Resolving email delivery issues

In this article

Introduction to email errors
Identifying email errors
Soft bounces
Hard bounces
Spam complaints
Resolving suppressions

Introduction to email errors

At ChurchSuite we appreciate the importance of maximising the deliverability of email communications - but what if the emails you send don't seemingly deliver as expected? As we begin, it's important to distinguish between two different email delivery issues.

1. Emails going to a junk folder

The first issue is where the email is delivered but for some recipients, it ends up in their "junk mail" folder, rather than their inbox. There often seems to be no pattern as to why this happens - while some messages go to junk, other messages to the same recipient deliver to an inbox as expected; or previously-inboxed messages suddenly start going to a junk folder. As this helpful blog article explains, a recipient's email provider's anti-junk filtering and/or their email application's anti-junk filtering are not 100% accurate. Asking the affected recipient to mark 'junked' emails as "Not junk" can help re-educate the anti-junk filters and improve future deliverability to an inbox.

2. Emails not delivered

A second issue - and the focus of the remainder of this article - is where an email is not delivered and is rejected by the recipient's email service provider. When this happens, an email error is returned to your ChurchSuite account. However, the email error "reason" returned is not always clear and can even be entirely misleading.

Identifying email errors

The Address Book module's Email Errors report lists all errors resulting from an email being rejected by a recipient contact's email service provider. The Children, Calendar, Giving and Bookings modules each have an Email Errors report in respect of emails sent to children, unlinked parents/carers, event sign-ups, givers and booking customers.

Certain email errors also surface in a message on a recipient's profile page. Some errors have the option to Ignore the message, which suppresses the message from showing on the profile; however, clicking Ignore does not resolve the underlying cause of the error - read on for how to resolve it.

Some errors are temporary - i.e. soft bounces and some hard bounces (explained below). However, some errors are permanent and result in suppression - the affected email address is added to a suppression list, preventing further emails from being delivered to that address. For example, if someone flags one of your emails as spam (known as a spam complaint), their email address is added to a suppression list to protect them from further emails. Further attempts to send them emails will be rejected and email errors will be logged. Suppressions are distinguished by a yellow warning triangle icon against the email error. Permanent errors can be ignored but future emails to that address will continue to fail with an error until the underlying issue is resolved and the suppression is resolved. In the case of a spam complaint, the suppression can only be resolved by the affected recipient - i.e. they can withdraw their complaint - perhaps if an email was flagged as spam inadvertently.

There are three email error types that you may encounter - soft bounce, hard bounce or spam complaint. Let's look at each in turn and how to resolve them...

Soft bounces

A soft bounce is generally considered a temporary issue. The error is not surfaced on the recipient's profile page but is listed in the Email Errors report. If you send the affected person further emails through ChurchSuite while the underlying soft bounce issue is unresolved you will see a rejected due to previous errors message in the Email Errors report. Common causes of soft bounces include:

  • The recipient mailbox is full (over quota)
  • The recipient email server is down or temporarily offline
  • An email message is too large for the server to handle

If a soft bounce issue persists, speak to the recipient to try and work out the problem: often it will be as simple as removing a large history of emails from their mailbox to free up mailbox space.

Note that subsequent emails to a soft-bounced email address may eventually result in a hard bounce rejection. For example, if someone has not accessed their email account for a long time, their inbox may now be full. If you send them an email you will receive a soft bounce. For some email accounts, like Hotmail, if the mailbox is full and there have been no logins for a year, Microsoft will suspend the email account. Subsequent emails that you send will then hard bounce with a permanent error.

Similarly, if someone has a custom domain-named email address and that domain name has gone into a redemption period (where it has expired but can still be renewed for some time) - given that the domain could be renewed, you may get a soft bounce during that redemption period. However, if you email again after the redemption period has lapsed unrenewed, you will get a hard bounce - the temporary error has now become a permanent error.

Resolving soft bounces

Soft bounces can only be resolved by the affected recipient or their email service provider - there is nothing you or ChurchSuite Support can do to resolve the issue.

Hard bounces

A hard bounce is usually indicative - though not always - of a permanent error, typically caused by the email address being invalid.

When a hard bounce happens, the email address is left in place so that access to My ChurchSuite is not affected but the recipient may now be opted out of receiving general and rota reminder emails in their Communication Options. A message may also be displayed on the person's profile page to alert you to an unresolved issue if a suppression has occurred. This message can be dismissed by clicking Ignore; however, further email errors may continue to occur when sending future emails unless the underlying cause of the issue has been resolved by the affected person or by their email service provider. If you opt the person back into receiving general/rota reminder emails before the issue is resolved, the person will simply be opted out again the next time you send them an email, the email will not be delivered and a further email error will be logged.

Resolving hard bounces

1. Confirm that the email address you hold is valid and correctly typed. Most other causes of hard bounces can only be resolved by the recipient and/or their email service provider.

2. Check your Email Errors report, to determine if a suppression has taken place - distinguished by a yellow warning triangle icon against the error.

3. If there is no suppression of the email address, you can select Ignore the error. An unsuppressed hard bounce may be temporary and future emails may be delivered without an issue. However, if on sending future emails further hard bounces occur, you should reach out to the affected recipient and ask them to raise the problem with their email service provider to resolve the issue or to supply you with an alternative email address to use. A persistent unsuppressed hard bounce may eventually result in suppression if the underlying issue isn't resolved.

4. If a suppression has occurred, follow the instructions in the Resolving suppressions section below.

Spam complaints

A spam complaint is where a recipient intentionally or inadvertently flags one of the emails you've sent through ChurchSuite as spam - this may be done by the recipient, by their email application's settings, by anti-spam software installed on their device or by their email service provider.

All spam complaints will result in the email address being added to a suppression list. Additionally, the person's Communication Options are updated to unsubscribe them from receiving further general and rota reminder emails. A change log is added to show the communication option changes and the email error reason. Attempting to opt the person back into receiving ChurchSuite emails or having the sender mark your domain as a 'safe sender' will still result in further email errors and non-delivery of your messages (shown as "Rejected due to previous errors") and the person will simply be unsubscribed again from receiving emails in ChurchSuite.

Resolving a spam complaint

Since a spam complaint always results in suppression, no further email delivery will be possible until the suppression is cancelled/resolved. Follow the instructions below for Resolving suppressions.

Resolving suppressions

Working from the affected person's profile page message (shown above) or from the Email Errors report actions (shown below), click Resolve.

On the Resolve pop-up, click Copy URL and send the URL to the affected person to self-resolve the suppression.

IMPORTANT: The link cannot be sent via ChurchSuite as a further email error will occur! The link can only be used by the email address owner. You should only use the link yourself with the email address owner's express consent, which we encourage you to add as a Note against their profile.

The URL link opens the person's Communication page, which contains an explanation of the issue and an invitation to Resolve the suppression. People can also access their Communication page by clicking the "Manage communication" link in the footer of previous ChurchSuite emails that you've sent them.

Clicking Resolve invites a final confirmation. Clicking the Resolve button will cancel the suppression of their email address.

They can then review and update their communication options as appropriate - opting back into receiving emails and clicking Save to complete the process.

With the suppression resolved, future emails should deliver without further issues. However, for hard bounces, if the underlying cause of the issue has not been resolved by the affected recipient or their email service provider, further hard bounce rejections will occur and the problem will need to be resolved all over again.

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