Why are my emails from Infusionsoft to Yahoo and AOL addresses bouncing?

by | May 11, 2019

You’re probably reading this article because you’re one of many people who have noticed that emails sent from Infusionsoft to addresses that end in yahoo.com or aol.com are randomly bouncing.

Sometimes the email will get through, other times it will bounce. And if you look at your bounce report, you’ll see that there are many more bounces to Yahoo or AOL addresses than any other domains.

Of course, there’s a reason, but it’s not that straightforward to explain. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

So, what’s happened?

Back in April 2019, Verizon Media (formerly known as Oath, the company that owns the Yahoo, AOL and Verizon email brands) made a significant change to the way that they processed incoming emails.

In the past, they accepted pretty much every email that was sent to them from marketing platforms such as Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign, Infusionsoft etc., and then either sent those emails to the inbox or the spam folder in the “traditional” way – but they made a fundamental change to this policy in April 2019.

Why did they do this?

The fight between email providers and spammers has gone on for as long as the Internet has existed. As the spammers have got more and more sophisticated and got better at sneaking their emails through “under the radar”, the email providers have had to raise their game – and they have, massively.

Google, the largest email provider in the world, has been developing machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to reduce the amount of spam that gets through into their customers’ inboxes for many years.

Microsoft, the second largest provider, and Verizon Media, the third largest provider, have been working on similar technology as well.

What did Verizon do?

Unsurprisingly, the email providers remain very tight lipped when it comes to revealing how they’re fighting the battle on spam. All that they say is that they have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of different data points that they use to decide whether an email is spam or not.

So, while we don’t know exactly what Verizon Media did in this case, we do know that suddenly, almost overnight, Infusionsoft users (as well as the customers of other email marketing platforms) started to see hundreds or thousands of emails sent to Yahoo and AOL addresses start to bounce.

Normally, platforms such as Infusionsoft will try to deliver each email to the destination as many times as needed for it to get through. The recipient’s provider will either say “Yes, I’m accepting your email” or “No, I’m not accepting your email”. When the recipient says “No”, that gets reported in Infusionsoft as a bounce.

A “Hard Bounce” means that the address doesn’t exist; a “Soft Bounce” means that something else went wrong but there’s not likely to be anything wrong with the email address itself. You can tell if an email has hard bounced in Infusionsoft because the email status of the contact will change to “Hard Bounce”. If an email has soft bounced, the email status of the contact won’t change even though an email bounced.

Verizon’s new behaviour

In April, Verizon added a new behaviour into the mix. They didn’t just say “Yes” or “No”, they started saying “Go away and come back later”.

This coincided with Microsoft doing something similar, although we’re not clear on whether that was an error or done on purpose by Microsoft.

So suddenly, in a short period of time, maybe 25% of the world’s non-corporate mailboxes suddenly changed their behaviour. That’s a lot of mailboxes.

How did that affect Infusionsoft?

So, the net result of this was that Infusionsoft suddenly started getting literally hundreds of thousands of emails that got stuck on their servers, because Verizon and Microsoft were saying “go away, come back later”.

This had a major impact on Infusionsoft, because their infrastructure wasn’t designed to deal with a backlog of hundreds of thousands, or maybe even millions, of emails that couldn’t be delivered straight away.

What did Infusionsoft do?

Infusionsoft had little option but to change their email delivery policies. As I mentioned, in the past, they would keep trying to deliver an email until they either got a “Yes” or a “No” from the recipient server. Now that this wasn’t happening with Verizon or Microsoft, they had to make a fundamental change to the way they dealt with “deferred” emails.

So, instead of retrying “deferred” emails every now and then for a few days, they changed the policy to give up after a very small number of attempts. As soon as they gave up, that particular email was reported as a bounce.

Why did some emails get through and others didn’t?

Ah… this is where it gets interesting.

Did you know that Infusionsoft now send emails from different servers (or, to be technically correct, different IP addresses, as each of their servers has lots of IP addresses) depending on a number of factors.

In the past, Infusionsoft sent emails to “Confirmed”, or “Double Opt-In” contacts, from one set of IP addresses, and emails to “Unconfirmed”, or “Single Opt-In” contacts from another set of IP addresses.

The way things work now, Infusionsoft send emails from different sets of IP addresses depending on a lot more factors, including:

  • The content of the email (does it contain “spammy” words?)
  • The reputation of the sender (how good is their standing with Infusionsoft?)
  • The engagement of the contact this particular email is being sent to (that’s right, each individual email will go from a different IP address based on how recently each specific contact has opened or clicked on an email that you sent)

That third point above is crucial here. Because Infusionsoft now sends emails to unengaged contacts (i.e. those who haven’t opened their emails for quite a while) from different sets of IP addresses, the user behaviour of people who receive emails from those IP addresses will be different from the behaviour of those who receive emails from the “engaged” set of IP addresses.

Simply put, emails sent from the “engaged” set of IP addresses are more likely to be opened than the ones sent from the “unengaged” set of IP addresses.

The hypothesis, which has subsequently been proven to be pretty much correct, was that Verizon Media started to “defer” the emails sent from “unengaged” IP addresses most of the time, and only “deferred” the emails sent from “engaged” IP addresses occasionally.

What was the impact?

Because most of the addresses that were being deferred, and hence showing up as bounces in Infusionsoft, were contacts who hadn’t engaged for a while, the actual open rates reported by Infusionsoft didn’t change that much.

Suddenly seeing lots of bounces caused a massive storm though – the Infusionsoft Facebook groups contained dozens of posts from people who were affected by this.

Also, in some cases, emails sent to engaged contacts were failing as well – and they still do from time to time.

What can be done about this?

The quickest and easiest solution is to stop sending emails to unengaged contacts – those who haven’t opened your emails for a certain period of time. We generally recommend no more than 90 days and, for best results, 30 days is a much better limit.

Infusionsoft have some good tools to help you identify unengaged contacts – check out the Email Status Search and their facility to set contacts to “Unengaged Non Marketable” after a certain period of time – beware though, once contacts are set to Unengaged Non Marketable, they have to be manually switched back if you ever want to send emails to them again. So use this tool wisely!

If you’d prefer a more flexible approach, Lab Central is a free tool that allows you to tag contacts based on 7/30/60/90 days engagement and much more, so that you have greater control of your sending.

What if emails sent to my engaged contacts are still bouncing?

Unfortunately, this is still going to happen from time to time. The best solution if it’s becoming an issue for you is to use the Infusionsoft “Email Status Automation” feature, which you can find in Marketing — Settings, to trigger an action when an email bounces. You can use this to alert yourself, or a team member, to go in and re-send an email if needed.

How can I learn more?

The email deliverability landscape is changing all the time. If you’d like to learn more about email deliverability and keep up to date with the latest changes in the email world, why not sign up to my free video series where I explain how to win the email RACE to the inbox.

In the videos, I explain how RACE stands for “Reputation, Authentication, Content and Engagement” and share lots of hints and tips to help you hit the inbox and avoid the spam folder.

You can sign up here: https://delivinfo.wpengine.com/videos