Email Marketing

Spam trap 101

Getting email to the subscribers’ inboxes is a top priority for email marketers and a critical starting point for initiating customer interaction through email. Whether you are a seasonal email marketer or you send email on a daily basis, you may have heard your deliverability team talking about the importance of successfully avoiding spam traps. We have the 411 on what they are, how they get into your database, and what you can do to avoid spam trap-related deliverability issues

What are Spam traps?

A spam trap is an email address that an ISP, or a blacklist, has taken control of (or created from scratch) and uses to identify spammers or illegitimate mailers. Spam traps are inactive email addresses with no real subscriber associated with that email. Thus, when a marketer sends to the spamtrap address, the receiving ISP or blacklist knows immediately that the marketer is sending to emails that are either not subscribed to their program or have been inactive for awhile and should not be getting those emails. Mailing to spam traps on a regular basis can cause serious deliverability issues ranging from excessive bulking, temporary blocks, minor and major blacklistings (ex: Spamhaus, Barracuda, Spam Cop, etc…) or worst of all, long-term damage to a marketer’s IP and domain reputation.

What are the types of Spam traps?

Recycled email/domain Spam traps: This is the most common type of spam traps that affect email marketers today. These are inactive / abandoned email addresses that an ISP has recycled and is now monitoring in order to identify spammers. The former owners of these email addresses could have easily subscribed to an email program, but had become inactive since they opted-in. For example: Tony@joesgarage.com subscribes to your mailing program. After 6 months, he closes his email address but doesn’t unsubscribe so his closed-down account is still in your database. You continue mailing to him and receive bounce codes for an extended time, but do not remove him from your mailing list due to lack of strict bounce classifications and mailing rules) After an email account has been closed-out, an ISP can decide to reopen it and use it as a spam trap. This scenario can also apply to an entire domain that is shut down and reopened just to trap spammers; those are called “recycled domain traps”.

Honey Pots: These email addresses were intentionally generated and published to trap spammers when they partake in questionable data collection practices. ISPs will create those email addresses and will not subscribe them to any mailing programs. When an email is received at one of these trap accounts, they directly hit the honey pot and a spammer is caught red-handed. Hitting this type of spamtraps is considered more severe than hitting a recycled email, and can often lead to blacklistings that are very challenging to remove.

Typo Traps: These are non-existent domains (ex: hootmail.com, yeehoo.com) that are set up by ISPs and blacklists with the intention of catching marketers sending emails to non-confirmed subscribers.  The most common practice that leads to typo traps is when emails are collected at point of sale. For example, a customer provides a sales representative their email address verbally while making a purchase and the sales representative makes a spelling error while inputting the address into the brand’s database.  In today’s landscape, many emails contain personal information and it’s becoming more and more important to ensure you’re sending to the right subscriber and are confirming the data at the time of collection. ISPs and blacklists have started enforcing typo traps as a way of identifying marketers who do not properly verify the information they collect.

How do these traps come in my database?

Inactive Audiences: Are you mailing to subscribers that registered years ago and have not engaged with your emails in the past 12+ months? Have you taken the time to confirm whether or not these users still exist? According to the latest Data Axle Marketing Compass only 19% of users at Gmail, 10% at AOL, 12% at Hotmail and 14% at Yahoo have been active in the past year.  Blacklists and ISPs tend to create recycled traps that haven’t been active for over 12 months, so maintaining a database of active subscribers is becoming increasingly important for healthy deliverability.

Point of sale (POS) Collection:  Humans make mistakes and we sure make even more of them while typing. Thus collecting  email addresses at point of sale is naturally error-prone. A small error in domain name or user name can land a spam trap on your list unless you verify the data at the time of subscription.

Acquisition lists: Obtaining an unverified email list from a questionable 3rd party is an easy way to get spam traps into your database. Any time the email collection process is left to a third party there is a higher risk of collecting spamtraps.

No welcome or confirmation process: If you have no process of verifying your email data at the time of collection or through a welcome series, you’re always going to be at risk of hitting spam traps when running your email.

What can a marketer do to avoid Spam traps?

List Hygiene: Performing regular list hygiene is crucial to maintaining positive deliverability rates. Removing inactive users who haven’t engaged in over 12 months is a best practice for maintaining a clean mailing list and avoiding recycled emails from entering your database.

Bounce Management: Performing regular audits of your bounce management process is another important step to achieving maximum inboxing and avoiding spam traps. In many cases, spam traps return bounce codes to the sender for a specific period before blocking the sender. Ensuring those bounces are immediately removed is key to spam trap prevention.

Welcome/Confirmation email:  Sending welcome emails, requesting email verification, and having the proper bounce rules in place for your welcome series is a great practice for avoiding spam traps.  It is especially important for marketers who rely on POS email collection for getting new subscribers.

Deliverability team: Talk to deliverability experts, ask them for recommendations specific to your email program.

Spam traps will sneak in without a warning and cause deliverability issues but following data hygiene best practices will always improve your inboxing rates. Be proactive about managing your database and keep in mind deliverability rules of thumb.

Gurjit Sandhu
Marketing Manager

Gurjit Sandhu has been in digital and direct marketing for over 6 years, delivering marketing and event management solutions in both fast-paced corporate and entrepreneurial environments. Energized by strategic thinking and the power of marketing technology, she collaborates closely with cross functional teams at Data Axle to spearhead multi-channel communications that highlight product innovations.