Managing an email list seems easy at first glance, but if you’re not careful, then there are some things that can really catch you off guard. Unfortunately, there are many traps that businesses who are new to the email marketing game can fall into, and one of the largest is the dreaded spam trap. Here’s how to remove spam traps and keep your email list safe.
What is a spam trap?
A spam trap is a sort of honeypot used by email service providers to catch malicious senders. What they are after is people who are sending unsolicited emails to addresses that they have stolen or purchased in bulk, because these unscrupulous marketers never got permission from the owners of those addresses to send them in the first place.
Unfortunately, even if you’re not doing anything shady, it can be easy to get caught up in these traps as well. This is because many of the triggers for a spam trap include not using good email list practices, and new list owners are often not knowledgeable enough to know why they should be taking these precautions.
Spam traps look like they are real email addresses, but they aren’t used for any communication at all. Their sole purpose is to catch spammers and scammers who are filling up people’s inboxes with junk mail that they never signed up for.
Why should you care about spam traps?
It’s estimated that one in five emails that you send will never reach the inbox of your subscribers. Email marketing is a numbers game based on tons of variables and knobs that can make your campaigns successful when done right, but if those emails never arrive, then none of that matters.
Falling into a spam trap doesn't just throw a wrench into your finely tuned marketing machine, but it could totally destroy everything you’ve built if you’re not careful. If you get caught in a spam trap, then the provider will likely blacklist your address from their servers. This means that all of your emails sent to any addresses they host go straight to the spam folder.
If you get blacklisted from a popular email provider like Gmail, then the consequences could be catastrophic for your business, and once you’re blacklisted there’s no easy way to fight the decision. Email providers and spam compliance agencies have a zero tolerance policy on this and your case likely won’t be reviewed. You might even get banned from your marketing services provider because they have a responsibility to address these issues as well.
How do you identify spam traps?
There are a few types of spam traps, so let’s go over them.
Pristine or Pure Spam Traps
This trap should not really impact you as long as you’re not doing anything shady, but it is important to bring it up anyway. Email addresses used for spam traps in this category are hidden in web pages. The address is never made public, so the only way to get it is by using scraping software to illegally harvest email addresses in bulk from places like forums.
While sometimes the scammer may send offers to this list themselves, it’s more likely that they will try to sell it to someone who doesn’t know any better. This can get you into a lot of trouble, and you should never purchase an email list from anyone. While it can be tempting to “jump start” your business with an existing list, these shortcuts will only bring you trouble.
Recycled email traps
Most providers have a time limit for email addresses. If you don’t use that address within a specified time frame, then it will be released to save space on their servers. Sometimes though they actually repurpose these emails as spam traps.
They look just like real addresses because they used to be, but they don’t communicate at all. Sending an email to an address like this will result in a hard bounce. If you see any hard bounces at all on your list you should remove them immediately as this is a metric that providers will use to judge your trustworthiness as a sender.
Typo, fake or incorrect domain traps
In many cases, these are not traps but simply users who have not correctly entered their email address. Sometimes though, innocent looking addresses like this can be traps that will trigger a higher spam rating. You should make it a point to delete these if you come across them.
How to remove spam traps and avoid them altogether
It can be tough to identify spam traps since most of them look like real addresses, but you can easily get rid of them by practicing good mailing list hygiene practices. Spam traps are not actually people, so they do not behave as a subscriber would. That means that the easiest way to keep them off of your list is to make sure that actions are required to sign up or stay on the list.
Use Double opt-in
Double opt-in is the number one way to keep spam traps off your list. A spam trap can’t opt-in. It also stops typos and fake addresses from making their way on to your list, and everyone who runs an email list should be using it to keep their list healthy.
Don’t buy email addresses
This is actually illegal under many jurisdictions, and - for example, the CAN-SPAM act prevents you from selling or buying email lists. In order to send mail to people, you must have gotten permission from them, and that permission is not transferable. Plus, even if it was not illegal, many lists you would buy are junk produced by scrapers which would have little value anyway. It’s also a good way to get yourself blacklisted by email providers, so don’t do it.
Remove inactive users
If you have users who never open your emails you should consider removing them. This increases the chance of your emails being labeled as spam. Plus, even if you collected a now abandoned email the right way when it was active, it could still become a spam trap later! Regularly clean your list using an email verification service to stop these traps in their tracks.