Spam traps: How not to get trapped?

December 19, 2022

When it comes to email and deliverability problems, the most common issue stems from senders’ lists. List hygiene should always be a critical component of your email marketing tasks and strategies, especially if you want to ensure your emails keep landing in your subscribers’ inboxes. Low engagement over time can affect you, but when spam traps are found in your list your sender reputation and deliverability will be affected.

But how does it work? Unfortunately, it’s still like a dark forest for many marketers. Willing to help, we asked our friend Yanna-Torry Aspraki from EmailConsul to share her knowledge on this topic. With over 5 years of email deliverability and inbox compliance expertise, Yanna-Torry knows this thing like the back of her hand. So, let us introduce this priceless information.

First things first

When spam traps find themselves on your list you will end up sending emails to them and because they have an inbox they will accept your email and not bounce. Sending emails to spam traps is an obvious sign to spam filters and blocklists that you aren’t following best practices or at the very least there is a problem with your list collection methods. So what is a spam trap? Spam traps are email addresses that have been created for the sole purpose of finding out which senders are not following best practices.

They can’t all be identified, no matter how many or which list cleaning tools you are using. Of course there are some that over time have been identified, but new ones are being created every day. Their purpose is to catch senders with questionable practices. If they could easily be identified, they wouldn’t be very effective at preventing abuse and catching senders. Spam traps can be created by spam trap networks, blocklists and even inbox service providers. This means they can look like free email addresses, like @gmail or @hotmail, or they can be domain-based.

So it is critical to remember: a spam trap is an email address that looks real and can accept emails but the only thing they can not do is sign up to your brand. A spam trap is an email address that has no human behind it. They simply exist, scattered all over the internet, and are here to haunt our email dreams. And to top it off, they come in three different types!

1- Typo spam traps

As the name suggests, typo spam traps are email addresses that contain a typo. These can appear on your list if you don’t have a double opt-in implemented or if your forms are not protected. When adding forms to your website or in advertisements to grow your list, make sure there is a reCaptcha or at the very least that your forms give an error message when emails are not inputted correctly.

2- Recycled spam traps

Recycled spam traps are emails that were once used by someone. They might have signed up to your newsletter in the past, but their original owner doesn’t use or own the email address or domain anymore. Spam trap networks will sometimes buy domains that others used to own and convert them into spam traps after a long period of time. During that period of time the emails on your list should bounce. If you don’t clean your list of unengaged subscribers or don’t manage bounces properly, you will end up with recycled spam traps on your list. They may also end up on your list if you upload an old stale list. Because you haven’t emailed that list in quite some time, the emails that became recycled spam traps didn’t have a chance to bounce and get removed organically from your list. Therefore, you will accidentally email them as the inbox exists now but as a spam trap.

3- Pristine spam traps

These spam traps are the ones that hurt you the most. These were created for the sole purpose of catching senders who don’t grow their lists properly. These email addresses have an inbox and can receive emails. However, as no one actually uses them they can’t sign up to your product, your forms or your newsletter. They are most commonly found on purchased lists, hidden on websites just waiting to be scrapped, and other places where emails can be found. These are the ones that impact you the most and will definitely get you listed on blocklists and hurt your sender reputation.

Simple ways to avoid spam traps

The most obvious way to avoid spam traps on your list is the following:

  • Clean your list. If you remove low value and unengaged subscribers from your list a couple of times a year, you will end up removing spam traps from your list. Now, it is important to remember that spam filters open and click emails too, not only humans. Therefore, when you are cleaning your lists, make sure you implement strict rules.
  • Don’t upload a stale list. You might feel compelled to upload a list you found lying around on your computer or from an old CRM you haven’t used in a while. It just isn’t worth growing your list quickly overnight just to have issues inboxing with your current set of subscribers. The most frustrating part about deliverability issues is not knowing who isn’t getting your emails anymore.
  • Protect your forms. In email there are quite a lot of things we don’t have control over. Your forms are something you do have control over. Ensure they are protected to stop bad actors like bots from abusing them by adding fake addresses. Ensure you limit the number of typos people can make. Make your forms clear, so people understand the value of signing up and deter them from putting a fake or old email address. You can reduce issues with double opt-in, reCaptcha, and an email field with effective validation.
  • Stay organized. In most email marketing tools, lists don’t communicate with each other. You may have subscribers in both lists. If they unsubscribe or bounce from one list, they are still subscribed to the other. It is always wiser to have one master list, and use segmentation tools instead. This also makes it easier to clean your list!

Let’s summarize!

Spam traps in your list are a serious problem. It affects your sender reputation and your deliverability. They can find themselves in your list by mistake due to abuse for example, or because of decisions you have made, like purchasing or renting a list. Your domain and IP reputation will suffer, and you have high chances of being blocklisted. Once you have reached that point, you will have a lot of work to do to show blocklists, spam filters and inboxes that you have changed your practices/strategies. This will enable you to show your emails now deserve to land in the inbox once again, but it takes time. As annoying as spam traps are, they serve the purpose to keep our inboxes safer from senders who do not follow best practices. Remember, that subscribers’ inboxes are a personal space we must all respect.

P.S. Everybody makes mistakes. If you can’t predict them, try to prepare. Ensure your email-sending provider will assist you if something goes wrong. Then, even if you’ve missed one or more of the recommendations above, it won’t be critical. For example, in UniOne, users receive automated reports if spam blocking occurs. At the same time, the support is always ready to investigate these cases to protect your reputation and email campaigns. Yet, it’s better to avoid such situations as much as possible.