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Email marketing

Mailing List Management: What are Spam Traps?

A clean and active mailing list will do a lot of good for your email marketing efforts. It’s not easy to maintain good inbox placement. Many factors could affect deliverability. One particular part of mailing list management I’d like to highlight this time is spam traps. Spam traps can be particularly nasty.

What is a Spam Trap?

Spam traps are email addresses used to catch illegitimate senders. They look like real email addresses – you cannot usually recognise a spam-trap when you see one.

How do they work?  These email addresses don’t belong to any real individual. As such, they should not really be used for any incoming communications – basically, no email addresses should be landing in these inboxes. Anything that does is spam – illegitimate emails. And if you’re the one sending that email, then your sending reputation and deliverability might be in trouble.

Spam Traps Lurk in Unloved Databases

If you have good database management practices, organic acquisition rather than other, well, unrecommended methods, you should worry too much.  However,  stale databases, old email lists, purchased email addresses, well, that’s where spam traps lurk.

Therefore, if you decide to try one of these “unconventional” methods of acquiring a mailing list and you unknowingly hit a spam trap, unfortunately, your sending reputation will be marked in a bad way. As it will be pretty clear that you obtained your mailing list in a dodgy way.  

Spam Trap Types

There are several types of spam traps, but I’d like to in this article. The two most common spam traps are:

  • pure spam traps
  • recycled spam traps

These will have the most significant effect on your deliverability and sender reputation if you happen to hit them.

Pure Spam Traps

Pure spam traps can really hurt your inbox placement. They are created solely to act a spam trap and, basically, catch spammers. All emails landing there will indeed be considered spam. In many instances, if email messages landing in these traps indicate improper  mailing list acquisition practices. An example of such an approach is website scraping for email addresses.

Recycled Spam Traps

Recycled Spam Traps, otherwise known as dead address traps.As the name suggests, they are “recycled” email addresses. Once upon a time, they were owned by people, like you or me, but were abandoned and not used in a very long time. Each inbox provider will have its own inactivity time-frame set).

When this happens, Internet Service Providers will switch the account off and return a hard bounce to the senders. Later, some of these email addresses will be resurrected or, as others call it, “gravestoned”.

These dormant emails will be turned into Recycled Spam Traps. Thus, you are very likely to hit such a trap, if you do not keep a good mailing list hygiene. For example, you keep sending your marketing emails to inactive contacts on your email list.

Ways to Avoid Spam Traps

So, know that you know more about the main spam taps, you should have a good understanding of how to avoid them. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Do not buy email databases. They will surely get you into trouble.
  • Practice organic list building practices. Let your readers subscribe to your emails themselves.
  • Look after your email list, mailing list health is very important.
  • Use a double opt-in to avoid spammy subscription entries.
  • Manage your bounces. Remove hard bounces straight away, and suppress soft bounces after a set number of bounce backs.
  • Regularly clean your database, remove or suppress inactive clients.

How to Remove a Spam Trap?

If you think you have a spam trap on your mailing list, well, you have to get ready for thorough database cleanup! Find the contacts in your email database that are inactive. Set an inactivity timeframe, for example, six months. And suppress these contacts. They shouldn’t be getting marketing emails from you.

Evaluate your marketing campaigns after this change – did it work? If not, narrow the timeframe even further or segment into different smaller segments, and try to find which one contains is the one you’re looking for.

Key Takeaway

Well, the key takeaway here is to not buy email addresses. In many countries, that’s very much illegal. Moreover, many ESPs (email service providers) will not allow that. Also, look after your mailing lists, clean them up, make sure they’re accurate and up-to-date.

Originally published December 2017, updated in January 2021


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