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Spam traps: What are they and how to avoid them

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Most marketers believe their emails will avoid the spam folder as long as they have legitimate subscribers.

This is not entirely accurate.

Anyone can fall victim to spam traps, regardless of how legitimately they acquire their subscribers. As you’ll see shortly, there are multiple factors behind this, but it’s worth taking seriously: a DataProt study discovered that businesses lose $20.5 billion every year to spam emails.

And according to Statista, about 49% of emails globally were marked as spam in 2022—up from the reported 46% in 2021:

Statista spam email percentage graph

Spam traps pose a significant threat, and overlooking them can result in noticeable losses.

In this article, we’ll define spam traps and explore how you can avoid them. We’ll also discuss the different types of spam traps, how to identify them, and what to do if you encounter one. 

Let’s get started.

What are spam traps?

Spam traps are email addresses that have either never been used, never been assigned to a person, or have lost their authorization through inactivity. They are used by anti-spam organizations and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to catch spammers.

By sending emails to these addresses, you’re indicating that you aren’t effectively maintaining your list, and potentially aren’t following good practices when trying to grow your list—so it’s no wonder that ISPs use them strategically to detect and block potential spammers.

What are the types of spam traps?

There are three types of email spam traps. Let’s take a closer look at each one and the steps you can take to avoid them:

Pristine traps

Pristine traps, otherwise known as pure spam traps, are the most harmful. ISPs or anti-spam organizations create these email addresses, but no actual person ever uses them.

You won’t find these addresses being used for communication. Rather, ISPs will place pristine traps in websites such as forums or online directories, where spammers will likely harvest email addresses.

Doing the following can cause pristine traps:

  • Buying or renting email lists
  • Using unethical collection methods

Sending emails to pristine traps can seriously affect your brand and email deliverability—in fact, there would be a high chance of your sender domain or IP address becoming blacklisted.

Recycled traps

Unlike pristine traps, recycled traps are email addresses that were once valid. They were previously used by real people, but were abandoned for a long enough period of time that the provider uses them as a trap against senders who aren’t maintaining their list properly.

An example of a recycled email would be when a former employee’s email is repurposed after they have left the company.

Recycled traps are not as harmful as pure traps, but repeatedly sending emails to recycled traps can harm your reputation over time.

Typo traps

When you type a text message quickly, you are more likely to make a mistake. The typo trap looks for these subtle mistakes, such as:

They can be the result of a genuine human error when the subscriber joined your list, but they still indicate the sender isn’t frequently cleaning their contact list.

Typo traps are the least harmful of the three spam traps, but that shouldn’t be a reason for complacency.

Are you ready to take control of your email deliverability?

How do spam traps work?

Now that you know what spam traps are, let’s look at a detailed overview of how they work.

1. Creation

As we’ve shown, spam traps can be created by repurposing once-genuine but now inactive email addresses, or purposely creating addresses to attract spam

2. Inclusion in lists

The most likely way you’ll have any of the three traps in your list is by:

  • Failing to clean your list and removing inactive recipients or hard bounces
  • Building a list through illegitimate methods such as email scraping or buying a list

3. Detection

The operator of a spam trap will be notified when you send an email to it. This can then put you under suspicion of being a spammer.

4. Consequences

Sending emails to spam traps can have multiple consequences, including harming your sender reputation, your emails going to the spam folder, or even being blacklisted. The pristine trap is the most harmful (i.e. most likely to have severe consequences).

How to identify potential spam trap risk

Since spam traps look like regular email addresses, detecting a potential risk can be difficult. That doesn’t mean you’re helpless, though—here are a couple of ways you can identify potential spam traps:

Common indicators

Have you heard the phrase, “What can be measured, can be improved?” Well it applies here too—if you monitor your email marketing analytics, you’ll be able to quickly identify alarming changes.

  • Sudden drop in deliverability rates: A sudden and significant decrease in your deliverability might indicate that your emails are being flagged as spam.
  • Increase in bounce rates: High bounce rates, especially from unknown or inactive email addresses, could indicate spam traps. Keep a close eye on both soft and hard bounce rates.
  • Unexplained complaints or spam reports: Are you receiving too many complaints and spam reports? Your emails may be perceived as unwanted.

Email list analysis

Another way to find email spam traps is to pay close attention to your email list. Here is how you can analyze your email list:

  • Examine the age of email addresses: Spam traps are often old or inactive email addresses. Older addresses are more likely to be inactive.
  • Track engagement rates: Assess the engagement levels of your subscribers. Low open rates or click-through rates might increase the risk of your emails being marked as spam.

How to avoid spam traps

They say prevention is better than cure. Avoiding spam traps, rather than repairing their damage, is the best way to safeguard your marketing efforts.

Here are some key practices that can help you avoid email spam traps.

Email list hygiene

Keeping your email list clean and healthy is one of the best ways to avoid spam traps.

