Contacting someone who has asked you not to is generally not a good idea in any context, be it dating or a research panel. In my last post, I taught you how to win at dating and panel management by sending regular (but not overbearing) messages. However, even if you’re good at sending survey invitations without being irritating, some of your panelists will want to opt out and some emails will bounce. Knowing how to manage and limit bounces and opt-outs is an important part of panel management, so today I’ll give several suggestions for keeping your list of panel members up-to-date and on point.

Average Opt-Out and Bounce Rates

In the realm of email marketing, an opt-out rate of 2 percent or less is considered average. If you primarily distribute your surveys with emails, you can use this as a starting point to evaluate your panel opt-out rates.

Average bounce rates vary significantly by industry. A “bounce” is defined as the percentage of people to whom you sent an email who could not receive it. This handy chart can help you find the average bounce rate for your industry.

Best Practices for Managing Opt-Outs

The reality is that over time, some panelists will lose interest in being part of your panel, will grow tired of answering questionnaires, or circumstances will change that will cause them to no longer want to be part of your panel (for example, a member may want to opt out of a panel of Honda owners if they have traded in their Honda for a Toyota.) As such, it is a good idea to recruit more panelists than you think you’ll need. Also, you’ll want to continually recruit new panel members to replace those who’ve opted out. Keep in mind that a certain amount of turnover via opt-outs isn’t the worst thing for your panel. In fact, it can ensure you maintain an updated list of people who are excited about giving you feedback.

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 requires that all unsolicited commercial emails contain a visible unsubscribe link. Even though your panel members agreed to participate in your feedback program, we recommend abiding by this guideline because having a visible link allows panel members to opt out if they no longer wish to participate, and, in addition, including an opt-out link in your emails will improve the deliverability of your emails.

When a respondent does opt out of your panel, respect their request and process the opt-out as soon as possible (if it’s not automatically processed, as it is within Qualtrics.) Legally, CAN-SPAM requires you to process email opt-outs or unsubscribe requests within 10 business days. However, if someone opts out of your panel and then receives a survey invitation from you the next day, they will likely mark you as spam and file a customer service complaint. Continuing to send invitations to panelists who have unsubscribed only hurts you.

There is no hard-and-fast rule on whether you should send a confirmation email after someone opts out of your panel. The panelist has already made it clear that they don’t want to receive survey requests from you anymore; however, sending a final confirmation email letting them know that their request was received and is being processed may be a good opportunity for you to ask them why they are opting out, which may help you address issues that frustrate your panel members. A platform that gives you the ability to include a one-question survey within the email itself can make this kind of request less intrusive.

Best Practices for Managing Your Bounce Rate

There are two kinds of email bounces: hard and soft. A hard bounce occurs when a message is completely rejected by the recipient server. (e.g., the email account doesn’t exist.) A soft bounce occurs when the recipient server receives the message and sends it back (e.g., the recipient’s account is full or is temporarily inaccessible.) It is common practice to remove an individual from your panel after seven soft bounces or a single hard bounce.

If you’re getting an unusually high bounce rate, it might be an indicator that your panel isn’t being properly maintained. A high bounce rate could be the result of several things:

  • There are invalid email addresses on your list. Panelists might have mistyped their email, accidentally opted in with an old email address, or never intended to be on your panel in the first place.
  • You haven’t emailed your list in a while, so some email addresses may be defunct.
  • An email provider has marked you as spam. Qualtrics takes several steps to keep your emails out of the spam folder, but even if you’re not using a panel management provider, it’s important to take steps to improve your message health score.

There are several things that you can do to improve your bounce rate if you find that it’s higher than you would like:

  • Clean your lists and check for incorrectly formatted email addresses, invalid domains and typos. You can do this manually or with a list-hygiene service.
  • Use a double opt-in process in the recruitment process to be sure that each person who signs up to be a part of your panel receives an email to confirm their contact information.
  • Include the ability to update panel member information in your survey invitations. This makes it easy for your panelists to update their email address if it changes.
  • Prompt customers to update their information at the end of your surveys.
  • Understand and monitor spam filters to be sure your emails don’t end up being marked as spam.
  • Remove “spam flag” email addresses such as, and Unfortunately, your competitors may add these maliciously to keep your feedback requests from reaching your panelists.
  • Pretest your emails. Before you send survey invitations to your entire list, test the email on yourself and a small test group to check for deliverability.

Looking for More Information on Panel Management?

Check out Why Your Research Panel Doesn’t Need a Login Portal and Six Ways to Increase Panel Member Engagement or download our extensive panel management guide below.

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