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Why Return Path Matters for Your Email Marketing

Learn what the return path is and why it’s important for your email marketing strategy.

Your mailing list and your reputation as a sender are vital to the success of your business. But figuring out your email marketing strategy is only part of the job. Once you have the content figured out and you know who you want to send your emails to, ensuring that emails reach your target audience takes a few more steps.

The email return path header is an essential component of the emails you send. This header directs any emails that can't be delivered back to a secondary email address. This allows you to receive all your undeliverable emails in one place, keeping your primary inbox clean for answering customer questions.

When you utilize a return path header for emails, you will see your conversion rates rise, and your deliverability rates improve. It allows you to build your reputation as a sender as long as you are able to deal with bounced emails accordingly. You want your recipients to see that you provide valuable emails and don't spam them. This is done by having a low bounce rate and addressing problems with undelivered emails when you can.

This guide will cover how the return path works, why the return path is important in email marketing, and more. Continue reading to find out how to improve your return path to boost your credibility as a sender.

What is a return path?

Solid email communication is a foundation of a successful business. The problem is your emails can't turn into sales conversions if they aren't reaching the intended inbox. This is where an email return path comes in. Not all emails are delivered to the inbox you send it to. Emails can bounce or be filtered into spam or trash. When you utilize a return path hidden in an email header, this tells the email how it should be processed. This header is an SMTP address, which works as a bounce address in your return path.

When you use a return path email header, any emails that bounce from the intended inbox will end up in a secondary email location for your bounced emails to be processed. You won't have to deal with the original sending box getting overloaded with bounced messages, making it easier for you to stay organized with your marketing efforts.

How the return path works

The return path, also known as the reverse path, works by setting the return path header to direct bounced messages to your secondary email to process bounces. When you have messages that can't be delivered, you want to know the reason why in order to determine if a new sender's email address is available. A custom return path address is often set up by a developer and is different from your sending address.

Once a mailbox provider receives your email, your identity will be validated. In this process, your sending reputation is also evaluated by the email program. If your email is deemed spam or trash, it will not reach its intended destination. Without the return path header in place, you won't know that your email went to the spam folder and wasn't delivered.

The return path header helps you by providing a return path domain that is the same domain as your main email address.

Consider the two types of email issues that will cause a bounce: a soft bounce or a hard bounce. When you have a hard bounce, something is wrong with the email address itself. The email address can be non-existent, or you may have typed in the address incorrectly. This is an issue that can be fixed by typing the address again, or the email address may no longer be viable.

A soft bounce is usually a temporary problem. In this case, the destination inbox could be full, the attachment size might be too large, or the attachments may not work.

If your email hard bounces, all you can do is make sure the email address was typed in correctly. If the address is correct, remove it from your list because it is no longer viable. If you continue to send out emails that are not deliverable, this will lead to bigger problems with deliverability over time because it will impact your sender reputation.

An email that soft bounces should be monitored to see if it bounces a second time. This can occur if the destination inbox is full or if there is an issue with the mailbox provider. If an email bounces more than once, this should be treated like a hard bounce and taken off your mailing list.

Why is the return path important in email marketing?

As a business with a large mailing list, you need to be sure that your email return path is set up. If you don't set up a return path address, you can end up with hundreds of bounced emails in your primary inbox. It's often not a fault on your end when an email bounces, but your reputation to email service providers will decrease the higher your bounce rate becomes.

Once you have a return path address set up that isn't the sender's email, every bounced message will go to the email return path instead. You will be able to process these messages better and can keep them separate from the active, functioning emails you have sent out to potential customers.

As the SMTP address is a return path, this will improve your deliverability and sending reputation. This makes it easier for the recipient's email provider to determine if you are sending spam and improves your ability to get your message through spam filters.

The emails you send will have more credibility, and your sending reputation will improve as you succeed at getting messages through to the intended inbox.

Benefits of a good return path

There are many benefits of email marketing for your business, but having a good return path can improve your email marketing efforts in many ways, including:

Increases email deliverability

A good email return path address will increase your email deliverability rate. This helps to ensure that you don't get caught up in spam filters, as any bounced emails will be addressed as they arrive.

Improves email engagement

When you have a good return path, you become a more credible sender. Your emails are more likely to reach recipients who are considering your products or services, improving your overall email engagement.

Boosts brand reputation

By focusing on customer satisfaction and committing to providing your customers with a positive experience with your email marketing, you help to boost your brand trust and reputation.

Increases conversion rates and ROI

Your ROI is higher when you focus your marketing efforts on having a good return path, and you will see higher conversion rates as a result.

How to improve your return path

There are a number of important steps to take in order to improve your return path. With your return path in place, you have the capacity to reach a large audience through email as a trusted sender.

Implement email authentication protocols

Take the time to implement email authentication protocols, which show the recipient mailbox that you are a trusted sender. It allows the recipient to verify that the message being received is actually coming from the company and not a fake email address.

Monitor sender reputation

Monitor your sender's reputation and make changes if needed to boost your reputation. You don't want to learn your reputation has tanked because you haven't been paying attention to your bounce rate.

Focus on user engagement

Pay attention to your user engagement and identify ways to continue discussions with potential customers through email hooks.

Clean up your email list regularly

Clean up your email lists regularly so that you don't send out emails that are just going to bounce and decrease your reputation.

Use a reputable email service provider

Invest in a reputable email service provider to set up your mailing list and send out emails to your potential customers. You want to keep your reputation strong and don't want to get lost in spam folders.

Maximize your email marketing success with a strong return path

A strong return path can lead you to more success with your email marketing strategy. Identify problems with emails that bounce back, and correct any spelling mistakes made in an email address. Once an email bounces a second time, remove the address from your mailing list to prevent a decrease in your reputation.

The return path helps you protect your reputation as a sender, as your bounce rate will stay steady. If you keep sending out emails without filtering out emails that are no longer working, this can ruin your reputation as a sender. Keep your mailing list up to date, and remove any names that don't work. Your reputation is important, and you want recipients to know you can be trusted not to send spam.

Mailchimp offers you all the email marketing tools and services you need to utilize a strong return path in your email marketing strategy. You can find the tools you need for all of your marketing efforts when you look at the variety of products Mailchimp has to offer.

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