What is a Spam Trap? How to Avoid them?

 In Email Deliverability

The word “spam trap” has a different meaning that you might think. What sounds like a good thing might mean something altogether different, depending on your role in email marketing.

What is Spam trap?

A spam trap is a process created by internet service providers such as Google or Yahoo.  It is used to detect and prevent unauthorised use of data by collecting junk emails sent indiscriminately in bulk.There are so many spam traps out there, and everyone from security companies, anti-spam organisations, and nation-wide ISPs are managing them. Basically, an email that is not being used but is still being actively monitored is a spam trap.

Spam traps expose illegitimate senders who add email addresses to lists without permission.

They’re also set up to identify email marketers who do not have permission to email their subscribers.

Commonly used by inbox providers to apprehend senders with malicious intent, spam traps often end up targeting “good” senders with a poor hygiene. It looks like an email address but doesn’t belong to any person and serves just one purpose: to identify spammers.

What is the impact of Spam trap?

The sender’s reputation is impacted directly.  It impacts the entire list from that particular sender.

The “Bad” about spam Traps

When an email hits a spam trap, several things can happen. It depends on variables like the type of trap that was hit, how many times it was hit, and how the spam trap operators are using the trap.

  1. The sender’s reputation will be damaged,, resulting in fewer of your customer’s emails to reach the inbox.
  1. The sender’s IP address may be added to a blacklist database, which means deliverability for other clients (and the ESP’s other customers) would also be affected.
  1. If the email hits a spam trap operated by an ISP, such as Yahoo! or Google, that ISP could permanently blacklist your whole domain.
  1. If the email hits a trap operated by an anti-spam organisation (e.g. Abusix, Spamhaus, orSpamCop), delivery of your emails to ISPs and companies who consult that organisation’s database will be affected because they use the organisation’s information to filter incoming email.

The “Good” about Spam Traps

Spam traps filter the spammy emails and puts them in the spam folder, otherwise, these spammy/irrelevant emails would have landed in your inbox.

As previously mentioned,good marketers can be caught by spam traps. A lot of things need attention, to maintain a successful sending program. If something is off, hitting a trap provides an excellent opportunity to re-evaluate your list acquisition and email marketing methods with management, and update your policies – not always easy to do in some organisations.

How Did This Happen?

Hitting spam traps can be a bit shocking for marketers. It’s not always easy to track down how it happened. Possible explanations include: errors when collecting email addresses offline, junk characters in email IDs, importing old lists and using only single opt-in for sign-ups (which leads to errors or junk email addresses added by users).

Types of Spam Traps

  1. Pure Spam Trap

No one has ever used these email addresses.  They’ve never opted into a mailing list, used to sign up for an account, or handed out on a business card. There is only one way your subscriber list includes these email addresses.

Pure Spam Traps are set up as bait.  The sole intention is to detect spammers who are harvesting email addresses. The trap is set when the email address is placed on the Internet where people or robots will find them.

Spammers collect these email addresses. In turn, the spammer sells them and the list buyer uses them, which sets off the trap.

  1. Recycled Spam Traps

In this case, the email address is in your list with permission but sending to this email ID makes you look like a spammer because they aren’t current. These email IDs are old and no longer used by the original owner. The ISPs take the abandoned accounts and use them as a trap. The ISP is trying to catch marketers who don’t remove email addresses that “hard bounce”.

Hitting this trap indicates that the list owner has not kept the list up-to-date (removing unsubscribe users or bounced email).  Senders should clean their list frequently.  Remove users who have not opened or engaged with emails in a long period of time.

If I am a Good Email Sender, then how can I avoid spam traps?

This question is very common among Good Email Senders.spam traps and maintain a good email reputation:

  1. Never Ever Purchase List From Third Parties

A purchased list is one of the biggest sources of spam traps due to unknown email ID. Emailing to an unknown email address is unsafe as it may result in increased complaints, reputation degradation and increased spam box placement.

  1. Implement A Dual Authentication Method For A New Subscriber

We’re talking about double opt-in. New subscribers must re-confirm their subscription. This ensures that the email address is valid, active, and the subscriber wants to receive your email.

  1. Reject Bad Data

During submission of an email address, sometimes there is a typo or unintentional error or users don’t want to reveal their email addresses. Don’t include these errors in your list as they can lead to increased bounces.

  1. Share Your Suppressed List, Company-Wide

If multiple individuals or business units utilise email marketing to the same list of customers, vendors or other users, share your suppression list company-wide. This ensures no one mistakenly emails to a bounced address or to subscribers who have unsubscribed or complained. Create a company-wide opt-in policy.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid To Unsubscribe Any User From The List

Sending good emails is equally important as sending emails to a good subscriber. Your users may stop interacting with you and won’t be coming back.

Why would spam traps affect you?

If there’s even a single spam trap in your sending list, it could affect your ability to send emails to subscribers because they damage your reputation. So, if you think there’s a spam trap in your sending list, the next question is: How did you acquire this spam address? Having a spam trap in your mailing list is an indicator of bad email acquisition practices. It also reflects poorly on your ability to maintain a hygienic mailing list. With all this, ultimately, you are going to end up with a bad sender reputation and your mails will end up in the spam folder. To avoid spam traps and to not fall under the category of spammers, maintain hygienic list checking processes and have good sources of email address acquisition in place.

Fix the problem

You can’t really know whether or not you have a spam trap in your mailing list since there is no global service or listings which are available for reference. You can only follow certain procedures to make sure you do not end up with a spam trap.

The best way to identify a spam trap is by looking at your subscribers’ engagement with your email campaigns. Since spam traps are not addresses of actual people, there won’t be any kind of engagement like opens or clicks. But, it is advisable to keep an eye on your older as well as recent subscribers, they could most likely be spam traps.

Maintaining a good list quality is the only way to avoid spam traps.

You should set engagement rules. This prevents subscribers who do not engage for a set period of time from receiving email, or from receiving frequent email. Does suppressing unengaged subscribers shrink the list? Yes, but think quality instead of quantity. Your open and click rates will be higher, and will represent the subscribers who actually see you


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