Spam traps: What you should know?

Not all spam traps are created equal, which means that the consequences you face will vary in kind depending on the type of trap.



Spam sucks — it always has, and it always will. You can rest assured that you haven’t missed out on any deals or opportunities in your spam folder, the whole reason why it exists is to keep your inbox safe. Still, some legitimate businesses can end up in the spam folder, and it leaves email marketers scrambling. This issue has become so extensive that there are companies specifically designed to combat spam from filling up inboxes. They’re the greatest, by the way.

Anti-spam organizations and the movement overall have saved countless inboxes from being filled to the brim with clutter. However, as well intended as it may be, some well-meaning businesses fall through the cracks. Without the right best practices, even the best-laid plans can land you on a blacklist.

Not exactly the goal you had in mind, but spam traps can’t differentiate the good from the bad like that.

What are spam traps?

In a phrase, most of them are honeypot email accounts designed to attract spam and stop the senders from sending out more.

Honeypots are a security mechanism intended to draw in unsavory targets (spammers, hackers, etc.) and then trap them so they can’t do any more harm.

They’re a great tool that stops spammers dead in their tracks. Think of it like you’re attracting flies with honey so they can get swatted. It’s a honeypot, get it?

Whoever owns these accounts (anti-spam company, ISP, etc.) they gather up unused email addresses and then keep an eye on them for activity. The addresses sit around until a spammer or in some cases, an unlucky sender, sends an email to them. If you’re the unlucky sender that has one of these in your mailing list, it can spell bad news for your sender reputation.

The consequences for hitting any spam trap email addresses can vary in severity, from a simple warning to a complete ban of your sending domain or IP address. Don’t worry, as long as your subscribers are confirmed and you keep your mailing lists clean, you’ll be fine.

What types of spam traps are there?

Not all spam traps are created equal, which means that the consequences you face will vary in kind depending on the type of trap.

Pristine traps

These are the most dangerous, but if you’re exercising best practices, then you should never run across one. Pristine spam traps are addresses that are wholly fresh and original. That means no average person ever made them, used them, or interacted with them — they’re essentially a fake email address. Their sole purpose is to catch spammers. They’ve never been used for anything, certainly not for subscribing to any mailing list.

Well, these have no business being on your mailing list. How’d they get there? Certainly not by purchasing contact lists online or scraping sites for emails, right?

Sarcasm aside, it’s best to stick to valid, reputable methods for building mailing lists so that you don’t fall prey to these sorts of traps. I’ll get back to that in a bit; there are more spam traps to discuss first. 

Recycled traps

Most recycled spam traps are old email addresses that someone did own at some point. Since then, they’ve been repurposed by an agency to function as a spam trap. While these may be on your list for genuine reasons, you might still be marked as a spammer if you keep sending to them.

You’re most at risk for running into this one, so try to keep your subscriber lists clean and updated. Old and abandoned emails aren’t doing much for you beside empty padding and becoming a potential problem, and if they predate GDPR, you run the risk of massive fines.

Invalid email traps

You or your subscriber may have accidentally typed in the wrong email address, or perhaps you’d been given an entirely fake one. It could be something as accidental as typing an “a” instead of an “e.” Either way, you run the risk of these invalid email addresses resulting in hard bounces and sullying your reputation.

To be blunt, email validations are critical for a healthy list. Mailgun’s validations service puts every new subscriber through a three-step check to ensure there aren’t any accidents waiting to happen. Plus if you have an old list, you can run it through validations to take out any old emails that might be causing you trouble. Believe it or not, you really can account for human error.

What can spam traps do?

If you want a list full of subscribers who sign up to receive your emails, then spam traps are the last thing you should have on your plate.

Proper email marketing etiquette means being a legitimate source, not a spammer. You want as much distance between those two as possible. If any of these spam traps receive an email from you, you could end up listed on a blacklist. Not. Good.

How can you avoid spam traps?

For starters: keep a clean list with proper list hygiene! If you don’t frequently use it, or you don’t take the time to weed out the bad addresses, you’ll wind up with a cluttered landmine field of a list. Think of it this way; sometimes you have to clear your cache now and then to keep everything running smoothly.

  • A good rule of thumb would be to start cleaning your email list every six months, but this should be adjusted depending on your list growth. It’s also a good idea to not send to inactive subscribers, and that’s another factor that depends on how often you send.

  • Double opt-in confirmation is another great way to keep your list clean preemptively. If you require your subscribers to confirm their email addresses, then you can rest assured that the account is active and has a real person behind it.

  • Finally, don’t ever, ever buy a contact list online. They’re incredibly unreliable, no one on the list agreed to receive emails from you, and the risk of running across a spam trap skyrockets. It’s just not worth the risk.

Avoid the Spam Folder

Now, you may successfully avoid tripping a spam trap alarm, but you might find that you’re winding up in people’s spam folders somehow. No one checks there; it’s email marketing hell for bad emails, so what can you do?

It’s all about your approach; if you SHOUT ALL THE TIME, load up on emojis, or write spammy content copy, you’re digging a hole for yourself. Even if you do these things, it’s all for naught if you don’t send fully authenticated messages to subscribers that signed up and still enjoy receiving your messages.

Ultimately, you should try to come off like you’re a human being reaching out to other human beings — because you are. Proper grammar, design, content, and delivery all matter. The last thing you want to be is a nuisance. Lastly, it’s all about best practices. If you practice good, clean sending, you’ll get all your effort back in amazing ROI.

Featured Webinar – Fact, Fiction, or Banana? The Growth Marketing Game Show

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Earlier in 2019, we cohosted a webinar with Iterable! Nick, our Deliverability Engineer, and Iterable’s panel of experts took a critical look at different email best practices and what’s real, what isn’t, and something that’s up for debate in the email marketing space. You can find the webinar here.

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Adam Rollins graduated from Texas State University’s Honors College with a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. He has worked, since then, for a variety of companies, providing quality blog posts, articles, and e-books on a regular basis.

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