What is a Spam Trap email address?
An email address that is used to “catch” email senders with data quality issues and spammers. Spam Trap email addresses look like, and for the most part act like, regular email addresses. In most cases you wouldn’t be able to tell that an email address is a spam trap address just by looking at it. The only clues to identify them are behavior.
Spam Trap addresses will deliver successfully but won’t be opened, clicked, or unsubscribed from. On the back end though they are more like data feeds, feeding data to the owner of a spam trap—either a blacklist, an ISP, or a sensor-network.
How do Spam Traps work?
The purpose of the spam trap varies slightly depending on the owner. If a blacklist owns the spam trap address, they will use that data from received emails to list either the IP or domain of the sender on their blacklist. Email providers or spam filters then reference that blacklist data to block emails. If the spam trap owner is an email provider or ISP, they will use that data (in combination with other data points) to determine how to handle the sender’s mail (i.e. inbox, junk, or bounce). If the owner is a sensor-network, the data is used for reporting only. Senders can view reporting on the number of spam trap addresses identified in their lists, but they can’t see the actual spam trap addresses.
The 3 main types of Spam Traps
Pristine spam traps are email addresses that are created with the intention of being spam traps. They are never used by a human, meaning they are never used to sign up for emails, and they will never serve as a valid contact. Usually they are planted but hidden on the web and the only way to get them onto a list is to scrape the web for the addresses or purchase an email list which will contain the scraped addresses. These are the worst kind of spam traps and immediately identify a sender as having problematic email acquisition practices.
Recycled spam traps were once valid email addresses used by a person. The address becomes inactive and abandoned then converted to a spam trap. While the address is inactive, the email provider will provide an invalid recipient bounce for a certain amount of time (it varies by email provider) before becoming a spam trap. These types of spam trap address are very common because the sender could have acquired the email address when it was valid. These are the spam traps we see when a sender decides to send to old data. ClickDimensions will suppress any email address that has hard bounced to protect the sender.
Typo spam traps are normal looking email addresses that usually have a common typo in the domain part of the address. Any time an email acquisition process includes a human either writing or dictating an email address, typos can happen. Typos can be easily removed if you have an email verification process in place. ClickDimensions will suppress many of the common domain misspellings.
How big of an impact do Spam Traps have?
It depends. Most of the time it's an indicator that needs to be taken into consideration. If you have spam traps present in your marketing lists and/or are causing blacklistings, then steps should be taken to clean up the data and you should take a look at your email acquisition processes.
Multiple blacklistings that are not addressed will result in a suspended account. Occasionally, a sender will have enough spam traps that belong to a specific blacklist and the impact can be material. And a domain and/or IP listing on Spamhaus can take down an email program for weeks.
How do Spam Traps get into your data?
There are a few ways that customers acquire spam trap addresses in their lists. If you have old email data and don’t regularly send to your entire list, these old email addresses could be converted to a spam trap and the next time you send to them it causes a blacklisting. When acquiring email addresses, if there is no verification that the email address was entered correctly, belongs to a valid inbox, and is authorized by the person who gave you the email address, it is possible to collect invalid and spam trap addresses. If a customer purchases email addresses or pulls an email address off of a public facing website without permission to market, the likelihood of the address being a spam trap is high.
Can the Spam Trap addresses be identified so you can remove them?
No. In most cases the owner of the spam trap address will not reveal what the address is, that would eliminate its value. Some blacklists will provide information around the sender, email send, and date. Rarely, a blacklist will provide enough information to locate the offending address if you have the other identifying information.
How to avoid Spam Traps
To prevent acquiring spam trap addresses, email verification is key. Verification can be in the form of . . .
- Making sure the address is in the right format and doesn’t have any typos.
- A confirmed opt-in that verifies the address is to a valid inbox and the recipient does indeed want the communications.
- A welcome campaign that requires engagement to proceed to regular campaigns.
- Occasional verification from the recipient themselves. (Is the email address correct and do they still want your emails?)
To remove spam trap addresses that are already in your data, you should remove unengaged recipients (those who have successful deliveries but no opens or clicks). This is the most effective way of removing spam traps. Email Address Validation services will remove some but not all spam trap addresses, although they will clean up other invalid addresses. The key to finding any spam trap address is to look for addresses that never engage (open or click) with an email since they are not owned by a person. The best senders typically purge unengaged subscribers from their lists once or twice a year.
How we monitor Spam Traps
We do monitor spam trap volumes and types via a sensor-network for all shared and dedicated IPs. Sometimes this information is useful if we are investigating a blacklisting or complaint as it provides some idea of how many spam traps or what types of spam traps a customer has in their list.