What You Need to Know About Spamtraps

An inexperienced email marketer might assume that the problem of being mistaken as spam is primarily on the email clients’ ends and/or from spam blacklists. Such is not the case. Among the myriads of other factors that contribute to a marketer being marked as a spammer are spamtraps. These are email addresses that are deliberately used by ISPs to identify spammers–addresses that do not actually belong to a real person yet still receive commercial emails. ISPs make use of two primary categories of spamtraps: pure traps and recycled traps.

For an email-reliant marketer, pure traps are of the most import. Pure traps are email addresses created and seeded into purchased lists or placed on websites that are likely to be treated with email harvesting tools; the only way someone would be emailing these addresses would be if the data was acquired in a less-than-legitimate manner. These traps prove to an ISP that a marketer is buying, or harvesting email lists, and they can have a huge impact on one’s sender reputation. Once the sender reputation takes a hit, delivery rates have been known to plummet – one report was of a company that dropped from a 98% delivery rate to 25% overnight. As one can see, this kind of trap can have devastating effects on a marketer’s delivery success and can have lasting effects on the sender’s reputation for several months at the least.

Sending to a spam trap can be quite painful
Sending to a spam trap can be quite painful

Recycled spamtraps are also of concern; these are old, dormant, inactive addresses that were once owned by customers of the ISP/Email provider but have been retired from use. After an indeterminate period of inactivity, the ISP deactivates the account and returns hard bounces to senders. Once most legitimate marketers should have gotten the hint and removed the dormant email from their lists, the ISP reactivates the address, and all mail to the account gets marked as a spamtrap hit. As recycled spamtraps test who continuously sends to inactive accounts after bouncing instead of cleaning lists, they result in lower penalties than pure traps, but still get recorded as spam and impact the sender’s overall reputation.

Once a spamtrap has been hit, the sender immediately has to regain precious trust with recipients and ISPs. A far more effective approach is to prevent them from finding their way onto your list. Because only the owner of the spamtrap knows that it’s a trap, one must avoid the most common ways the traps end up on marketing lists. The main way to spring a spamtrap is to purchase lists, as such lists often don’t have originating dates for the addresses or opt-in records. These lists often have many spamtraps hidden within them.

The second means of encountering spamtraps is emailing lists of addresses that have been inactive for years. However, there are some ways that spamtraps end up on legitimate opt-in lists such as typos, common role accounts (webmaster@, sales@, support@, etc), or dead domains. The best ways to avoid spamtraps is to A) use double opt-in lists, b) keep an eye on SMTP responses in order to catch hard bounces and remove the corresponding address, and c) avoid out-of-date email addresses.

Written by
Marcin Chruszcz
Account Manager at ExpertSender
Email and marketing geek. Specializes in email deliverability, strategy and design. Basketball and MTB riding enthusiast.
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