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What is a spam trap?

Spam is a major nuisance, both for customer-level email users and email marketers alike. Moreover, it comprises a considerable portion of all emails sent worldwide nowadays, so the fight against spam is as important as it has ever been.

Many organizations are committed to preventing the spread of spam online, from security companies to internet service providers (ISPs). These organizations are continually devising new and innovative ways to combat spammer activity.

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spam traps are one way these organizations prevent the proliferation of spam emails. However, spam traps can also cause problems for well-intentioned email marketers, so it pays to have a solid grasp of what spam traps are and how they operate, as well as the different types.

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What are spam traps and how do they operate? Types of spam traps Pristine spam traps
Recycled spam traps
Typo spam traps
How to avoid spam traps Grow your email lists organically
Practice proper list hygiene
Conclusion

What are spam traps and how do they operate?

The term “spam trap” refers to a specific email address that an organization uses to try and catch senders who are engaging in questionable sending practices.

They are also known as honeypots, as their role is essentially to bait spammers into action so that spammers can be identified and subsequently blocked using specific filters.

However, to serve their purpose, spam trap emails must first find their way onto senders’ email lists. How this is achieved varies from one kind of trap to the next.

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Types of spam traps

There are three main types of spam traps, with each type of spam trap functioning differently in how it captures and identifies spammers’ emails.

1.  Pristine spam traps

Pristine spam traps are what most consider the classic version of the spam trap. These are email addresses that an organization creates specifically to trap spammers. They have no prior history and have never belonged to individual users, nor have they had any function other than to act as spam traps.

Pristine spam traps are designed to punish a specific spammer behavior known as “web scraping.” Web scraping is when spammers harvest large amounts of data from websites for their own use. The creator of a pristine trap will knowingly embed it into a website, where it will be picked up by spammers if and when they harvest the website’s data.

Pristine traps are also frequently used to punish other unethical sending behaviors, and are frequently found in purchased email mailing lists. Due to the pervasive nature of spam, pristine traps carry severe repercussions for senders who trigger them, including blocklisting of their IP addresses.

2.  Recycled spam traps

There are some similarities between recycled spam traps and pristine ones, though recycled traps are created using email addresses that were valid at some point in the past. When email addresses fall into disuse and become inactive, organizations like ISPs will often take the opportunity to reclaim them and convert them into spam traps. This is where the name ”recycled spam trap” comes from.

The consequences of hitting a recycled spam trap are less severe than a pristine trap, but sender reputation and deliverability can still be significantly affected over time.

3.  Typo spam traps

Typo spam traps are email addresses which include some kind of misspelling. The typo in question is typically found in the domain. They are often triggered as a result of an honest mistake, such as a customer providing their email address incorrectly.

However, typo email traps do serve a valuable function. They exist to encourage senders to follow best practices concerning list hygiene and acquisition by punishing those who do not adhere to them.

How to avoid spam traps

As an email marketer, having your IP blocked or your outgoing messages sent to recipients’ junk folders is obviously a major problem, so you’ll want to avoid spam traps at all costs. Fortunately, it is possible to protect yourself through due diligence.

1.  Grow your email lists organically

Simply put, spam traps exist to catch people doing something that they shouldn’t, so the best way to avoid them is by following best practices when it comes to list acquisition.

Purchasing third-party lists is inadvisable for many reasons, the most pertinent here being that they regularly include spam traps. Instead, you should strive to create lists that are 100% opt-in. This way, you know the source of each address on your list.

In fact, using a double opt-in is even better. This helps guarantee not only the source of the addresses on your list, but also the validity of each email address. Since double opt-ins require users to reaffirm their consent through a confirmation email, typos won’t cause you any issues.

Building your mailing list in this way is a slow and steady process, though it provides you with a solid foundation for your marketing campaigns going forward — one that helps you avoid spam traps

2.  Practice proper list hygiene

Good email list hygiene is key to preventing deliverability issues. Even though all of the addresses in your list may have arrived there through opt-in methods, the fact of the matter is that email addresses regularly fall into disuse for one reason or another.

List decay can result in you having inactive email addresses on your list, and since inactive addresses are often converted into recycled traps, they need to be removed. Tracking subscriber engagement and performing regular email list cleaning, typically a couple of times a year at minimum, will help you circumvent this issue.

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Conclusion

spam traps are necessary tool for identifying and blocking spammers, but they can also impact well-meaning email marketers who have fallen behind on list maintenance. Generally speaking, the key to avoiding spam traps is to avoid complacency.

By adhering to best practices, growing organic email lists, and maintaining them regularly, you can avoid the issues associated with hitting spam traps.

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