A quick guide to Spam traps and how you can avoid them

Most business make good use of email marketing but it may surprise you to learn that as much as one in five emails sent might never reach your customer’s inbox.

Growing your email list takes a great deal of work. Factor in the effort that goes into designing stunning campaigns, writing powerful subject lines, and crafting the perfect messages, and it’s quite disheartening to think that around 20% of your subscribers might never see your email.

One of the greatest challenges facing email marketers is low delivery rates. There are many factors that affect your email deliverability, but Spam traps are the biggest toxic element that could be holding you back – they’re also sorely misunderstood by many.

What are Spam traps?

Simply put, Spam traps are frequently used by email providers as a means of blacklisting other providers and catching malicious content, by blocking it at its source. 

Spam traps can be very helpful, but they also frequently result in legitimate senders, who have poor data hygiene and acquisition practices, being blacklisted along with the genuine Spammers.

Spam traps look a lot like real email addresses, but they don’t actually belong to real people, and aren’t used for communication purposes. Spam traps have only one function: identifying Spammers and the senders who aren’t maintaining their lists in the right way.

How are Spam traps affecting your email marketing efforts?

You may already be sending email messages to Spam traps without even realising it. Even one Spam trap on your mailing list can greatly impact your deliverability, depending on the kind of trap it is.

Sending email marketing campaigns to Spam traps is seen to be an indication that you’ve utilised bad practices while building your email list. At the least, it’s seen to be an indication that you’re not maintaining a clean list.

As far as inbox providers and anti-Spam organisations are concerned, their presence on your list makes you appear to be a Spammer yourself. This can have a serious impact on your reputation as a sender. Becoming a sender who has a poor reputation is a surefire way to ensure your emails aren’t delivered to your subscribers’ inboxes.

How do spam traps get on my email list?

If you want to understand how Spam traps get on your email list to begin with, you first need to understand the different forms of Spam traps there are. There are several categories of Spam traps and here’s a run-down of the most common types.

Pristine spam traps

A pristine Spam trap is essentially an email address published on a public website, which is hidden, meaning normal users can’t see them.

Only people using bad email address collection processes find these email addresses. Bad processes include scraping the web, collecting anything that might be an email address.

If you build your email list by scraping or other similar practices you will likely have collected some pristine Spam traps along the way.

Recycled Spam traps

A recycled Spam trap, on the other hand, is an email address which at one time belonged to a real person, but has since been abandoned. They are converted into Spam traps by inbox providers.

Email addresses that are no longer used are deactivated by providers after a period of time. Outlook, for example, deactivate after a period of 270 days, Yahoo! is 180 days, AOL is 90 days and GMail is 270 days.

If someone emails a deactivated email address, the provider rejects the message with a hard bounce. This tells the sender they should remove the email address from their list. A responsible sender will honour hard bounce requests, and suppress the email address from their list. Some people, however, continue to use email addresses, even after they’ve bounced.

Turning email addresses that have been abandoned into Spam traps is how providers flag irresponsible senders. After a longer period of time, an abandoned address no longer returns a hard bounce, and is activated as a Spam trap, which flags anyone emailing the address as a poor sender. By retaining bounced email addresses for your list you will end up on the provider’s black list.

You can come across recycled Spam traps accidentally, if you don’t email lapsed subscribers often. You might simply hit a trap because you haven’t emailed that person during the period their email address was returning a bounce. You never received a bounce, and so never removed them from your list.

Other Spam traps

Other kinds of Spam traps include made up email addresses entered into forms on your website, so that people can access your free content without having to give you their true address.

You can also end up with false addresses on your list if someone accidentally spells their email address wrong, or misses out key characters. The false email addresses – whether intentionally or accidentally added to your list – could be Spam trap addresses.

How do I tell if I’m sending messages to Spam traps?

As Spam traps appear to be normal email addresses it’s difficult to tell if you have them on your email list.

There are some helpful tools out there, such as Microsoft’s Smart Data Network Service (SNDS), that provides an analysis of the email traffic they’ve received from you. There’s also an indicator to tell you if you’re sending emails to their Spam traps.

How to solve Spam trap problems

As Spam traps have been specifically designed to flag irresponsible senders and regardless of what anyone tells you, there are no lists of Spam trap email addresses that you can check and delete from your email list.

You can, however, find and delete Spam traps by assessing the overall quality of your list. Because Spam traps don’t belong to actual people, they don’t generally behave like real people do. Most spam traps on your list will show no engagement – no opens, no clicks.

If you are active in managing your dormant subscribers, you will easily clean your list of Spam traps. Another way to do it is to run a campaign specifically designed to clean your list of Spam traps, by asking your existing subscribers to reconfirm their subscription.

Cleansing your list of Spam traps is a treatment of the symptom, however, not the cause. You want to avoid getting Spam traps on your list to begin with. Here are some top tips for avoiding spam traps…

Managing your email list sign-up process

Never buy a list of email addresses. You have no way of knowing if the addresses were responsibly collected, there’s a very good chance the list will contain Spam traps, and even if it doesn’t this is an unethical practice.

Use a double opt-in process to confirm subscribers. This ensures that every email address on your list is going to real people, as someone has to manually open an email and click a confirmation link. This is the most powerful method of catching fake email addresses and any incorrectly entered addresses.

Validate all new email addresses. There are address validation tools that can be used on enrolment pages that will catch typos and fake email addresses even before they are added to your email list.

Managing your existing email subscriber list

Deactivate all bounced email addresses. Pay close attention to any addresses that bounce, and remove them from your email list before they are able to turn into Spam traps. Be sure to add any invalid addresses you remove to your suppression list, which will ensure they don’t accidentally make it back onto your list.

Manage inactive subscribers. Subscribers who are chronically inactive offer no value to you. They are unlikely to ever respond to an email, and are likely to be converted into Spam traps. Don’t keep hold of inactive addresses for very long.

Clean-up those lists

Instiller has automated list cleansing that suppresses users when they bounced which means that you don’t have to. We also have a wide range of built-in monitoring that test all of your domains and IP addresses against black lists so that you can easily stay on top of ensuring you’re not inadvertently Spamming people.

Here’s a few more of our posts to give you some more things to think about when it comes to keeping your lists clean…

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