How to Stay Away from Spam Traps

Spam traps are a tool ISPs use to identify and track email spammers. A spam trap is a special email address designed to receive spam and “trap” mailers who spam. They are email addresses that should not be receiving email and in turn alert the ISPs the email sender might be a spammer, or an email marketer who does not follow proper sender practices. If you get flagged as one of these, it’s extremely difficult to get any of your email delivered to ISPs; so staying away from spam traps is imperative for any email marketer. Sending to a spam trap address can quickly damage your deliverability reputation and cause you to be blocked or, worse, be blacklisted.

There are two types of spam traps you should be aware of: pure spam traps, and recycled spam traps. Understanding the different kinds of traps will help you understand how to avoid them.

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Pure spam traps are the worst for your sender reputation, making it extremely difficult for you to deliver email to an inbox if you are caught sending to one. Pure spam trap email addresses are set up with the sole purpose of identifying spammers. There is no conceivable reason any sender should have these email addresses, unless they are harvesting lists or scouring websites.

Recycled spam traps could have been active email addresses at one point in time. That means they might have just gone inactive, and they have been taken over by the ISP after a period of inactivity. For example, if one of your subscribers stops logging in to check their email, eventually the ISP will disable the email address. When the address is disabled, any email sent to this address will hard-bounce. ISPs re-enable a small percentage of these disabled email addresses and turn them into spam traps. At this point, ISPs will deliver a hard bounce notification to email marketers so they know they are emailing an inactive account. It is at that point email marketers should remove the email address from their list. Some of them, however, do not. After a couple months, ISPs convert those email addresses into recycled spam traps and stop delivering hard bounce notifications to email senders. If you keep emailing that address, they will mark it as a spam trap hit.

Avoiding spam traps is possible. Here are some ideas —

  • Do not purchase lists. Purchased lists are often full of reactivated address spam traps because the list maintainer is never sending to the addresses and doing bounce processing. They may also contain classic spam traps depending on how the list was created.
  • Practice list hygiene – clean your lists.
  • Do not trade email addresses with another company; this is basically a purchased list.
  • Ensure your ESP is using proper bounce-processing practices and hard-bounces are removed from your list. If you do not have proper bounce-processing you will eventually hit reactivated addresses or domain spam traps.
  • Make sure you email every address in your database at least every couple of months. If you do not email an address for an extended period of time, you run the risk it will turn into a reactivated address or domains trap. It is better if you never send mail to an address more than a year old.
  • Never send to or reactivate bounced subscribers. Your list of bounced subscriber is likely full of recycled address and domain spam traps.
  • Be careful of incentive-subscriptions, i.e. if you are a retailer and you offer a coupon at checkout for subscribing to your email newsletter, you will get plenty of email addresses that people will just make up to get the free coupon. Some of these addresses will be spam traps.
  • Remove addresses that do not click or open for a long period of time.
  • Ensure your email does not look like unsolicited email. Even if people requested mail from you, do not send just something without your logo or an email that is all one image. If your email messages look like spam and you send to a typo address or domain spam trap, you are more likely to get blacklisted.
  • Asking a subscriber to confirm their address is correct by sending a message to their provided email address and requiring a click action will assist in ensuring that the address is both valid and active
  • Make it easy to unsubscribe. If a subscriber is unable to quickly figure out how to unsubscribe, they are likely to complain. If the subscriber then abandons their address, the address may be converted to a spam trap.

Bottom line, the only definitive way to prevent hitting a spam trap is to perform proper email marketing practices.

To recap, this means you do not purchase email lists; you are not harvesting lists on your own; you are removing hard bounces; and regularly cleaning your list. You also should maintain a suppression list. This helps if you change email service providers, so you do not accidentally email contacts you suppressed.

Remember, something about your list practices allowed you to send to the spam trap. Therefore, removing the spam trap would be just treating the symptom. Evaluating your list practices will get to the root of the problem.

Did You Know – The variables taken into account to generate the Sender Score are —

  • Complaints
  • Volume
  • External Reputation
  • Unknown Users
  • Rejected
  • Accepted
  • Accepted Rate
  • Unknown User Rate

Scores are calculated on a rolling, 30-day average and represent the rank of an IP address against other IP addresses, much like a percentile ranking.

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