If we have to choose the most dreaded words in email marketing, spam traps would definitely be at the top of the list. After all, spam traps can significantly damage your sender reputation and email deliverability, even if you're not a spammer yourself. This is why knowing what spam traps are and how to prevent them from showing up in your email contact lists is of utmost importance for every email marketer.
In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know about spam trap emails: how to recognize them, the types of spam traps, the damage they cause, as well as how to avoid them and make sure your lists are always free from these annoying, harmful addresses.
But first, let's explain what spam traps are.
What Are Spam Traps?
Spam traps, also known as email honeypots, are usually bot email addresses that lure spammers in and block them from sending any emails in the future. They are mainly used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and blacklist providers, anti-spam organizations like SURBL and Spamhaus, and companies whose primary focus is security and protection, such as McAfee and TrendMicro.
Spam traps don't look any different from regular email addresses. The main difference is that a real-life person does not own them and the way they're used isn't for any communication purposes, meaning they aren't used actively, nor can they be used to send emails. ISPs, blacklist providers, and the like monitor spam traps to see if they receive emails.
Spam traps are there to catch, identify, and manage these unwanted spam emails and to monitor sites that are not on their best behavior.
How Bad Is It to Have Spam Traps in Your Lists?
Well, it all depends on what kind of spam trap you get stuck with, what organization or platform is responsible for it, and how often you've sent emails to it. We saw, for example, that the pristine spam traps were the worst kind to have on your email list.
Any kind of spam trap on your list can affect your sender reputation, which is a score that ISPs give to the websites that send emails. Sender reputation is a key player in email deliverability, which, as the name says, shows the email addresses' capability to deliver emails to their subscribers' inboxes. Many factors determine your sender reputation, some directly connected to the issue of spam traps. For example, your sender reputation will depend on whether your company/website email is included in any existing blacklists, how often it hits spam traps, how many of the sent emails bounce, among many other things.
A more extreme outcome of landing a spam trap is having your IP or domain blacklisted (or both) by a security company or a particular ISP.
Another question you might have is just how big of a deal is one or several spam traps among a vast sea of legitimate email contacts? Well, it turns out it is a big deal, for the simple reason that the security companies or ISPs don't really care about the number of email addresses on your list. You could send emails to 30 people or 3 million people, and it won't make a difference if there are spam traps as well.
If you've been blacklisted, contact the blacklist provider to ask for further assistance on how to get your name off their spam blacklists. You can find out more info about this topic by reading our How to Check Your Email IP Reputation & Blacklists Online article.
What Are the Different Types of Spam Traps?
An important thing you should know about email spam traps is that there isn't only one type of spam trap - in fact, there are several of them, and they all have their own peculiar ways of ending up on your email lists.
Next, I want to give you an overview of the kinds of spam traps you should look out for.
Pure or Pristine Spam Traps
Pristine spam traps are the ones that are directly created by Internet Service Providers and other similar organizations. The particular thing about them is that they've never been used as sending addresses before, or as emails for account signup, or on business cards, and the like.
So how would they end up on your contact list, you might ask?
Well, the pristine spam traps will find their way on your list only if you've obtained them without permission first. These kinds of traps exist with only one intention - to attract and ambush spammers. Simply said, they're used as bait. Their addresses are put (embedded) on websites so that spammers and robots who harvest websites can find them and use them for their purposes.
It's worth noting that pristine spam traps can also be found on rented or purchased email lists, which is how unaware buyers usually end up with a bunch of spam addresses without even knowing it. That's why buying email lists is not ethical marketing.
So, when an ISP notices that a certain email address is actually sending to a spam trap, for them it's a sign that there's something wrong with the sender and that they've used some fishy methods to grow their contact list.
Of all types of spam traps, pristine spam traps are the worst kind because they're most likely to get your IP address and domain blacklisted.
Recycled Spam Traps
Recycled spam traps can find their way onto your email lists even if you haven't obtained them without asking first. However, they can still do some damage to your sender reputation, even though they're not as harmful as the pristine spam traps.
Recycled spam traps are addresses their owners have abandoned, so the provider decided to reorient their use into spam traps.
If you find a recycled spam trap in your email list it means you haven't updated or cleaned your lists in a while and that you should do a better job in clearing away addresses of subscribers who haven't been active for a time, as well as managing emails that have bounced.
Email With Typos
Have you ever encountered a "yaho" as opposed to "yahoo" or "gnail" instead of "gmail"? If you have, you've likely stood face to face with a spam trap. These are probably the most easily identifiable spam traps. Usually, the typos come after the @ sign, but they can also sometimes be found in the name before the sign.
These spam traps can tarnish your sender reputation even when they're unintentional. These unintentional errors can happen when a customer signing up makes a mistake in the online form or a customer mistakenly spells their address on the phone. Another way in which these mistakes are often made is when email addresses are gathered offline and are later placed into a database.
Yes, this can also be a reason why you might end up with a spam trap. Fake addresses often show up if people want to get something for free on the internet, and all that is required of them is an email address. Shopping cart forms are a good example of this. If you still want to give free stuff and avoid spam traps, make sure to use the opt-in confirmation method, so your subscribers can actually receive your mail and happily accept that it is indeed their real address it has arrived at.
How Do You End Up With a Spam Trap on Your Email Lists?
The main way a spam trap address can end up on your email list is if you haven't been keeping your list tidy enough. Another reason may be that you haven't been very diligent in following internet rules on email marketing based on user permission.
How To Know If There Is a Spam Trap in My Email List?
