Section guide

Spam Traps – Guide For Email Senders

What are spam traps

Spam traps are a spam prevention method. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and blacklist providers create spam traps to lure in spammers and block them. With more than half of the world email traffic consisting of spam, spam traps are a necessary tool to diminish fraud.

Understanding Spam Traps

A spam trap, sometimes referred to as a honeypot, will appear to be a real email address that belongs to a real person, but it isn't.

Spam traps don't belong to an individual and have no value in outbound communication. Since spam trap addresses never opt-in to receive emails, any inbound messages would flag the sender as a spammer.

Not maintaining healthy lists and not abiding by the rules of permission-based email marketing is the only way spam traps could end up on your email lists.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and blacklist providers (i.e. Composite Blocking, SpamCop) commonly use spam traps to catch malicious senders. But also, lawful senders who don't maintain good email hygiene or use poor list building strategies can raise a red flag, too.

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Pristine spam traps, often collected by web scrapers, are the most dangerous because ISPs regard sending to them as abusive.

Types of spam traps

Typo Spam Traps

Have you ever misspelled “Google” in your web browser’s location bar, but it still took you directly to Have you sent out an email to “Gmial” or “yaho” and noticed it didn’t bounce?

Typo spam traps work like that. They are real email addresses which, in spite of their domain misspelling, do not bounce. ISPs set them up to get insight on marketers’ best practices.

They create addresses that contain intentional mistakes – usually, mistakes people are very likely to make when typing in their address in a form. Then, they analyze the emails those addresses receive to detect phishing and other malicious practices.

Recycled/Grey Spam Traps

Remember that email address you had in high school that you no longer use? ISPs and blacklist providers often take abandoned email addresses and use them to catch spammers. These spam traps are called recycled or grey spam traps.

Again, there are few ways to end up with a grey spam trap in your list if you follow email marketing best practices. But here are two scenarios:

  • You acquired your email list from a third party,
  • or you may have added that email address to your list a while ago. In the meantime, an ISP or a blacklist provider has turned it into a spam trap.

In the latter case, the emails you sent to that particular address must have hard bounced at some point. Not removing that hard bounce caused you to get a grey spam trap – and it may be jeopardizing your reputation as we speak.

It’s important to be in control of your lists, from opt-ins to hard bounces and unsubscribes. Paying close attention to your engagement rates – especially your bounce and open rate – is the first step you can take to avoid spam traps.

Furthermore, to keep recycled spam traps at bay:

  • Permanently suppress hard bounces
  • Segment out users who don’t engage with your emails
  • Don’t use email lists if you are unsure about their good opt-in practices.
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Not removing that hard bounce from your list caused you to get a grey spam trap – and it may be jeopardizing your reputation as we speak.

Pristine Spam Traps

ISPs and blacklist providers consider it abusive when you send emails to users who don’t expect any communication from you.

This is where pristine, or pure, spam traps come in.

ISPs or blacklist providers create email addresses that are publicly accessible in forum posts or blog posts so web scrapers can find and collect them.

Unfortunately, many email lists available for purchase come from web scrapers. To protect their customers and catch potential spammers, ISPs will filter and possibly block senders who email pristine spam traps.

Due to their very nature, pristine spam traps are extremely dangerous to your sender reputation. It’s easy to understand why: the only way they can get on an email list is if a marketer doesn’t abide to ethical email marketing practices.

Domain Spam Traps

Email marketers talk less about them, although domain spam traps are equally risky.

In this instance, every email address for a certain domain will be a spam trap. Blacklist providers would openly request owners of dormant domains to point their MX records to the blacklist provider. When that happens, all the email addresses of that domain become spam traps.

How to Avoid Spam Traps

Avoiding spam traps is not as hard as you’d think. As long as you follow best practices and keep an eye on your engagement rates, your email hygiene shouldn’t be at risk.

Let’s move on to some practical tips to help you keep spam traps away from your email lists and achieve only the best email marketing results.

Pay attention to your open rates.
They’re one of the most important email marketing metrics, and for good reason. Firstly, open rates tell you how your content is doing, so you know what and when to adjust. Also, open rates can be a good indication of the potential presence of spam traps in your database.

So, if any of your subscribers haven’t engaged with your emails in more than six months, try a re-engagement campaign first. That way you can find out if they still want to remain on your email list.

If your emails to them bounce, remove those addresses right away – some of them may be spam traps.

If they don’t bounce, but don’t open your email either, remove them anyway. Keeping people on your list who don’t engage with your emails affects your sender reputation.

Don’t ever buy an email list

When buying a list, you may not be aware if the owner has used proper collection methods. There is a reasonable chance you are buying a list full of spam traps. Don’t take that risk.

Furthermore, there are many other risky addresses you may acquire. Catch-all, role based or disposable emails don’t contribute to your email marketing. Also, when you email people who haven’t opted in, you’re breaking one of the most important marketing rules: asking permission. That may result in a high number of spam complaints, which will impact your reputation and email deliverability.

