A spam trap is an email address traditionally used to expose illegitimate senders who add email addresses to their lists without permission. But they are also set up to identify email marketers with poor permission and list management practices.
Sending to a spam trap can be very damaging to your sender reputation as well as causing deliverability problems for others using Campaign Monitor.
This article explains how spam traps are created and used to help you understand how they can end up on your subscriber lists, even if you abide by the rules of permission-based email marketing.
So, you’ve hit a spam trap…
Hitting a trap can come as a shock, because even good email marketers can get caught and it’s not always immediately clear why it has happened. Possible explanation include errors when collecting email addresses offline, importing old lists and using only single opt-in for sign ups.
The type of spam trap you hit can be an indicator of where your problems may lie. Our compliance team will work with you to investigate how the trap may have got on your, or your client’s, list and advise on how to rectify the situation.
With your help we can get you back on track towards a safe, successful email program.
Why spam traps are bad (and good)
Nobody likes spam, and spam traps are very effective at fighting it so for that we can all be grateful. That is until, despite your good intentions, a spam trap ends up on your mailing list.
The bad news about spam traps
The impact of hitting a spam trap can vary. It depends on variables like: the type of trap you hit, how many times you hit it, and how the spam trap operator handles things at their end.
In order of bad to really bad, here’s what can happen if you or one of your clients sends email to a spam trap:
- Your sender reputation will be damaged, causing bounce rates to increase, and as a result your percentage of delivered (to the inbox) emails will decrease.
- Our IP address may be added to a blacklist database, which means deliverability for your other clients (and our other customers) would also be affected.
- If you hit a spam trap operated by an ISP, such as Yahoo! or AOL, that ISP could permanently blacklist your whole domain.
- If you hit a trap operated by an anti-spam organization (e.g. Abusix, Spamhaus, SpamCop) delivery of your emails to all ISPs and companies who consult that organization’s database will be affected because they use that information to filter incoming emails.
The good news about spam traps
As painful as they are to deal with when found on your mailing lists, here’s why spam traps are actually good to have around:
- Think about all the spam emails you’ve ever deleted from your inbox. If it wasn’t for spam traps, the number of times you’ve had to click “Junk” would probably be triple.
- As mentioned earlier, even good email marketers can be caught by spam traps. There are a lot of things you need to pay attention to, to maintain a successful sending program. If something is off, hitting a trap provides an excellent opportunity to revise your list growing and email marketing methods.
Types of spam traps
It is possible to hit a spam trap without knowingly doing anything wrong. This is because of the different ways that spam traps are created.
Pure spam traps
These are email addresses that have never been used by anyone: they’ve never been opted into a mailing list, used to sign up for an account, or handed out on a business card.
The only way this sort of spam trap could possibly end up on your subscriber list is if they were obtained without permission.
Pure spam traps are set up with the sole intention of luring in spammers, which is done by leaving them out as bait. The address is placed on the Internet where people or robots harvesting email addresses illegitimately will find them.
When email addresses are collected this way they’re often usually shared with other spammers or added to bulk mailing lists that get sold to people who may not understand the consequences of emailing people without permission.
Recycled spam traps
This is the kind of trap you could hit even if every email address on the list was obtained with permission. But they’re still bad news because sending to these addresses can make you look like a spammer.
Recycled spam traps are very old email addresses that are no longer in use by the original owner. The address has been abandoned for so long the provider has repurposed it as a trap to expose, and block emails from, senders who are not responsibly managing their email marketing program.
Hitting a recycled spam trap indicates that you are not keeping your lists up to date, which means regularly removing inactive subscribers and managing bounced emails.
Typos and fake emails
If someone subscribes using an email address that contains a typo, or they submit a deliberately fake email address – because they don’t want to be emailed – you run the risk of it, coincidentally, being a spam trap email address.
For example, someone might submit an address with a typo in the domain: @gnail instead of @gmail. Typos on the domain side of the address, after the @, are the most common spam traps but you can also strike one with a misspelled username: the bit before the @.
Username typos can happen when email addresses are collected offline and later have to be entered into a database, or it be entered incorrectly when a customer is spelling it out over the phone.
Website registration and shopping cart forms are where you’re going to attract the fake emails. If you’ve ever had to hand over your email address in exchange for a “free whitepaper,” you can appreciate how this happens.
The best way to avoid both of these trap types is using confirmed opt-in. By requiring new subscribers to verify their subscription address with a response you can ensure your list will never be contaminated with an invalid email address that, at best, will bounce and at worst is a spam trap.
These type of spam traps are designed more so to encourage best practices than fight bulk-mail spammers. You’re highly unlikely to be blacklisted if these traps are found on your list but you will still be required to take action to stop hitting them.
Recovering from a spam trap hit
Your campaign reports do not include notification of spam trap hits. If traps are found on your or your client’s subscriber lists our compliance team will contact you by email with information on which client it was (if you have multiple clients) and which campaign send.
Regardless of the severity of the case, sending will be suspended for the client (or your entire account if there is only one client) until we help you resolve the issues with the list containing spam trap emails.
The review and recovery process will involve:
- Identifying all the ways subscriber data has been collected and added to your list. If for any reason, third party or purchased email addresses have been added to your list, they must be removed immediately.
- Reviewing the age of your lists. We need to find out how old your database is and how regularly, or irregularly, they have been sent bulk commercial emails.
- Segmenting your list based on recipient activity: opens, clicks and forwards. When the suspension is removed we’ll get you to send only to your most engaged subscribers to start with, which will help to repair your sender reputation.
This process can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to resolve. We understand it can all sound quite daunting, but so long as you are willing to work with us a legitimate sender with good intentions there is no need to worry.
Going through damage control in response to hitting any kind of spam trap is actually a great opportunity to review and improve your sending and list management practices with the help of our expert compliance team.