Spam traps 101: why a dormant or blacklist email address can badly damage your reputation

Dec 13
4 min read
Spam traps are addresses that are created or maintained solely for the purpose of catching people who engage in bad email practises. Even if you had no bad intentions, having one on your list can be very damaging to your reputation. Here's why:
Spam traps - photo of hands coming through a hole in a clear plastic sheet

What is a Spam trap or ‘planted’ address? Very simply, it’s an address you don’t want on your list.

The term “trap” is very appropriate in that these addresses are put out there to catch people either not using proper list building practices, people harvesting emails, purchasing lists from a 3rd party, or marketers who have very poor list hygiene (whether knowingly or not). These trap addresses are kept secret to protect their identity and are released to no one. Why? Well making them public would render them rather useless if you think about it.

Dormant Traps

Are used by ISPs and are usually addresses that have been dormant for a long period of time and this can vary anywhere from a few years to as little as 6 months. These addresses would have returned a hard bounce during this time but now no longer receive email, other than to catch this sort of activity. Generally these addresses will not result in a blacklisting because they may in fact have opted into your list at some point, but sending too many to a particular ISP can severely damage your reputation. It’s basically telling the receiver that your list is very old and/or you are not removing bounces properly.

Blacklist Traps

The 2nd kind of trap is the worst and the most damaging. These are addresses that exist for the sole purpose of getting your IP and/or Domain blacklisted. They are used by Blacklists to catch people harvesting email addresses off the internet or people purchasing lists. As mentioned by the industry experts, people who have been blacklisted saw a significant decrease in their delivery rate and it severely damaged their reputation.

What can I do?

  • If you are not already doing so, start confirming your new sign-ups. A trap will never confirm they want to be on your list. It may register as an open, but it will never click on a link to confirm their opt-in which is why it is so important to switch to double opt-in.
  • If you are purchasing lists, stop – it’s not worth it. Even if you are using a credible list vendor, you can never be certain the list you receive is free of addresses that no longer exist or ever existed in the first place, harvested addresses, spam traps, etc. The only way to ensure the people on your list confirmed they want to receive email from you is to build the list yourself and in a manner that is consistent with best practice.
  • Keep your lists up to date. Make sure you are sending at least once every few months and remove hard bounces accordingly. If you have not sent anything to these people in 6 months, you should send a reconfirmation email explaining how you got their address and that if they wish to continue receiving your emails they will need to reply or click the link below to reconfirm their opt-in status.
  • If you are changing providers, make sure you do not resend to any hard bounces. Find out how they are handling these bounces and that the list you receive from them is clean.

How can I remove a trap ?

  1. Start confirming new sign-ups.
  2. Send a reconfirmation email (with no promotional content at all) and include a link to reconfirm their opt-in status and remove anyone that does not do so.

Whichever of these you decide to go with, it’s important to understand that without implementing Step 1 and confirming new sign-ups, you risk adding another trap to your list and going through this process all over again.

It’s a time to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others, because we can’t possibly make them all ourselves. Don't miss the opportunity to rethink your process properly.

If you are switching providers

When switching providers, it is paramount you make sure the data you are putting into the new system is as clean as possible. I have seen this happen many times, where a company who has been sending to a clean list for years suddenly changes providers and for whatever reason, the hard bounces get uploaded again as ‘active’ – which is obviously extremely bad and opens the floodgates for traps. You need to make sure you know exactly how your old provider has been handling these bounces. Have they been removing them or just ‘labelling’ them (which would mean they are still in the list on export)? Some providers can also assign a numerical value to an email address status, which only their system can recognise so you need to be very careful not to import these into the new system.

Share this

Text Link
This is some text inside of a div block.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.