How to avoid spam traps with good email list hygiene

Growing your email list from scratch is hard work. It’s very tempting to take shortcuts like purchasing a ready-made list or harvesting emails from the web.

Resist the temptation! These shortcuts are probably the worst things you can do if you want to stay in business and you care about the long-term reputation of your brand. These quick fixes give you a false sense of success before backfiring.

There might be spam traps in those lists that will harm your sender reputation, affect your email deliverability, and see all your emails routed straight to the spam or junk folder.

Despite your best efforts, however, you may stumble upon spam traps. We’ll help you learn about different spam traps, teach you how to avoid them, and show you how to get yourself out of them.

A spam trap is a decoy that uses email addresses scattered around the web to catch spammers. Since these emails have only one purpose—to serve as spam bait—any messages sent to these addresses are considered unsolicited emails and thus spam.

Spam trap

While spam traps help identify spam-like practices and behavior, not all spam traps have the same effect on your sender reputation and email deliverability. Some may highlight sloppy sending practices while others may land you in a blocklist from which it’ll be very difficult to leave.

Pristine spam traps

As their name suggests, pristine spam traps are email addresses that have never been used before. These emails are created by anti-spam organizations—like major Internet service providers (ISPs) and blocklist providers—for the sole purpose of being spam traps. Pristine emails are often found in purchased email lists

Having a pristine address in your subscriber list does the most damage to your sender reputation. It means that the only possible way you fell into this spam trap is that you obtained the email address without permission from its owner.

Recycled spam traps

Recycled spam traps are email addresses that were once used before. They have been abandoned by their owners, deactivated, and then repurposed as spam traps. Examples include emails of ex-employees and domains of inactive websites.

A recycled email will initially hard bounce to tell senders that it is inactive. Once it becomes a spam trap, it will identify senders who ignore the hard bounce and continue to send emails. While recycled addresses don’t harm your reputation as much as pristine addresses, they reveal sloppy list management or poor email list hygiene.

Invalid email addresses

Invalid email addresses include typos and fake emails. Email typos are mistakes that happen when entering email addresses in online or paper forms. Common examples include errors with sending domains like @gmial.com, @gnail.com or @yhoo.com.

Fake emails are non-existent email addresses. Ironically, one reason for people not sharing their real email address is to avoid receiving spam! Such people might enter gibberish for an email address in their eagerness to download an offer.

The impact of invalid addresses on your sending reputation isn’t as severe as pristine emails. Their presence, however, means that you’re not verifying emails as you collect them or before sending out your first email. In a tricky twist for email marketers, some invalid addresses may coincidentally turn out to be spam trap addresses as well!

You’ll land on a blocklist

Hitting a spam trap may land you in a blocklist where errant senders are identified by their IP address and domain. Spam filters, for example, use these blocklists along with other criteria to decide if an email is spam. Stay on these blocklists long enough and you’ll quickly find all your emails routed to the spam folder.

Your email metrics will suffer

Even if you don’t land in a blocklist, keeping recycled and invalid subscribers on your list will affect your campaign’s performance. If you’re not taking steps to maintain a healthy list, you will be looking at lower subscriber engagement, poor deliverability, and a greater chance of ending up in the spam folder. 

Maintain proper email list hygiene

Practicing good email list hygiene means regularly removing inactive subscribers from your list. Monitor your open rates to identify people who don’t interact with your emails as they will only harm your sending reputation. Focus on your list quality rather than quantity!

Keep your databases up to date

When was the last time you took a long, hard look at your contact list? If you haven't contacted these people in a long time, say 2 years, then it’s probably better to start your list from scratch. People will have moved on during this time, changing their jobs, roles, interests or locations.

Grow your list organically and honestly

We can’t emphasize this enough: never, ever purchase an email list. The reality is that these emails were likely gathered without permission from their owners and are likely to be outdated. Not to mention, you’re breaking email laws like the GDPR and CAN-SPAM Act.

Instead of taking shortcuts like shopping for an email prospect list, it’s better for your business and brand in the long-run to grow your list organically. Adopt a different approach by helping prospects find your business and letting them opt-in to your list.

