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There are more than a few myths floating around the industry about seemingly magical quick fixes for removing spam traps from your subscriber list.

It would be great if you could. Unfortunately, though, those claims are not true.

To understand why, let's dive into what a spam trap is, the purpose of those pesky email addresses, and how you can avoid them in the future.

What Is a Spam Trap?

The truth about spam traps is, well, they are valid email addresses. That's why quickly identifying these malicious addresses in your list is next to impossible. So, ultimately, your efforts are going to be much better spent on fixing the fundamental issues that cause these email addresses to show up on your list in the first place.

Although spam traps might be a nuisance to senders, they have a specific and useful purpose for the mailbox providers: to catch bad senders.

The number of spam traps a sender hits is factored heavily into IP and domain reputation, which are key factors evaluated by mailbox providers in determining whether to filter mail to the spam folder. Some blocklists even monitor spam trap activity and will block senders if they send to one. So, overall, it's important to find the root cause of these pesky little addresses to ensure the problem is truly resolved, as opposed to falling victim to a false "quick fix."

To recover your sender reputation and increase the probability of your mail's being delivered to the inbox, don't ignore this issue.

Making things more complicated: not all spam traps are created equal.

In fact, there are two types of spam traps that can end up in your subscriber list:

  1. Recycled spam traps. These are intended to catch senders with poor hygiene practices.

    Recycled spam traps are created from unknown user email addresses: Though an email address could have been a valid address when you first acquired it, if you haven't sent an email to it in quite some time or you didn't remove it from your list after it became inactive, the same email address could have been converted into a spam trap by the mailbox provider.

    You shouldn't continue sending to this address—not only because you are not reaching a real subscriber but also because you are now jeopardizing your sender reputation.

    Recycled spam traps are serious, but not as serious as pristine trap hits.

  2. Pristine spam traps. If the two spam traps were twin sibling, pristine spam traps would be the evil twin.

    Pristine spam traps exist to catch senders who gather email addresses without consent. Although these email addresses are valid, they do not belong to an end subscriber. Rather, these email addresses are strategically placed in suspicious list acquisition sources (such as list purchase, list rental, and website-scraping sources), and they indicate serious list-acquisition malpractice to the mailbox providers and blocklists.

    Mailing to pristine traps can ultimately have serious implications on your sender reputation and ability to have your email make it to your actual subscribers' inboxes.

How to Avoid Spam Traps

There are services out there that claim to capture spam traps by keeping a running list of known spam trap addresses they've uncovered in the past. But there cannot be a 100% guarantee in those cases, simply because of the nature of spam traps.

Can these services catch some spam traps? Sure. But spam traps are ever-evolving, making them harder to catch. Just when you might've caught one trap, hundreds more are newly created and poised to pop up on your list.

The only true way to avoid obtaining spam traps on your list is to optimize your list acquisition and hygiene practices. Here are some recommendations to immediately start implementing:

  • Provide subscribers an option to explicitly opt into your email program with either a confirmed or double opt-in process. Clearly state the benefits of receiving your emails to motivate subscribers to provide their valid email address.
  • Avoid purchasing, renting, or scraping websites for email addresses. On top of being a practice that is frowned upon, those sources are notorious for hiding spam traps within their lists.
  • Tag all subscribers based on their acquisition source, and monitor unknown user and spam trap activity to uncover acquisition sources that could be causing your spam trap issue.

For more tips on how to monitor spam traps and blocklists, check out this blog post.

* * *

If you find that you've hit a spam trap, don't give up on your email program just yet. Although these addresses can harm your sender reputation, if you begin to take action to improve your email-sending practices and pinpoint the root cause of the spam trap, you will be headed in the right direction.

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