If you’ve already bought an email list, don’t use it before you let an email validation service check it. ZeroBounce will tell you, with 98%+ accuracy, how many of your new leads are actual leads.

Use double-opt in

Using double opt-in is the first step you can take to ensure you’re adding a real human being to your list. Moreover, double opt-in requires a user to confirm they want to join your mailing list, so it generates a higher level of user interest. That results in higher overall engagement, which is a great way to gain ISPs’ trust and support.

NOTE: While double opt-in is a good industry practice, please remember that recipients who may have opted-in to your list at one point may become inactive later on. If an email address is inactive for some time, their address may be converted to recycled/grey traps. Implement List segmentation when you come up against these kinds of accounts.

Validate new email addresses

While implementing double opt-in is an effective measure against risky addresses, it’s not enough to keep your list safe.

You need one more layer of defense against bad data, and an email validation API helps with that. It automatically rejects abuse, misspelled, catch-all and other types of accounts that can taint your sender reputation.

There are two ways in which you can use an email validation service, like ZeroBounce:

  • Clean your list in bulk: just upload it on our platform and the system will verify it for you
  • Install an email validation API to catch typos and non-existent email addresses in real time.
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Using an email validation tool, like ZeroBounce, ensures a clean and healthy list.

Maintaining good email hygiene is the foundation of effective email marketing. Your campaigns will have the visibility they deserve and they’ll generate long-term results and a steady ROI.

Figure out your sender reputation

Your sender reputation will tell you whether or not your messages have been hitting any spam traps. While these are essential tools, they don’t paint a complete picture.

Email providers take a lot of metrics into consideration to determine your sender reputation. Those metrics include spam complaints, sending to unknown users, your potential presence in industry blacklists, and more.

Open rates don’t tell the whole story

While some blogs and email marketers stress the importance of open rates, you may be missing the larger picture.

What a lot of marketers are not aware of is that every HTML-based email contains an invisible 1px by 1px image that must load in order for the email to be tracked as an open.

If your recipients simply read your subject line, have html disabled, or block images, your email is not considered or counted open. If, for example, your list contains 1000 email addresses, but your open rate is 20%, would you dump 800 legitimately obtained address? Of course you wouldn’t.

Ready to Improve your Email Marketing Results?

We have outlined some email marketing best practices in this article:

  • Engage your customers regularly and segment out any unresponsive addresses.
  • Use double opt-in on your sign-up forms to ensure immediate engagement.
  • If you've already purchased a list, always run it through an email validation service to avoid spam traps and abuse emails.
  • Periodically validate your list to avoid recycle traps.

Following email marketing best practices can be challenging in the beginning. However, getting labeled a spammer or an abusive sender can put a hard stop on your revenue and significantly harm your business.

Ultimately, it's always in your best interest to try and adhere to the concepts we outlined in this article.

If you're ready to begin cleaning your contacts, try us for free! And if your business requires more direct interactions, our Enterprise Success Team will be happy to assist.

Spam traps FAQ

As their name suggests, spam traps are literal traps for spammers.
They are email addresses that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and blacklist providers use to lure in and block spam senders. Spam traps don’t belong to real human beings and their only purpose is to prevent fraud.

They are email addresses that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and blacklist providers use to lure in and block spam senders. Spam traps don’t belong to real human beings and their only purpose is to prevent fraud.

Pristine spam traps are email addresses created by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and blacklist providers specifically to attract, and then block, spammers. Pristine spam traps are publicly accessible online for web scrapers to find and harvest them. ISPs use pristine spam traps to detect malicious senders

Typo spam traps are email addresses created by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and blacklist providers to get insight on marketers’ best practices. These addresses contain intentional misspellings in the domain name, but won’t bounce. ISPs use them to analyze the kind of email typo spam traps receive and detect potential malicious senders.

The only way a spam trap can end up in your list is if you don’t follow email marketing best practices. So, avoid buying email lists, periodically remove unengaged subscribers, and use an email validation service to eliminate bounces.

Your sender reputation is essential in email marketing. There are several factors that determine your reputation, and one of them is your email list hygiene.
If you have a high bounce rate and your emails hit spam traps, that’s a sign you haven’t been maintaining your list. You either bought it, or you haven’t been diligent about removing bad data from a list you’ve grown yourself. Either way, your sender reputation suffers every time your emails hit a spam trap, and that affects your deliverability, as well.

When Internet Service Providers (ISPs) decide how to handle your emails, the first thing they look at is your sender reputation. So, if your reputation has taken a hit because of the spam traps in your list, ISPs see that as a sign of poor email marketing practice.
As a result, they’ll either deliver your emails to people’s Spam folder, or not deliver them at all.

There’s good news, though. A smart email validation system can spot and remove spam traps from your list, thus helping you rebuild your reputation and improve your deliverability.