How to Find & Avoid Spam Trap Emails

How to Find & Avoid Spam Trap Emails

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There’s something lurking in the corners of the email marketing world that scares a lot of marketing teams: the dreaded spam trap.

Spam traps instill fear in marketers because having your email sender address marked as spam will immediately and negatively impact your email deliverability rate. Most people might not understand how spam traps work, how common they are and, more specifically, how to minimize the risk of being marked as an unsafe sender. While it’s impossible to avoid spam traps entirely, good data hygiene will help you limit your exposure.

It’s important to note that sending unsolicited email is not the same as sending spam. The key is making sure that if you do send cold emails, you take certain precautions beforehand to avoid spam traps. Keep reading to learn about spam traps — and how to avoid them.

What is a spam trap?

A spam trap is a valid, deliverable email address used exclusively to receive and “trap” unsolicited emails. Spam traps usually look like normal email addresses, making them seemingly impossible to identify. They are responsible for keeping spam out of our inboxes — and for that, we should be thankful.

The purpose of a spam trap is to identify spammers and senders with poor emailing practices. Unfortunately for many teams, this is not a seamless process. Spam traps don’t just catch spammers — they can inadvertently catch good guys, too. Even companies that adhere to best practices when building up their IP and domain reputation, can still end up hitting a spam trap.

Spam traps can find their way onto the email list of a legitimate sender. In most cases, this happens as a result of the sender’s lack of data hygiene. Regardless, the consequences can be severe. The sender’s email deliverability may drop significantly, and entire domains may be blacklisted, preventing even operational or one-on-one correspondence with customers and prospects.

Types of spam traps

There are two major types of spam traps used to reduce unwanted emails: pure spam traps and recycled spam traps.

Pure spam traps

1. Fake address for a real person

Pure spam traps, also called pristine spam traps, are set up for the only purpose of attracting spammers. Let’s say your CEO’s name is John Doe and your email formula is <>.

You could create the inbox for <> as a spam trap and mark all incoming mail to that address as spam. This works because anyone who has a legitimate reason for emailing John would send an email to <> instead. Companies often plant spam traps like this in corners of the internet, luring web scrapers into emailing to their trap.

2. Real address for a fake person

Companies looking to thwart spammers can also create a fake social profile, setting up an inbox for that fake person as a trap, and then labeling any company that emails that inbox as spam. This identifies people and organizations that are emailing someone they don’t know. NOTE: This practice casts a very broad net, since there are many legitimate reasons to email people you don’t know.

Recycled or retired email spam traps

Another type of spam trap is a recycled email address. Some companies take the emails of departed employees and convert them into spam traps. Marketers who purchase old lists or use data that isn’t regularly cleaned are particularly susceptible to these traps.

But it’s important to note that all types of marketers are susceptible to these types of spam traps, because even your own customers might recycle retired email addresses and convert them into spam traps.

Ways you could fall into a spam trap

When you conduct cold email campaigns, you’re at risk of falling into a spam trap. Data providers, email verification tools, and email marketers can help you minimize the possibility, but they cannot completely eliminate the risks.

What’s a diligent email marketer to do? If you want to avoid spam traps completely, you should only send emails to your opt-in contacts. You should also avoid purchasing data from a data provider. That may sound simple enough, but if you want to generate new leads and increase sales these tactics are not always helpful

Outbound campaigns are the key to growth in digital marketing. To be successful, every sales and marketing team has to leverage third-party data in some way. The first step in dealing with spam traps is to realize that they aren’t entirely avoidable. To mitigate risk, let’s learn a little bit more about how they work.

How to remove spam trap email addresses


1. Make sure you have access to the most up-to-date data possible.

The best way to avoid spam traps is to use up-to-date data lists.
That’s because lists are subject to decay by the minute. The bounce rates you get won’t be pleasant, either. Work with a data provider that prioritizes ongoing data hygiene so your lists are constantly being reviewed, cleansed, enriched, and any old or out-of-date emails are being removed.

2. Scrub inactive contacts out of your CRM and marketing automation tool.

If someone hasn’t opened, clicked, or responded to an email of yours after 15 consecutive campaigns, you probably want to suspend all emails to that address. Most marketing automation platforms (MAPs) have filters that enable you to remove contacts that have not engaged with your messages within a certain time period.

3. Invest in email verification services.

Email verification services, like NeverBounce, are capable of confirming that the email addresses in your list are valid and up-to-date. Keep in mind: conducting email verification will help you avoid spam traps, but only if you’re taking other measures to ensure your list is clean and accurate. Unfortunately, many spam traps will get past email verification tools because they are actual inboxes.

Note: Email verification services have their limitations in avoiding spam. They can mark emails as having a high risk of being a spam trap. But they are not a complete solution for two reasons:

  1. They don’t actually know which emails are spam traps.
  2. These types of services often classify an address as “potentially dangerous” just because it was on a list that contained a spam trap.

For example, let’s say there’s a list online of 1,000 marketing professionals, and your email address is on it. Now let’s say a company emails everyone on that list and gets notified that the email hit a spam trap. Your email address would also get tagged as “potentially dangerous” because it was on a list that contained a spam trap—despite being correct.

Using verification tools decreases the odds that you will hit a spam trap. But it also decreases your addressable market and potential, because you’re avoiding the inclusion of many valid emails in your campaigns.

Key takeaways for avoiding email spam traps

If spam traps sound like they’re difficult to avoid, don’t despair. And don’t assume your email list is spotless just because it appears to be.

While spam traps are one of the biggest roadblocks to a perfect email reputation, you can take steps to avoid them as long as you put the right processes and tools in place. The more time and effort you put into avoiding spam traps, the more you’ll reap the rewards and fuel a winning email strategy.

Email verification is critical to the process of identifying and avoiding spam traps in your email marketing efforts. Visit NeverBounce for all your real-time email cleaning needs.

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