Trap Tips: Avoiding and Removing Spam Traps

There are two things an email list should never have in it: spam traps and spam traps. Spam traps come in two flavors: pristine and recycled; one is more hazardous than the other, but both will negatively impact a Sender’s reputation.

A pristine spam trap is an email address that has been fabricated by either an ISP or blacklist. It’s placed in impossible location and can only be obtained by a bot that is crawling for address. If a Sender sends to a pristine trap, their IP reputation will drop and blocking of mail will commence.

Recycled spam traps are far less impactful on one’s sending reputation, but nonetheless can cause severe damage to the highly coveted inbox placement. Recycled spam traps are old addresses that subscribers have abandoned and the ISP has taken back to use as a trap. The ISPs then sit, waiting and watching, to see which Sender will send to an address that has not responded to an email. Sending to a recycled spam trap is indicative to ISPs of a Sender that’s not practicing proper list hygiene.

Avoiding spam traps will assist in boosting your reputation and although it may seem like a difficult task to weed out just a few addresses, it’s not an impossible feat. Here are some ideas how you can rise above spam traps by avoidance and removal.

Keep it clean:

  • Do not purchase or rent lists.
    • If the source of the list is unknown, it’s not safe. Purchased and rented lists often have a higher spam trap rate. Outside of the likeliness of hitting spam traps, the chances of encountering an elevated level of complaints is also present; if the subscriber did not explicitly sign-up to receive the mail being sent to them complaints often will ensue.
  • Confirmed opt-in / double opt-in
    • Asking a subscriber to confirm that their address is correct by sending a message to their provided email address and requiring a click action will assist in ensuring that the address is both valid and active.
  • Reject malformed addresses
    • Whether a subscriber innocently submits a mistyped address or provides it as a way to avoid disclosing a real address, a malformed address should not be sent to.  Not only can having excessive malformed addresses in a sending list bog down your sends, but it can increase the likelihood of getting caught up in spam traps.
  • Send a welcome / confirmation message
    • As a best practice, welcome messages should be sent soon after a subscriber first registers. The welcome or confirmation message is a perfect way to scope out if a subscriber’s address is active and/or correct. If the address bounces, remove it.
  • Multiple captchas
    • Yes, the captcha is a good way to prevent spam trap addresses from working their way in to a sending list. Multiple captchas throughout a sign-up process will declare to a Sender that this is a real person signing up (not a bot) and that the email address being provided should be legitimate and active.  

Spread the word:

  • Company-wide suppression list
    • Share a company-wide suppression list with what addresses have bounced and what subscribers have either unsubscribed or complained. 

It’s good to say “good-bye”:

  • Only send to subscribers who engage
  • Gaining access to Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo!’s inboxes is not just sending great content to everyone, it’s sending great content to great subscribers. When a subscriber stops interacting with mail, it can be for many different reasons, one of which is that the email address has been abandoned. When the address is abandoned and an ISP such as Gmail takes it over to monitor Senders’ sending habits, this creates a recycled spam trap. Sending to the recycled spam trap will cause a reduced reputation and as a result achieving 100% inbox will be difficult. Create engagement rules so that subscribers are not sent to after not engaging with mail for a certain number of days. Engagement rules will vary from sender-to-sender and should be tested thoroughly. Doing so will reduce the size of a sending list but only those subscribers who were interacting with the messages will be kept. Think quality over quantity.
  • Easy unsubscribes
    • Make it easy for subscribers to unsubscribe from messages. If a subscriber is unable to quickly figure out how to unsubscribe, they’re likely to either complain on the message, or just let it continually flow to their inbox and get lost amongst the sea of graymail. If the subscriber then abandons their address, the address may be converted to a spam trap.
  • To keep it simple, offer multiple ways to unsubscribe, such as:
    • Allow subscribers to respond to an email with “unsubscribe” in the content or subject line
    • Create a highly visible link within the email with the option to unsubscribe both at the top and bottom of the message
    • Allow subscribers to unsubscribe from within their account online
    • For more helpful unsubscribe tips, venture over to Return Path’s Professional Services Consultant John Pollard’s12 Ways to Optimize the Unsubscribe Process” blog
  • Update personal information
    • Provide subscribers with an easy-to-access way to update their personal information, so if in the event they abandon their circa 1999 email handle for a more chic 2013 address, they’ll be able to still get mail.

The dowsing sticks for spam traps:

One does not have to go blindly in to the night throwing darts with a blindfold on to find what addresses may or may not be spam traps. There are a handful of helpful tools and services readily available to  identify and remove spam traps.

  • Return Path Reputation Monitor
    • Return Path’s Email Intelligence suite hosts a robust tool set. Included in this suite is Reputation Monitor, which reports on a wide variety of metrics contributing to a Sender’s IP reputation. Reputation Monitor provides insight into whether a Sender is sending to recycled spam traps or pristine, on what day, and how many traps were sent to. Strategically segmenting and monitoring sends via Reputation Monitor assist in weeding out the culprit spam trap addresses.
  • Windows Live Hotmail SNDS (Smart Network Data Services)
    • SNDS is a free service the Windows Live Hotmail offers where Senders can monitor how many recycled spam traps are being sent to at Hotmail and the approximate time frames.
  • Return Path Certification
    • Senders certified through Return Path’s certification whitelist program are privy to detailed complaint, unknown user, and spam trap data from multiple sources. Senders can use this data to identify instances of spam trap hits and work to remove them from their lists using the IP and timestamp information provided.