Strategies to Avoid Spam Traps in Email Marketing 

spam traps illustration with a trap

Spam traps are decoy email addresses used to identify and filter out spam senders. They can pose serious risks to the success of your email marketing campaigns.

While meticulously segmenting your email list for an upcoming major campaign, a few addresses stand out — they don’t fit into any of your categories. It’s puzzling. They don’t fit the profile of your loyal subscribers, nor do they show the characteristics of new leads. 

Could these be something more than mere irregularities? The term “spam traps” echoes in your head, a concept you’ve heard of but never really explored.

You decide it’s time to start digging and see if you really have a problem. 

We’ll help you understand spam traps, identify them in your list, and avoid them. 


Table of Contents


Understanding Email Spam Traps

An email spam trap is exactly what it sounds like: a trap for email spammers. It’s a decoy address, not connected to a real inbox, whose purpose is to identify and penalize shady senders.

Why Do Spam Traps Exist?

They exist because user privacy is a big deal in email marketing, but plenty of senders out there don’t care about hitting you with messages you didn’t sign up for. 

They often engage in a practice called scraping, where they use bots to extract people’s contact information from websites and social media. After compiling these contact details, they start blasting out unsolicited messages. 

Internet Service Providers and anti-spam organizations have come up with a clever solution against email scraping. 

They create fake email addresses and embed them in different web pages. If someone constantly sends messages to these addresses, it’s a signal that they might be a spam sender

Accidentally Hitting a Trap

As helpful as they are, trap addresses can generate false positives. You may be a totally legitimate sender taking all the right measures to avoid coming off as spammy. But if you’re not careful, a dummy address could end up on your list. 

This will hurt your sender reputation and deliverability. And in severe cases, the ISP may drop your emails altogether.


What are Common Spam Traps?

There are different types of spam traps, and each one has a different way of finding its way into a well-curated email list with varying consequences. Let’s explore them in detail. 

Pristine Traps

Also known as pure traps, pristine traps are the real deal; ISPs or other anti-spam organizations exclusively set them up to detect spammers

These organizations create fake addresses that real users have never used and hide them within the codes of public websites. The only way to find and add these email addresses to an email list is through scraping or purchasing. This will give any spammer away instantly. 

Hitting a pristine trap is the worst way of getting busted! That’s because there’s no real user behind this email address to consent to joining your email list. 

You can face different punishments depending on the ISP or anti-spam organization’s policies. But it’s highly likely that the ISP will permanently blocklist your email IP address or domain

Recycled Traps

Unlike pristine traps, recycled traps used to be genuine addresses in a previous life. They once had real owners and received messages. 

But they were abandoned for one reason or another. For example, they belonged to an employee who left the company. The inbox provider reclaims the inactive email address and repurposes it as a spam trap. 

Emailing a recycled trap isn’t an immediate red flag. After all, these used to be legit addresses that received messages, and you may still think so. But your email will likely bounce. 

The safest move is to remove the address from your list. This will signal to the inbox provider that you keep your list clean and steer clear of spammy activities. 

The punishment, in this case, isn’t as drastic as pristine traps. Sending emails to recycled addresses doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a spammer. You could simply be a legitimate sender who doesn’t follow email list management best practices

But if you continue sending emails to a recycled trap, the ISP will identify you as a spammer, which can hurt your sender reputation in the long run.  

Typo Traps

Typo traps are the easiest to handle and avoid. You can easily identify and remove them from your list.

When a subscriber enters their email address upon sign-up, they may misspell the address and get into your lists with an invalid email address

The most common misspelled email addresses contain phrases like “yaho” or “gial,” but the typo can be anywhere within the address. 

So, are all typos traps? 

Not necessarily. Sometimes, they’re genuine mistakes, which could happen to anyone. Sometimes, users don’t like to give their real email addresses. Instead, they provide a fake address and get away with it if you don’t have a double opt-in process

ISPs don’t generally consider emailing typo addresses as spam activity. But if you insist on contacting a typo trap, you’ll appear negligent since you clearly don’t follow list hygiene best practices. 

Plus, these wrong addresses increase your bounce rates, eventually affecting your reputation. 


Why You Should Avoid Spam Traps

The biggest reason to avoid email traps is to protect your sender reputation and improve your deliverability. Otherwise, even your legitimate emails, sent to engaged subscribers, won’t reach the inbox.  

These consequences of hitting a trap address will depend on different factors: 

  • The type of trap you hit. Not every trap has the same consequences for you. Pristine ones have the most severe punishments and can get you blocked, while typos are the mildest, and you can take care of them easily. 
  • How long you’ve been sending emails to these traps. In most cases, you won’t receive punishment the first time you send emails to a trap. Anti-spam agents keep a tab on your activities to see if it’s a one-time thing. So, if you avoid spam traps in time, you can dodge the penalties. 
  • The ISP or anti-spam organization’s policies. Depending on who detects your spammy activities, the consequences will be different. Your IP or domain address may get blocked, or you may have your emails sent to junk folders, affecting your deliverability and reputation. 

