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Spam Traps: Easy to get caught in one. Easy to avoid them

A look at the impact different spam traps may be having on your email marketing efforts and how to overcome this issue

Spam traps may be one of the more aggravating impacts on a sender’s reputation because they are almost impossible to determine down to the specific address. A spam trap looks just like a real address, but it doesn’t belong to a real subscriber – at least not anymore. And the only way it either ended up on your list (or still remains on your list) is because of poor list management and a disregard of best practices.

The good news is that as a sender, you’re in control of avoiding the spam traps and turning your Sender Reputation around. And better yet, the solution is a relatively simple one as well.

Before we get there, let’s first decode the differences between the types of spam traps out there. Knowing each of the types that you could potentially send to and how they’re created will help you better understand what steps to take to halt spam trap sending altogether.

They Come in Different Shapes and Sizes

If Optimove’s Expert Deliverability Team contacts you regarding a sudden spike in spam trap sending or speaks to you about consistent, ongoing spam trap concerns, you may hear us referring to the type of traps you’re predominantly sending to – Pristine, Typo, and Recycled.

Having an understanding of the types of traps you’re sending to allows us both to tackle the issue head-on.

Pristine Spam Traps

Pristine spam traps are email addresses that have never been used by anyone. Therefore, they never would have opted into an email list, been used to sign up for an account, or even manually handed out on a business card.

The only way a pristine trap would have ended up on your list would be because of poor acquisition strategies and practices, such as obtaining email addresses without implicit permission. These traps are set up by monitors with the sole purpose of catching spammers. Think of pristine spam traps as bait. This is one of the core reasons why we strongly suggest against ever buying or renting a list for email purposes because there’s no way to tell how many of the addresses are spam traps.

Recycled Spam Traps

When clients hit a spam trap, it’s usually a recycled spam trap. This is because, at one point in time, this address was obtained with permission. However, recycled spam traps are very old addresses that have had such a long lapse in any activity by its original owner that the provider (i.e. the ISP) considers it abandoned after a specific amount of time. It’s important to note that each ISP has a different period they use for determining when an address is considered abandoned. Once that threshold is met, they repurpose it as a trap to help monitor and expose senders who aren’t responsibly sending.

When you send to recycled spam traps, it shows that you’re not actively keeping lists up to date and validating addresses regularly. Moreover, it shows that you’re not applying engagement suppressions on key target groups to help suppress lapsed or non-engagers so that inactive and non-responders aren’t continually sent emails to.

Typo Spam Traps

Some people confuse typos with invalid addresses. Invalid addresses are ones that are missing the key “ingredients” for a mailable email address. When an address is missing the “@” symbol or a “.something” at the end of the address, we automatically suppress those addresses from being mailed to. That way, they don’t have an impact on your reputation.

However, typo spam traps are addresses that are either intentionally mistyped or accidentally mistyped where the domain has an obvious misspelling (i.e. “” vs. “”). We typically see typo traps when addresses are collected offline and entered manually to lists, or when there’s sweepstakes or giveaways that users want to enter, but don’t want to opt-in for emails to participate in. These kinds of subscribers make up a fake address or intentionally mistype their own address instead. Too tricky.

Getting Caught in the (Mouse) Trap

As you might imagine, each type of spam trap carries its own weight. Moreover, the frequency and the number of traps you hit can determine the overall impact spam trap sending has on your reputation and email program.

Typo traps can hurt your overall email reputation as they’ll increase your bounce rates and deliverability. Furthermore, less of your messages will find their way to your subscribers’ inboxes because reputation and deliverability has been impacted (which will happen regardless of the type of trap you’re sending to), and when more messages land in spam folders, less customers see them.

If you fail to take action to manage your list better and don’t apply sending best practices to your email strategy, over time, you may find that your IP address(es) will be blacklisted by public blacklists and/or by individual ISP blacklists. Ultimately, this will keep any messages from being sent to your customers altogether.

Avoiding the Trap and Staying Trap-Free

The good news here is that avoiding spam traps is something that you’re 100% able to control! The #1 rule of thumb is to never, ever purchase or rent a list for email use. Make sure that all addresses you send to from your account have manually opted-in to receive your emails. This is a sure-fire way to avoid pristine spam traps.

If you have a way to identify how subscribers were added to your list (or how their data was collected), consider taking the time to find and remove and/or-opt out anyone who wasn’t added by implicitly opting-in on their own accord.

Next, consider the overall age of your list. When was the last time you ran a full cleanse or validation? Consider using a 3rd party to cleanse and validate addresses that are more than 12 months old to remove any potential threats to your reputation and email program.

Finally, update your target groups to include attributes that point to email engagement. This will help to suppress those lapsed or non-engagers that may potentially include typo and recycled spam traps. If they’re a typo spam trap, they’ve never opened an email from you, so including an attribute like “Days Since Last Open is Less Than or Equal to 180” will suppress them.

And, if they’re a recycled spam trap, emails are only being delivered, but they haven’t engaged with your messages in a very long time, so that same attribute will also work to suppress this trap too.

While your overall audience sizes may look much smaller than you’d like or are used to, bear in mind that your original groups included a lot of wasted sends – addresses of subscribers who never opened, never clicked, and certainly never converted. Once you use cleaner sending lists, you’ll see better metrics, better results, and best of all – have a better sender reputation score! In this case, less will worth more.

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Dana Shirlen

Dana Shirlen leads Optimove’s internal email marketing agency as Director of Email Marketing. Dana has over 15 years managing the email marketing strategies of many recognizable global B2C and B2B brands. As the Director of Email Marketing, Dana is bridging the gap for Optimove’s customers in providing a data-driven marketing plan and timely implementation grounded in best practices, targeted content and visually engaging design. Prior to her role at Optimove, Dana managed the CRM and email marketing strategies for enterprise clients at Tinuiti. Dana holds a BS from Ohio University, with a major in Advertising Management and concentrations in both marketing and creative writing.