If your domain or IP has been blacklisted (or list denied), it's very likely that you've gotten a spam trap in your email list.
If this happens, it's important to have your eye on your email delivery rates to ensure that your email lists aren't affected by spam traps. If you notice that the delivery rates are declining (steadily or rapidly), it's also very probable that you have a spam trap on your lists.
Now, let's go into more detail on identifying spam trap emails.
How to Recognize Spam Trap Email
Email spam traps can be hard to find because they often resemble regular email addresses. However, it's not like this is a lost cause to begin with. There are ways you can recognize spam traps so you can remove them from your email list.
One way to do this is to track user engagement. It's simple, really - we know there aren't real users behind those addresses, which means nobody is going to potentially click or open your emails. So, when you go through your email list and find email addresses that are not active for a longer period (3, 6, or more months), you should consider getting rid of them. Even if they are not email spam traps, you still don't need dormant addresses on your email lists.
Here are a couple of things to have in mind when trying to identify possible spam traps in your email lists.
Email Addresses With Typos
Like I mentioned earlier, these are botched email addresses like 'gnail', 'gmall', 'yaho', or the like. Whether intentional or not, sending to these addresses can hurt your reputation. Bento's SpamCheck does an excellent job of correcting minor errors in domain names such as 'gnail' back to 'gmail' so you don't have to scour through your list for them.
Dormant Email Addresses
These abandoned or unused email addresses once belonged to a real person and are now used to lure spammers. An easy way to track them is through email engagement. This would also apply to fake email addresses. Just keep an eye on engagement and eliminate addresses with no activity.
Notice the Hard Bounces
These can be very telling, especially with abandoned emails turned into spam traps (also called recycled spam traps). Once you take notice of your hard bounces, take steps to remove the email addresses in question immediately.
How Can I Remove Spam Traps From My Lists?
Okay, so you think you have a spam trap. Now what? Well, this means only one thing: it's about time to clean that email list - and clean it well!
Start by removing email addresses you haven't engaged with for the last six months. And if this doesn't work, then make the timeframe even shorter - cut it to three months.
If this doesn't work, you can also try removing spam traps through segmentation. You should start by identifying the cleanest list segments in your contact lists and make sure they don't mix with the contaminated contact lists. Narrow the segments down to the ones you think are most contaminated with spam traps until you find them.
How Can I Make Sure My Email Lists are Free of Spam Traps?
Odds are one will find its way onto your list. Sometimes people just spell something wrong, and without double opt-in, you now have a bad address on your list. The best way to keep your lists clean is to keep a watchful eye on your metrics. If an address never opens, clicks, or interacts, it is best to get rid of it.
Clean Your Lists Regularly
First of all, make sure to trim your list every six months by removing all the subscribers and email addresses that you're not engaging with and that are not engaging with you. They might be old, uninterested, and so on - it doesn't matter. What's important is for you to notice it and make sure your email lists are always up to date.
Also, be wary of bounced emails. Some ESPs (Email Service Providers) will clean your bounced emails. And if you're changing providers and you're moving your email lists, you should pay special attention to the addresses you've already cleaned up and the users who have unsubscribed. Even with a new provider, they should all end up on the inactive list.
Use Double Verification for New Subscribers
Honestly, one of the best pieces of advice I can give when it comes to keeping your email list free from spam traps is to use the double opt-in confirmation option for lists gathered during a signup process. When your users enter their email address, ask them to confirm it in their inbox. It's so simple, really - if it's the right address, they'll do just that. If it isn't, you've potentially saved yourself from a nasty spam trap. It's the best - and only - way to ensure you're getting a valid, new email address, free from typos. It's also a great way to see whether the subscriber really wants you in their inbox or not.
Use Email Verification Services
Email verification services (EVS) are there to locate any potential spam trap emails in your list - these are usually inactive or misspelled. ZeroBounce, NeverBounce, Xverify, Bouncer, and DeBounce are EVS tools that you can find online and check whether your email lists are up to date.
What's important to remember if you use these EVS services is that you should simultaneously take other actions to clean your lists and make sure they're valid. This is because EVS services aren't perfect in doing their job, even though they're very capable of marking high-risk emails. They usually locate these emails in already existing spam trap lists, but they sometimes make the mistake of marking regular emails because they accidentally sent an email to a spam trap. So you have to be careful with them because they can be a double-edged sword and affect the good email addresses on your list.
And lastly, another great piece of advice you shouldn't pass on is that it's never a good idea to purchase email lists. Never. I mean, what's the point in avoiding spam traps if you end up acting like a spammer?
Can I Find a List of Spam Traps Online?
No, not really. There isn't a specific place online where you can look up spam traps and know the ones you should steer clear of. If you happen to stumble upon such a place claiming to have these lists, it's most likely some kind of scam.
A credible service or platform won't do this because spam traps are first and foremost for the protection of people's inboxes and data. If you have access to open-source knowledge of spam traps then spammers will also have it - and then the point of having them is lost completely. They'll just know which addresses to avoid and it'll be much harder to control the onslaught of spam email.
Why Do I Have Spam Trap Issues in One Email Service but Not Another?
This has mostly to do with the fact that every ESP (such as Outlook, AOL, Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) has its own lists of spam traps that they use as resources to monitor spam activity.
Now, if you notice that you've been having issues with one provider but not another, it most likely has to do with the fact that the providers have used different pools of spam traps in the process. So, the spam traps that caused your issues with one provider are probably not present in a different list with a different provider, which is why you're experiencing issues with one but not the other.