What is a honeypot email?

Email marketers have lots of things to be wary of when creating campaigns. One thing that’s particularly problematic is a honeypot email. This is a type of email address that may end up on your mailing list and can cause all sorts of issues. It’s important to avoid honeypot email addresses at all costs – we’ll explain why in the guide below. 

Honeypot definition

A honeypot email is a fake email address designed to lure in spammers. It comes from the term honeypot, which is a person or thing that acts as a lure or decoy in a trap/scheme. 

The thing is, honeypot emails are actually recreated by cybersecurity specialists. It’s all part of a plan to capture messages from spammers, analyze them and improve their cybersecurity defences. 

While this all seems like a good thing, it’s an issue for legitimate email marketers. If a honeypot email ends up on your mailing list, you could fall into a honeypot spam trap. In turn, all future messages could be flagged as spam by email providers, meaning your entire mailing list might not see them. There are also cases where your IP address could be blacklisted, so you can’t send emails. 

How is a honeypot different to a spam trap?

You have honeypot spam traps, and then you have general spam traps. The former differs from the latter in that honeypot email addresses are completely fake. They don’t exist and serve only to trap spammers and gain valuable information to fight back. 

General email spam traps involve real emails that may no longer be active. Security specialists use them as anyone constantly sending messages to an old email must’ve acquired it suspiciously. Likely, they have an old email list that they’re using to send out phishing scams and other spammy material. 

How honeypot email addresses end up on mailing lists

Clearly, you never intend to add a honeypot to your mailing list. So, how does it get there? In most cases, it comes down to one of these reasons: 

A spammer creates the email address

In some cases, a spammer or a bot will generate an email on your email address collection form. It’s completely illegitimate and will work as a honeypot email. All of the messages sent to this address are suddenly flagged and you’re labelled a spammer by email providers. 

An individual enters an illegitimate email

The more likely case is that someone typed in the wrong email address. They may have done this by accident, so there was no intent behind it. Still, you’ve unknowingly got a honeypot on your mailing list. 

At the same time, it’s not unheard of for competitors to honeypot one another. Someone from a rival company may intentionally join your mailing list with honeypot emails as they want you to fall into a honeypot spam trap. It sounds like a conspiracy, but it does happen. 

You purchased an email list 

Some companies and marketers still buy email lists, despite the fact this is never recommended. It seems like the easy way to grow a business, but it will have more negative consequences than you realise. One of which is that you might buy a mailing list full of honeypots! Cybersecurity specialists often create lists specifically with honeypots in as they know spammers love to buy email lists. Don’t fall for this trap!

How to avoid a honeypot spam trap

The good news is that you can follow some steps to avoid a honeypot spam trap. A combination of common sense and an improved email sign-up process will do the trick. 

4 ways to avoid honeypots

  • Don’t purchase email lists – We mentioned it above, but buying an email list is never a smart choice. Earn your subscribers naturally and organically to lower the chances of running into honeypots. 
  • Make users confirm their email address – In your sign-up form, make people type their email address twice. This covers cases when someone makes a spelling error and accidentally enters a honeypot email address. 
  • Include an opt-in box on email sign-ups – Instead of only asking people to provide their email addresses, include a box that they can tick to opt-in to receive emails. This is a great way of preventing bots from finding your form and submitting fake honeypot email addresses. 
  • Clean your email list regularly – Check your email list to see if any accounts are no longer being used. Remove them if this is the case as sometimes old accounts get converted into honeypots. 

You see, avoiding honeypot email spam traps is not too challenging. As an email marketer, you need to ensure your messages are being seen by everyone. If you end up messaging a honeypot by mistake, it can label all of your emails as spam, so all your subscribers miss them. 
Using a reliable white label email platform like Instiller can help you authenticate your emails and avoid honeypots. If you’d like to learn more, click here to contact us.

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