Spam Traps: What they are and how to avoid them

By OctaneGo, September 12, 2012 | Tips & Resources

Just as spammers set up devious schemes to trap unsuspecting people, ESPs and other organizations maintain sleuthing resources to smoke out the spammers. This is done through spam traps, which are real email addresses not owned by anybody anymore i.e. abandoned for years by users and reclaimed after deactivation by ESPs to use as spam traps.

The basic idea is this: Email addresses get de-activated by the ESPs (such as Yahoo, Google, Hotmail etc.) if there is no activity on them for a certain amount of time. Once they get deactivated, the control for those accounts lands up with the ESP which then occasionally reactivates them secretly to check if they are still receiving any mail. If such an email address receives a promotional email, then the sender is dispatching unsolicited communication to obviously inactive IDs and hence spamming.

If the sender was actively checking the campaign results to see the bounces and segmenting the mailing list to remove the deactivated email addresses, then it wouldn’t be a problem. The fact that they are not doing that shows they are not keeping an eye on the recipient activity and hence exploiting the communication channel blindly. The result? Blacklisting.

If you are an email marketer, the prospect of being ‘blacklisted’ should sound off your alarm bells. But then how do you make sure you are not sending mailers to such spam traps by mistake? Here are some easy tips to follow:

  • Keep it easy to unsubscribe: The unsubscribe link should be clearly visible on each email you send. After all, if someone doesn’t want to be on the list anymore, there’s no point trying to trick them into staying. Letting subscribes go when they want will also keep your list clean, besides reducing the chance of falling for a spam trap later when such a user abandons an email address.
  • Employ double opt-in: When people sign up for your mailing list, you should make sure they are the genuine and actually interested in receiving your emails. One way of doing that is by putting in place a double opt-in system, wherein you complete the subscription only after an email confirmation. In other words, the user’s consent is taken twice to make doubly sure he/she knows what they are opting in for.
  • Never use scrap addresses: If you expand your email list without much consideration, you risk ending up in a spam trap. Never use purchased email lists or databases, no matter how low the cost; and never send unsolicited emails, especially to role-based and generic email addresses (jobs@, info@, etc.). A home-grown email list does take time to grow, but it is your best bet for long-term benefit.
  • Take email bounces seriously: Get more proactive on email bounce management. If you encounter a hard bounce, for instance, immediately remove the address from your list or add it to your suppression list. Similarly, put more thought into understanding soft bounces and how you can minimize them so that your campaign results improve.

Spam traps play an important role in curtailing spam activity on the Internet, but for a careless email marketer, this is akin to landmines hidden randomly all over the digital space. To avoid being black-listed, all you have to do is be smart about your email list management and follow industry-approved best practices. After all, email marketing is more about engagement than it is about reach.

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