The repercussions of hitting an email spam trap may not always be drastic. But they’re always negative. The worst thing that could happen is that you hit a pristine trap and have your domain blocked. 

In milder cases, your reputation takes a hit. This may not be the end of the world for your campaign. However, a poor sender reputation affects the deliverability of your legitimate emails. 


How to Tell if Your Emails Are Hitting Spam Traps

Getting blocklisted is the ultimate sign. But you want to detect and remove spam traps before they take you down. So, you should always be on the lookout for telltale signs. You need to constantly monitor your campaign performance and not ignore the signs. 

Here are some of these signs:  

  1. Your deliverability sinks. If you recently experienced lowered deliverability, you need to check your list for trap addresses. Aim for a deliverability rate of 98 percent or higher. And be alarmed if it goes below 90 percent. 
  2. You get hard bounces. Hard bounces are one of the most surefire ways to know you’re hitting spam traps. You get a hard bounce every time you send a message to an address that doesn’t exist. 
  3. Your email engagement metrics drop. While checking your campaign metrics, you may notice that users aren’t engaging with your emails as much as before. If your open rates, responses, and click-throughs fall, it might be a sign that subscribers aren’t viewing your emails because they land in the spam folder. 
  4. You’re blacklisted. One of the primary reasons for getting on a blacklist is hitting spam traps. If you regularly monitor your domain health, use MSToolBox to look up your domain and see if it’s blacklisted. 

These problems can be signs of other issues, as well. But hitting spam traps is one of the first things you should check if these arise.


How To Avoid Spam Traps

Identifying spam traps isn’t easy. Anti-spam organizations go through lots of trouble to make them difficult for you to find. After all, a trap isn’t a trap if it’s easy to spot. 

But you’re not out of luck. With a bit of attention and effort, you can keep these traps at bay. 

Don’t Buy Email Lists

Buying email lists can hurt your email marketing campaigns in many ways. Apart from losing an opportunity to get quality customers, it can affect your reputation as the recipients don’t know who you are. 

Instead, they see you as a spammer who sends them unsolicited messages. So, you’ll end up receiving spam complaints, which will hurt your reputation. 

What’s more, people who sell email lists usually get these addresses through scraping. So, there’s a high chance that they contain traps. Growing your list organically is the best way to avoid spam traps hidden in purchased email lists. 

Use Double Opt-in

Double opt-in is a subscription method that confirms the user is genuinely interested in receiving your emails.  

When a user initially signs up for your mailing list, they provide their email address. But instead of adding them to your list right away, you ask them to confirm their subscription. 

This method will prevent all types of traps from finding their way onto your list. If an email is fake, misspelled, or invalid, no one will be there to confirm the sign-up. This way, you’ll have an easier job of keeping your list clean down the road. 

Segment Your Audience

By dividing your audience into smaller, more targeted groups, you can tailor your content to suit their specific interests and behaviors. So, your campaigns will end up performing better. 

Your segmentation strategy can be based on different factors, including how they interact with your emails. 

For example, put the subscribers who opened or responded to your emails in the same segment to reduce the chances of hitting inactive users. This way, on top of better engagement, you’ll have a lower chance of hitting inactive users. 

Regularly Clean Your List

Maintaining a clean list is essential for optimal campaign performance. 

If you look out for the items below, you’ll have a healthy list, and you’ll remove spam traps in the process: 

  • Inactive users: Subscribers who haven’t interacted with any of your emails in 6 to 12 months.
  • Hard bounces: Email addresses that return a permanent delivery failure notification.
  • Soft bounces: Addresses that return a temporary delivery issue. If an address consistently soft bounces, it should be removed.
  • Duplicates: Make sure each subscriber is only listed once to avoid sending multiple copies of the same email to the same person.
  • Role-based addresses: These are emails like info@, support@, sales@, etc., which are not personal and may affect engagement rates.
  • Unsubscribed users: Immediately remove anyone who opts out of your emails to avoid potential legal trouble, depending on where the user lives. 

An extra benefit of a clean list is that your email marketing costs will be lower since you don’t waste resources sending emails to irrelevant addresses. 

At Campaign Refinery, we have an automatic email list cleaning feature that does the heavy lifting for you. You can set it to run every month (or up to every six months) and remove potentially harmful addresses from your list. Our built-in list cleaner can increase average customer open rates by 37 percent.

Remove Inactive Users

Removing subscribers that you legitimately onboarded might feel like throwing your hard work away. But keeping unengaged ones can do you more harm than good. 

That’s because ISPs consider engagement when measuring reputation. And when you send emails to a list with many inactive users, your opens and click-throughs are bound to be low.  

