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Who’s Placing Spam Traps in Your Email Marketing List?

10 min
Updated:

We talked about spam traps and how they impact your email deliverability some time ago. Knowing how important this topic is and how it can really bug you, we wanted to add to what we’ve said and clear up any misunderstandings.

Have you ever wondered how spam traps end up in your email marketing list? You spend hours optimizing your opt-in forms, crafting engaging content, and building an audience of genuinely interested subscribers. Yet somehow, spam traps still slip through the cracks. Before you know it, you’ve sent your latest campaign to a bunch of email addresses that exist solely to catch unsuspecting marketers in the act.

The truth is, spam traps are often placed in email lists by overzealous spam fighters trying to catch anyone who sends unsolicited bulk email. But if you follow best practices for permission-based email marketing, there’s no need to worry. Here are a few tips to help you avoid spam traps and keep your email marketing list clean.

Spam traps are one of the most direct reasons why emails land in the junk folder and marketers experience high bounce rates. If you’d like to learn more about other reasons why emails get hit by the spam filters, read this article – Emails Going to Spam? 12 Reasons Why That Happens and What You Can Do About It.

What are spam traps?

Spam traps are email addresses that exist for the sole purpose of catching illegitimate emails and identifying senders with poor data quality practices. In other words, these are tools used to identify and punish spammers and careless marketers.

This may not seem like a big deal. You may think: Oh, this will never happen to me! But odds are, if you neglect email marketing best practices, whether with autoresponders or regular newsletters, it may cause you trouble at one time or another.

Judging by Murphy’s Law, it’s probably going to be when you least expect it. Like right before that pay-raise talk you scheduled with your boss the other week. Ouch!

The truth is, there are countless spam traps out there, and new ones are set up daily. They are managed by large internet service providers (ISP), anti-spam organizations like Spamhaus and URIBL, and security companies like TrendMicro. Even corporate email servers may be set up for the purpose of fishing for spam traps. In fact, some domains are set up for that sole purpose.

Types of spam traps

Now that I have your attention, we need to fully understand what we’re dealing with. Let’s start with the background and talk about the types of spam traps you may run into while rolling out your campaigns.

  1. Pristine spam traps (or Honey Pots): These are true spam traps – email addresses that have never been used for communication. Pure spam traps are set up solely for the purpose of catching spammers. Any email sent to these addresses is considered unsolicited, as they have never been given out.
  2. Recycled spam traps: These were once valid email addresses but have since been abandoned and recycled by ISPs or ESPs. Before being used as traps, these addresses typically go through a “cooling-off” period where any email sent to them bounces back. After this period, any emails received are considered unsolicited, as they should have been removed from mailing lists.
  3. Typo traps: These are email addresses that are intentionally misspelled versions of common domains. For instance, “exmple.com” instead of “example.com”. These addresses might catch senders who make errors when collecting or entering email addresses.

How do spam traps end up on your list?

OK, so we know what spam traps are and the types we’re likely to encounter. Let’s consider the scenarios in which bad email addresses are most likely to get onto your list.

Buying or harvesting email lists

Purchasing email lists of unknown quality and origin is a surefire way to end up with spam traps on your list. Do yourself a favor and build your own high-quality list instead.

We shouldn’t really need to mention this, as GetResponse is strictly a permission-based email marketing service. We don’t accept purchased or harvested lists because they are full of invalid, old, and abandoned email addresses and spam trap email addresses.

💡 Tip: Just don’t do it. Don’t use purchased or harvested lists. Instead increase your reach organically. It’s worth the time, effort and satisfaction you gain by truly connecting with your clients.

Importing emails from old email accounts

Questionable data often can be found in our old email accounts, such as Google Contacts, Mozilla Thunderbird Contacts, etc. These can include role email addresses (e.g., abuse@domain.com, office@domain.com, etc.), people who never replied to our emails and would be likely to mark our emails as spam (e.g., HR recruiter we contacted when applying for a job), and long-abandoned email addresses (now reactivated as a recycled spam trap).

💡 Tip: Services like ZeroBounce and Kickbox offer bulk email verification and spam trap detection. Upload a sample of your list and they can analyze for spam traps and invalid addresses. Use their results to further refine your list.

Migration from another service

We often see bad email addresses when clients move their lists from different solutions or service providers, many of which don’t manage bounces properly or remove known spam traps.

💡 Tip: Not all email service providers (ESP) are created equal. You may have been the unlucky one whose bounces and unsubscribe requests weren’t processed properly. To lower your risk, import only fresh and active email addresses you’ve been in contact with. Don’t transfer those that have unsubscribed, complained, bounced or been recognized as spam traps. Your subscribers and your performance metrics will be grateful!

Typos and misspellings

Spam traps are sometimes created using common typos of real email addresses or names.

