be an issue of typos, especially if your site is aimed at younger or mobile users. This usually isn’t enough to cause an excessive bounce problem by itself, but it’s also easily mitigated. Just ask for the email address twice, and don’t accept it if the entries don’t match. That will make this particular problem mostly go away.

It’s very likely that the problem is more deeply ingrained with your process, though. Almost all of our customers who run into this problem find out that people are registering for their site by intentionally using fake email addresses – for example, entering something like pleasedontemailme@example.com instead of their real email address. There may be enough people doing this to cause you to have an excessively high bounce rate. Having high rates of bounces is viewed by many mailbox providers as a strong indication of a low quality sender, and that kind of sending can have implications to not only your deliverability, but to SES’s deliverability as a whole. So we require that all SES users keep their bounce rates low.

Now, there are some services out there that you can pass email addresses to that will give you a classification as to how likely the address is to be a “good” address. For some use cases, those services can be helpful. But in this kind of situation, it doesn’t get to the underlying problem, which is that users are intentionally giving you fake addresses. There are typically two reasons people do this:

A) They don’t actually want to get email from you and/or they don’t trust you with that information.

B) They can give a fake address and still get access to the website/feature/application that they are interested in.

As such, the main way to solve the problem is to attack one of those two issues. Ultimately, you need to look at how you are structuring/incentivizing your registration process such that you are unintentionally encouraging the use of fake addresses.

Approach #1, addressing A) above: Let the user register with you without providing an email address. Let them choose a user ID or use some other form of registration. ONLY ask for an email address at the moment the user is actually proactively asking to have you send them email. This way, the user has no reason to give you a fake address. They can access all the features you are offering without giving you an email address. If they are actually signing up for you to send them something, it would be pointless to provide a fake email address, because then they won’t get whatever it is they want. And if they just don’t trust you with their address, they won’t sign up for you to send them information by email. This is generally the preferred approach from a best practices point of view, because it also ensures that users really want your email, and aren’t just getting it as a side effect of signing up.

Approach #2, addressing B) above: If you do decide to require an email address at sign-up time, don’t actually let the user access the incentives behind the signup until they click on a verification link in your first email. Note that for this approach to work, you must make it clear to the user at the point they are providing the email address that they will need to complete the verification step before they can download the app (or get whatever it is they are signing up for). This way, the user knows that giving you a fake address is pointless. If they try to access whatever they signed up for, they won’t get anything other than a screen that says they still need to verify their address to continue, so they won’t bother. If they truly want your application or service, they will provide a real address. This does add a bit of friction to your sign-up process, but will most likely make the fake-address problem go away. If the increased friction is unacceptable, consider Approach #1 instead.

There are pros and cons to both of these approaches, and which one is better for you will depend on the details of what you are doing. There may be other approaches that will work as well, but these are the two that, in our experience, most directly address the underlying problem in these cases.

Remember, if your bounce problem is caused by people submitting invalid email addresses during your registration process, that problem is not unsolvable — it just takes a bit of thinking about why your users are doing what they are doing, and changing your process to discourage them from providing bad information. By fixing this issue, you can not only lower your bounce rates, but the users that do end up subscribed to your mail will generally be more engaged anyway.