Spam traps are a common technique used by receivers, ISPs and filtering companies to identify senders with poor data collection practices. Spam trap addresses are addresses that have been established for the sole reason of catching illegitimate email.
There are two categories or types of spam traps:
1. Pristine Spam Traps are email addresses created solely to capture spammers (sometimes referred to as honey pots). These email addresses were never owned by a real person, do not subscribe to email programs and of course will not make purchases. Many spam trap operators will post (seed) pristine traps across the internet on various participating websites. They are usually hidden in the background code of webpages and are acquired by a spambot scraping email addresses. If you’re hitting pristine traps this typically indicates you have a bad data collection.
2. Recycled Spam Traps are email addresses that were once used by a real person. These email addresses are abandoned email accounts that are recycled by ISPs as spam traps. Before turning an abandoned email address into a spam trap, ISPs will return unknown user error codes for a year. Once ISPs reactivate (recycle) the abandoned email address, mail is once again allowed to be received by the email address. If you’re hitting recycled spam traps this typically indicates your data hygiene process is not working.
How does “hitting” spam traps impact my delivery rates?
Virtually all ISPs monitor the rate at which you email to spam trap addresses. If you continue to mailing spam traps over any period of time your email campaigns will be subject to bulking and blocking. The result can be a dramatic decrease in delivery rates leading your email program performance to lag.
How to Resolve Spam Traps
Spam traps are, by definition, secret. This makes removal extremely difficult and time-consuming. It’s far better to ensure they don’t get on your lists in the first place. This can be achieved by consistently applying good address collection and permission maintenance practices. Maintaining an accurate subscriber database is a cornerstone of email best practices, and receivers have a low tolerance level for senders who mail to their spam trap addresses. Here’s what you can do to avoid and resolve them.
- Establish an on-going process for actively removing subscribers that are both aged and inactive.
- Following a spam trap hit, isolate any new data that was sent within the last 24 hours. This will define which set of emails or segment contained the trap hit. (Example: If the total file is 1M addresses, this segment or section of the file with the trap hit might be 100,000 email addresses
- Divide the email segments into a smaller sub-set of addresses that can you mail, to determine which sub-set contains the spam trap hit. (Example: create 10 sub-sets out of the file with 10,000 email addresses each).
- Mail each of the subsets in turn over a period of time to see if you continue to hit a trap. (Example: Mail a single sub-set every day over a 10 day period).
- If the segment doesn’t contain a trap hit you can add it back to the main segment or file knowing that it is clean at this point in time.
- If the segment does contain a trap hit you can continue to break the emails down to smaller subsets and continue steps 3-5. You can also send a re-opt-in email notifying users that they will need to opt-in to your email again or else they will no longer continue receiving email from your brand. Then remove the addresses or segment of addresses that do not respond from your file.
- Ensure that a bounce, opt-out, or suppression file was not mailed.
- Review old inactive data to determine if the risk mailing to these addresses is worth hitting a spam trap. Remember, spam traps will not open, click URLs, or make online purchases.
How do I avoid spam traps?
Avoiding the first type of spam trap is easy since legitimate businesses could never acquire one of the brand new addresses created by ISPs. Employing solid list hygiene and data collection procedures is the key to avoiding the second type of spam trap. Adhering to best practices in these areas is the foundation of a successful email program.
- Use “double opt-in registration. Amazing enough, sending a simple confirmation email with a “double opt-in” link to confirm the email address before you send them anything else will protect you from spam traps 99.9% of the time. This should become a regular email practice for all of your subscribers to help you avoid spam traps/complaints.
- Use Google’s reCaptcha – read all about it here.
- Type email twice at sign up. On sign up pages ask customers to type the email address twice to prevent “fat fingering” mistakes which could unintentionally be a spam trap address.
- Review your data collection, third party data sourcing and data maintenance practices to identify areas that might allow the collection of spam trap addresses, or that permit the retention of aged and inactive records on your database. If you are unable to identify problem areas with your data collection, data partners, or data maintenance, you may need to localize the spam trap problem through a process of segmentation of data, and either reconfirming or deleting high risk segments. Once you have identified and corrected the problem areas in your mailing program and practices, your rate of mailing to spam traps should decrease over time. Continue to monitor volume and rate of spam trap hits from ISP and performance tools and public blacklists together with the Symplify Deliverability team to ensure continued compliance. Sound like a lot of work? Symplify support monitor spam traps for each customer and we know if you have hit a spam trap. We will then contact you to help you find the problem.
- Exclude addresses at sign up. Make sure your address collection process automatically excludes/removes: abuse@ and postmaster@ addresses, malformed addresses with misspelled domains (i.e. email@example.com) role accounts (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) nonsensical email addresses (ex. firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Unknown users, avoid emailing the dead. You should monitor aged addresses that never open or click within your email messages. Together with the Symplify Deliverability specialist we are able to find email addresses that never open up your emails. Plan to remove addresses that over time never open up your emails.
- Unsubscribe Functionality; Don’t Hold Subscribers Hostage. Providing subscribers with the ability to unsubscribe from receiving your mail, and maintaining a process that consistently works and processes requests in a timely manner is a cornerstone of email best practices. And it’s required by law via the CAN‐SPAM Act. Other than it being illegal, if your unsubscribe process isn’t consistently available or is difficult to use, you run the risk of subscribers hitting the “report spam” button just to get off your list.
- Review Your Unsubscribe Process. Conduct a detailed review of your current unsubscribe practices. This entails reviewing the actual process that subscribers use to be removed from your list, as well as, reviewing the internal processing of the request that results in the removal of the address from additional mailings.
- Make Sure Your Unsubscribe Process Works. Once you have identified and corrected the problem areas in your mailing. program and practices, you should see improvements in your ability to efficiently unsubscribe recipients over time. Continue to monitor your unsubscribe processes to ensure that it is easy to use, nearly always available to subscribers, and that requests are processed in a timely manner.
- Remove old addresses. Establish an on-going process for actively removing subscribers that are both old and inactive.
Symplify Deliverability specialists regularly monitor feedback about your spam trap activity. We are monitoring the following sources to track your rate of hitting spam traps:
- Microsoft SNDS
- Spam Cop listings.
- Public DNSBLs that are indicative of hitting spam traps (e.g. http://www.blacklistalert.org/)