What is a Spam Trap?

Spam traps and how you might email them can be a long conversation. The simplest way to describe them is they’re addresses functioning solely to catch bad senders being…well, bad.

Beyond that, while still keeping this simple, there are a few classifications of spam traps. They can be an email address on a sender’s list that has either not opted in to receive mail or an address old enough to have been reclaimed by a sensor network or the issuing mailbox provider (MBP), They can also be a domain submitted incorrectly upon sign up, one that cannot receive mail and was built to be scraped, or some combination thereof.

Spam traps are, above all else, a sign of a list hygiene issue.

As with much of deliverability, nothing is ever so simple and not all traps are a sign of poor practices. Much like blacklists, not all spam traps are created equally. You must first know what kinds of spam traps live in the email world and why before you can understand their impact.

Trap Types

At the highest level, spam traps can be broken into three categories: typo, recycled, and pristine. These can dive further into more specific categories, but for this article we’ll be covering these three.

Typo Traps

A typo trap is usually an incorrectly entered address upon sign up. This could be as simple as hitting too many o’s for @yahoo.com (newsubscriber@yahoooo.com) or missing the “m” in @gmail.com. Fun fact: Gail.com is one of the more popular misspelled domains. Sorry, Gail.

Typo trap addresses can be weeded out using email address verification at time of collection. You could implement a drop-down on the sign-up form with common domain options. When newsubscriber@yahoooo.com begins typing too many o’s, a “did you mean” drop-down would appear with options like yahoo.com, yahoo.co.uk, yahoo.co.jp, etc. This allows a user to correct the mistake before clicking submit. Some typo traps can be caught and removed through the use of a validation tool after the fact, and it’s not a bad idea for email marketers to have an in-house list of common typo domains to verify against before your first email to a new subscriber.

These addresses, in small doses, are natural to the email ecosystem and can also be removed through confirmed opt-in and engagement-based sunsetting strategies.

Recycled Traps

A recycled trap is an email address that, at one time, was a live address, but isn’t any longer. Inactivity has since caused this address to be reclaimed by the domain provider or a sensor network. For instance, remember your very first email address? No need to say it out loud. If you haven’t used it since the last time you heard AOL chime “You’ve got mail,” it likely could qualify as a recycled trap by now (though no guarantees). General practice mandates an address must be inactive for a minimum of 12 months to qualify as a recycled trap.

For email marketers, recycled trap addresses often surface when there is older data on a sender’s list. This is most apparent with re-engagement campaigns or legally required notifications, when an older or entire email list must receive a campaign. Recycled trap hits can also crop up when using third-party lists, because the sender likely doesn’t know the origins of the opt-ins.

Like typo traps, recycled traps are natural to the email ecosystem. Addresses get abandoned; people change companies, use old addresses, get married and change their name (and subsequently, want an email that matches). It’s best for your sender reputation to use engagement-based list hygiene to remove as many of these addresses as possible.

Pristine Traps

A pristine trap is an email address never meant to be on a sender’s list. These addresses are created to be used as actual traps, then left in the wild to be scraped from websites, purchased and passed around, and sometimes aren’t even set up to receive mail.

Pristine traps are most commonly hit by senders emailing purchased lists, as there is little to no way to verify the integrity of the data purchased. It’s important to note, these addresses will never actually sign up to receive mail (so there won’t be any consent). These traps are exceedingly hard to identify, so if you can’t prove consent of any addresses on your lists, don’t email those addresses.

With that, you have a good foundation for understanding spam traps and how they work. Your next challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to adopt best practices to avoid hitting as many traps as possible to maintain a good sender reputation. Are you up to it?

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