Published by Aarti Naidu on September 25, 2012

Are you biting the bait?


We all hate spam traps, though there is no denying that they play an important role in curtailing spam activity on the Internet. But if you’re a careless email marketer, this could be as bad as a booby trap hidden all across the digital universe. Having a spam trap on your list can befoul your carefully set marketing goals. Get on to knowing what they really are and how to not fall for them.

What are spam traps?

A spam trap email address is the one that appears to be valid but is in fact used by ESP’s and other organizations to nose-out spammers, just like spammers who scheme unsuspecting people into devious traps. These organizations maintain snooping resources via spam traps which are real email addresses that may have been active at some point in history but are not owned by anybody, anymore. This means they lay dormant for years and are reclaimed after deactivation by ESP’S to use as spam traps.

What really happens here?

Mr. ABC has an email ID called If this ID registers no activity for a very long time, Gmail will send a notification to Mr. ABC asking him to reactivate it. If the account still remains inactivated, its control then rests with Gmail which will then reactivate it secretly and keep a check on it to see if it is still receiving any email. And if receives a promotional email it is concluded that the sender is dispatching unsolicited communications, to obviously inactive IDs and hence considered spamming. In fact ESPs or third parties employ an array of techniques and technologies to smoke out spammers and to determine legitimate senders of email, and one such technique is the spam trap or honey pot. Unfortunately, in the perennial war between ISPs and spammers, it’s always the legitimate marketers that suffer.

Marketers need to be cautious of the following two types of spam traps:

1) Honey pot addresses: Freshly created email addresses are spread across websites, forums etc. in form of comments etc. and never subscribed to any marketing offers, waiting to be scraped or harvested by spammers are called Honey pot IDs. Some anti-spam organizations upload specific email addresses on a website for the sole purpose of attracting spammers to use harvesting software to gather and send spam emails to. Any email sent to such “honey pot” addresses must, by definition, be spam.

2) Recycled email addresses: Email addresses that once belonged to a user but fell into disuse and then were reactivated at a later date to monitor incoming emails are called recycled email IDs. Some organizations (like webmail services) will take dead email accounts and after a suitable period of time, repurpose them as spam traps.

What happens if you send a mail to a spam trap email ID?

When you send an email to a spam trap, it terribly hampers your reputation as a sender of email with the organization managing the incoming email. The real consequences are impossible to quantify, given the variety of spam traps and organizations involved. But one thing is for sure: sending emails to spam traps gets you an extra tick on the “is this a spammer?” checklist. It can further mean that your email will be ruthlessly scrutinized or even blacklisted.
If you are an email marketer, the idea of being ‘blacklisted’ should curdle your blood. But there is a way out. You can surely make sure you are not sending mailers to such spam traps unknowingly by following these simple tips.

  • Make unsubscribing easy: The unsubscribe link should scream out of your email. Coming to think of it, if a user has made his mind to unsubscribe there is no point in twisting his arm into staying on your distribution database. Letting subscribers leave when they want to will also keep your list clean, besides reducing the chance of falling for a spam trap later when the same user abandons his email address.

  • Employ double opt-in:
    When a user signs up for your mailing list, try and make sure he is genuine and is actually interested in receiving your emails. One way of doing that is by setting 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 and you can be doubly sure that user knows what he is volunteering for.
  • Maintain email list hygiene: A rolling stone gathers no moss! If you go on expanding your email list thoughtlessly, you risk ending up in a spam trap for sure and will end up getting marked as serial offender when you have multiple invalid email IDs up your distribution list. 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 a friend for life.
  • Keep a close watch on email bounces: It’s very important that you take email bounces off your campaigns seriously and manage them proactively. If you encounter a hard bounce, for instance, remove the address from your list at once or add it to your suppression list. Similarly, put more life into understanding soft bounces and how you can curb them so that your campaign churns better, clean results.

Very basically speaking, get permission before adding an address to your list, use professional software or services that keep your list clean of redundant addresses. Be smart, possessive and careful about your contact list and follow industry approved practices.

And always remember – no shortcuts!

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