Here’s what to do:  

  1. Identify inactive users. Look for subscribers who haven’t opened your last ten emails or haven’t engaged with your content for the last six months. 
  2. Run a re-engagement campaign. Before removing them from your list, try to reignite your relationship with those estranged subscribers. Craft a message specifically addressed to these inactive users with a subject line that shows your purpose. You could also include a special offer to get them interested again. 
  3. Separate re-activated and inactive users. Some subscribers will respond, and others will remain silent. The second group has likely lost interest in your content, but you should make sure. Send them a second message to inform them you’ll remove them. Also, include an unsubscribe button to give them the choice. 
  4. Remove the inactive users. Now, you can be sure the users you’re about to remove have no significant value to you. They could even be harmful if they turn into recycled traps. 

Going through these steps might look like too much work, but if you want a high-quality list, you should put in the time to keep your best subscribers happy and let the uninterested ones go. 

Use Email Verification and Validation Services

Checking the integrity of email addresses is a big challenge if you plan to do it manually. This is where email verification services come in. 

They take a comprehensive approach to make sure you have a list of valid email addresses interacting with your emails. 

Depending on the service, you may get different solutions including:

  • Incorrect addresses. Email addresses with typos or formatting issues. For example, they check if the address follows the “username@domain.com” format. These services check email addresses upon sign-up and notify users when they enter the wrong address. 
  • Activity monitoring. An email verification service tells you if the email is actively used. This helps you find potential recycled traps. 
  • Disposable email addresses. Some verification services can detect disposable email addresses, which are temporary emails used only for sign-ups. These are junk collectors and don’t have a real user behind them. 

Some services have trap detection solutions, too, which will make your job super easy when avoiding different types of spam.  

Stay Up-to-Date on Anti-Spam Policies

Most email services have their own anti-spam policies, which you should be updated on to avoid penalties. Yahoo and Google published new guidelines for mass email senders to stop spam. 

Going into place as of 2024, the new requirements ask bulk email senders to do the following. 

  1. Domain authentication. If you don’t authenticate your domain, your emails will end up in the spam folder. That’s because unauthenticated domains are easy lurking spots for spammers and email spoofers
  2. Recipient permission. Email senders must tighten their grip on the kind of content they send to their subscribers. Unwanted and irrelevant content can make you seem spammy. Double opt-in and segmentation are your true friends here. 
  3. Easy unsubscription. You should give your subscribers the choice to part ways with you at any point down the road. They should be able to unsubscribe whenever they want without having to look for the unsubscribe button buried under ten other buttons. 

At Campaign Refinery, we’re not just up-to-date with email marketing trends; we’re ahead of them. 

Domain authentication has been a requirement for all our clients since the first day they join us. And we have a strict policy against using purchased lists or cold emailing. 

So, unlike many email marketing platforms, our clients don’t have to make any changes to comply with Google and Yahoo’s new policies. 

Recover Spam Emails

No matter how hard you try, your messages may get flagged as spam and end up in subscribers’ spam folders. In such cases, you need to take preemptive measures before you get blacklisted or your sender reputation takes a hit. 

The specific actions you can take to remove your domain from spam lists vary depending on your email service provider.

For example, you might have to reach out directly to your subscribers to guide them through marking your emails as ‘Not Spam’ or adding your email address to their contacts.

Reviewing and tweaking your email content, subject lines, and sending frequency can also help. 

These steps might seem daunting, but the payoff is worth the effort.


Spam Filters vs. Spam Traps

These are both solutions that ISPs use to keep spam to a minimum. But they have different processes. 

Spam traps are email addresses to lure and catch spammers. Since they’re not in active use, any message they receive potentially comes from spammy sources. But spam filters are tools, algorithms, or software that identify incoming spam messages and weed them out. 

Spam filters can be more complex since they use a variety of techniques to identify spammers. They analyze email content, sending patterns, domains, and many other factors to detect suspicious behavior. 

Here’s a rundown of these techniques: 

Filter TypesExamples
Content Salesy content, banned keywords, attachments, or subject lines
Blacklist filters Flagging and blocking emails by senders who are already on a blacklist of spammers. 
Sender reputation Checking the sender’s sending history and previous spammy behaviors. 
Language filtersFiltering messages sent from other languages. Spammers target users speaking languages other than English. So, filters should cover other languages, as well. 
User filtersUsers can help filter algorithms to learn what they don’t like. When a user marks a specific type of email as spam, the algorithms find a pattern and send all emails of the same kind to the spam folder.  
Different ways spam filters weed out spam messages

Boost Your Email Impact with Campaign Refinery’s Advanced Deliverability

At Campaign Refinery, outstanding deliverability isn’t just a promise – it’s our foundation. 

Our platform is designed with sophisticated algorithms to automatically sift through your email list and remove harmful addresses, including spam traps. 

But that’s just the beginning. 

When you work with us, you will: 

  • Segment your list with our innovative tag-based system. 
  • Implement domain authentication from day one to prevent spoofing. 
  • Benefit from the collective reputation of our highly responsible sender community. 
  • Reward your subscribers and boost your engagement through gamification features.

Take your email strategy to the next level with Campaign Refinery, where cutting-edge deliverability meets email marketing innovation.

Apply to become a customer at Campaign Refinery today! 

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