If you have a brick-and-mortar business or attend trade shows and events, you may collect contact details on paper to follow up and get the conversation going. Unfortunately, you don’t always have the luxury of badge scans and often end up with stacks of business cards and handwritten sign-up forms with scribbled email addresses. As you might guess, scanning or rewriting often results in typos.

On the other hand, you probably use sign-up forms on your company website or blog. This is the most effective, organic method for building an email list of engaged, loyal subscribers. It’s also an area where typos are very likely to appear.

💡 Tip: To avoid typos and invalid email addresses, use the double opt-in subscription method. This sends an automatic email asking new subscribers to confirm that they want to be added to your newsletter. This ensures that only good email addresses get added to your list, saves you money, and makes your email marketing campaigns more effective.

Not monitoring unsubscribes and bounces

Keep a close eye on unsubscribes, hard bounces and soft bounces. Unusually high rates could indicate spam traps. Remove unsubscribes and hard bounces from your list immediately. For soft bounces, double check the email address and try resending the message. If it continues to bounce, remove it.

Poor list hygiene

Regularly cleaning your list is essential for maintaining its health. When a subscriber doesn’t engage with your emails for a prolonged period, they become a candidate for a list clean-up. Why? Because inactive addresses can eventually be converted into spam traps by email providers. Not removing these addresses in time may expose your list to these traps.

💡 Tip: The best way to avoid spam traps and all types of bad data is performing routine database cleanings. Create a segment of subscribers who haven’t opened any of your emails in the last 6-12 months. Try to re-engage them with a couple of carefully designed newsletters. If that doesn’t work, delete them. You’ll save time and money you can now spend on clients who can purchase your product or service.

Learn more about this in our guide to email list cleaning.

What to do when you hit a spam trap

Oh no, you accidentally included a spam trap in your latest email campaign! Don’t panic. Here are the steps you should take right away.

First, identify the spam trap. Regularly monitor the reputation of your IPs and domain with online tools such as Return Path’s Sender Score or SNDS. If a spam trap is added to your list, you’ll notice it and be able to investigate and remove it.

Once you find the spam trap, immediately remove it from your list. Take it out of your email service provider’s (ESP’s) list and any other place you store contacts. That address should never receive another email from you.

Then, check your sending reputation. See if your ESP or other monitoring tools show any hits against your reputation. Hitting a spam trap can damage your reputation and ability to reach the inbox. Work to repair any harm done.

Review how that spam trap got into your list. Did you buy a list? Use inconsistent double opt-in? Fail to properly scrub a list? Figure out the source of the issue and fix your list-building processes to prevent future spam trap additions.

Moving forward, be vigilant about email list quality and hygiene. Regularly prune old and inactive addresses from your list. Scrub new lists against spam trap databases before importing contacts. Use strict double opt-in for all new signups to verify addresses. These steps will minimize the chance of another spam trap fiasco.

Mistakes happen, so try not to be too hard on yourself. Learn from this experience and make improvements to build a healthier email list and a more secure sending reputation. With time and consistent best practices, you can put this spam trap encounter behind you.

What does GetResponse do about spam traps?

We do all we can to take good care of your lists and help you keep them clean. This includes bounce management(removing email addresses that are invalid or can’t accept emails), complaint handling (removing email addresses that mark your emails as spam), and analyzing the quality of your database.

What does that mean? We remove addresses that have an invalid domain or have been found to be non-existent. Most importantly, we remove any spam traps we identify. This is not an easy task. Only if we work together can we achieve the best results!

Top 3 Myths About Spam Traps

When it comes to email marketing, there are some common myths about spam traps that continue to circulate. Let’s debunk the top three right now so you can avoid them and keep your list clean.

Myth 1: Only purchased email lists can contain spam traps.

While buying or scraping email lists is a surefire way to add spam traps to your email list, spam traps can appear in any email list. Legitimate senders in all industries need to be vigilant.

Myth 2: If I haven’t hit a spam trap yet, I don’t need to worry.

Just because you haven’t triggered a spam trap yet doesn’t mean your list is clean. Spam traps can appear at any time, so ongoing list hygiene and testing is critical. It’s best to make list cleaning a standard part of your email marketing process.

Myth 3: Once I trigger a spam trap, my sender reputation is ruined forever.

While sending to spam trap addresses can hurt your sender reputation and email deliverability, the damage is often temporary if you take the right steps. Conduct an audit to find the source of the spam trap, remove it from your list, and make a plan to improve your email authentication and testing procedures going forward. Many senders are able to recover their sender reputation over time with diligent list hygiene.


Michal Leszczynski
Michal Leszczynski
Meet Michal Leszczynski, Head of Content Marketing and Partnerships at GetResponse. With 10+ years of experience, Michal is a seasoned expert in all things online marketing. He’s a prolific writer, skilled webinar host, and engaging public speaker. Outside of business hours, Michal shares his wealth of knowledge as an Email Marketing lecturer at Kozminski University in Warsaw. You can reach out and connect with Michal on LinkedIn.