Avoid harvesting emails from the web

It’s easy to get caught up in the convenience of harvesting emails from the web. If they’re publicly available on the Internet, they must be free for the taking right? Wrong. Using email programs like web crawlers and email scraping tools is a sure-fire way to gather spam traps and get yourself blocklisted.

Use double opt-in for new subscribers

When people sign up for emails from you, your work isn’t done just because they entered an email address and clicked submit. Don’t accept their email at face value because they might have made a typo somewhere or provided a fake email address.

Use double opt-in to add an additional check when you collect emails. Send a confirmation email that requires a person to confirm their email address. Having a real person confirm they’re a legitimate sender reduces the chances of them being a spam trap.

Run an email verification tool regularly

If you’re following the list management tips above and growing a high-quality list, you’ll reach a point where you cannot maintain the list yourself. It takes too much effort to manually check email addresses for typos and to remove hard-bounced addresses.

You can automate list cleaning with the help of an email validation tool like MailerCheck. Simply upload a list from your favorite email marketing platform to clean, analyze and highlight potential spam traps like syntax errors and fake emails.

Also, you can verify emails as you collect them in your apps and websites using a real-time email API. Instantly filter out bad emails before they’re added to your list and save time and effort running regular cleaning jobs.

MailerCheck now includes Inbox Insights, a campaign analysis tool that takes email deliverability further. Send your email campaign to this online tool and it’ll tell you if your email will pass popular spam filters, if your IP address is on a blocklist, and much more.

So you ran your email campaign through Inbox Insights and you find out you're on a blocklist. Help! Don’t panic. You might have hit a spam trap email address somewhere in your subscriber list. Take these steps to salvage your list and narrow down the suspects.

1. Segment inactive subscribers

The first thing you should do is segment your list by your subscribers’ behavior using your email marketing software. You’re going to identify people who have not opened your emails, for example, in the past 180 days or last 3 campaigns. You can adjust the rules to filter inactive subscribers according to your requirements.

2. Send a win-back campaign

If you have subscribers who haven’t interacted with your emails in the past 180 days, don’t give up on them yet. Try to re-engage them with a win-back email campaign. They signed up with you for a reason, so use this chance to remind them of your value and content.

Ideally, you want your inactive subscribers to take some form of action with your re-engagement email. The call to action could be clicking a button to “stay subscribed” or accepting an incentive like a limited offer or downloadable content.

3. Try an auto-resend campaign

For a last-ditch effort, you can try sending out an auto-resend campaign if you’re using an ESP like MailerLite. This feature will automatically send out another email to your subscribers if they did not open your first email or click on a link inside it.

However, use auto-resend campaigns with caution! Some people may see them as persistent and annoying, marking your emails as spam. Save them for a last-chance offer or to inform subscribers that they will be removed from your list soon.

4. Remove inactive subscribers

So you’ve performed these 3 steps but, for whatever reason, there are still subscribers who refuse to interact with your emails! While it is painful to trim your subscriber list, you can safely remove these inactive emails as keeping them will do more harm than good.

Blocklist

Formerly known as a blacklist, is a list of senders that are suspected to be spammers due to their email content and sending behavior.

CAN-SPAM Act

The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003 is a United States law that establishes a national standard for the regulation of spam email.

Email Service Provider (ESP)

An email service provider is a company that helps email marketers send and manage bulk email like newsletters and promotional offers.

GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation is a privacy and security law in the European Union that, among other things, requires email marketers to obtain a person’s consent before sending them marketing emails.

Harvesting

The act of using web crawlers and email scraping tools to collect email addresses on publicly accessible websites.

Internet Service Provider (ISP)

In email marketing, webmail companies like Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook.com are popular Internet service providers.

Purchased list

A list of email addresses purchased from a third party. Buying the list transfers ownership and thus the list can be used many times for email campaigns.

Spam trap

Email addresses that are scattered around the web as bait for spammers.

You don’t have to worry about major spam traps if you keep your email lists clean. Follow proper email hygiene practices—like verifying emails as you collect them or cleaning your list often—and your healthy email list will pay itself off in the long run.

Sean
I’m Sean, Content Writer at The Remote Company. I like to keep things neat, clean and tidy—including my inbox! This pretty much sums up my philosophy for architecture, design, and food around the world.