  • Regular email list cleaning and validation: Periodically check your email list and eliminate typos, outdated contacts, and invalid addresses. Omnisend simplifies email list cleaning, helping you maintain a healthy email list.
  • Removing inactive subscribers: Regularly track your subscribers’ engagement so you can identify and remove inactive subscribers to prevent them from turning into potential spam traps.
  • Provide clear unsubscribe options: Make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe from your emails. Hidden or complicated unsubscribe options can lead to subscribers labeling your emails as spam out of frustration.

Your unsubscribe button should be as clear as the one below:

An example of email list hygiene - email unsubscribe option
Image via Omnisend

Acquisition practices

How you acquire your subscribers can play a massive role in your likelihood of encountering spam traps. We recommend the following actions:

  • Employing double opt-in methods: Employ a double opt-in process where subscribers confirm their subscription to your email list. This way, you can ensure the addresses are valid before sending any content. 
  • Avoiding purchased or rented lists: You have no way of knowing how email addresses were gathered when you purchase a list, and none of those people have agreed to hear from you. Resist the temptation and your list will be much healthier.

Ongoing monitoring

Continuously observing the health of your email list reduces the risk of potential spam traps before they affect your marketing efforts. You can monitor your emails by doing the following:

  • Regularly analyze engagement metrics: Keep a close eye on key engagement metrics, such as open rates, bounce rates, and click-through rates. Identify and address potential spam traps to maintain your sender’s reputation.
  • Monitor spam complaints: Keep track of spam complaints from your subscribers. Actively resolve any concerns.
  • Use specialized tools to detect and avoid spam traps: Leverage specialized tools like Omnisend to identify and avoid spam traps. This tool can further improve your email deliverability by providing insights into your email marketing performance.

What to do if you hit a spam trap

Now you know how to avoid spam traps. However, you must also know what to do if you accidentally hit one.

It’s not the end for you and your email marketing efforts. You can still get your email marketing campaign back on track with the proper measures.

Identify the issue

Once you suspect you have sent emails to a spam trap, the first step is to identify the issue. Conduct a thorough audit of your email list.

Look for suspicious or inactive email address patterns that might have triggered a spam trap. Here is how you can perform a comprehensive audit of your email list:

  • Segment your email list: Segment your email list depending on characteristics like engagement levels, demographics, or signup sources. Dividing your list allows you to identify inactive or suspicious addresses that could trigger spam traps.
  • Review signup sources: Examine the sources of your email subscribers. Monitor suspicious activities, like increased signups from a particular source or location.
  • Use email verification tools: Use reliable email verification tools like Omnisend to detect and remove invalid or non-existent addresses from your list, leaving you only with active and deliverable email addresses.
  • Audit your email content: Your recipients might flag your emails as spam if you send irrelevant and deceptive content that doesn’t align with their expectations. 
  • Monitor blacklists: Regularly check email blacklists to see whether your IP address or domain is list-denied. You can use Omnisend to check if your domain or IP address is on any blacklist.

Steps for recovery

Once you pinpoint the issue, it’s time to recover and rebuild your reputation:

1. Remove suspicious email addresses

Get rid of any email that appears suspicious. Such addresses include those with repetitive sequences or high bounce rates.

2. Re-engage with your list

Reach out to your existing subscribers with a re-engagement campaign. Then, eliminate contacts who have not engaged with your list for a long time. Contacts older than 6 months could pose a potential spam trap risk.

3. Implement stricter list acquisition and maintenance strategies

Utilize double opt-ins to collect email addresses. This acquisition method ensures that subscribers actively consent to receiving your emails. This reduces the likelihood of spam traps.

Work with email service providers (ESPs)

When you hit a spam trap, contact your ESP to report the problem. Here are the key factors you should consider:

  • Communicate with ESPs to resolve issues: Gather and communicate relevant details about the spam trap. Such information might include the period you noticed suspicious activity as well as the affected campaigns.
  • Explain your acquisition practices: Clearly explain your email acquisition and marketing strategies. Clarify how you collect emails, maintain your list, and the measures you implement to ensure compliance.
  • Seek assistance to improve practices: Request guidance on how to improve your email marketing practices to avoid similar issues in the future. Also, familiarize yourself with your ESP’s guidelines and best practices.

Don’t keep the information to yourself after learning to implement and maintain email best practices. Instead, educate your team to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Wrap up

While spam traps have good intentions, they can also affect legitimate marketers who don’t maintain list hygiene.

Fortunately, you only need to follow simple steps for building and maintaining your email list, and using tools such as Omnisend to help detect issues and improve email deliverability.

Are you ready to take control of your email deliverability?
Richard White
Article by
Richard White

Richard is a Content Marketing Manager at Omnisend. An avid writer, he's said to have been born holding a pencil. Fascinated by all things handmade, if he's not reading or writing he can often be found practicing leathercraft.