Spam traps are email addresses created to ‘lure’ spam (unsolicited emails) - they are typically only published in a hidden location, which only email address harvesters could find. Since no email is solicited by the owner of the spam trap email address, any messages sent to this address are considered unsolicited.
It’s common for marketers to end up with spam trap addresses in their contact lists. Sending to high numbers of spam traps is a sign of poor list hygiene, which can lead to poor sender reputation and blocklistings, preventing emails being delivered.
Spam traps get into lists in a number of ways:
- Allowing mistyped or invalid addresses to be submitted at the point of sign up
- Sending to inactive contacts
- Buying/renting lists
Types of spam trap
The three most common types of spam trap are:
- Pristine - these addresses are created with the purpose of being a spam trap. These addresses have never been used as a personal address and so will not actively sign up to receive emails.
- Typo - these come from contacts mistyping the address when opting-in, e.g @outlok.com rather than @outlook.com. See also: Typo domains
- Recycled - these were once genuine contact addresses but are no longer in use. The mailbox provider has turned them into a spam trap.
Identifying spam traps
To identify potential spam traps you need to create a segment of suspected traps and use conditions to rule out contacts that show evidence of recent human activity.
The end goal is to create a segment that contains either spam traps or long term inactive contacts that can then be either excluded from the segments you send to or unsubscribed.
Spam traps typically don’t engage with campaigns, so this is the best place to start building your segment.
Go to: Customer > Segment explorer > Filter customers
- Customer Attributes: Accepts marketing - which is - opted in
Then create an and condition covering the time period when spam traps were known to have been sent, e.g.:
- Email Activity: date of last delivered email - after (relative) - 30 days ago
Next create another and condition:
- Email Activity: date of last opened email - before (relative) - 52 weeks ago
As spam traps can’t visit websites or make purchases, add these conditions:
- AND Web activity: Last visited - before (relative) - 52 weeks ago OR Last visited - which is not known
AND Purchase activity: Last ordered - before (relative)- 52 weeks ago OR Last ordered - which is not known
Spam traps can’t abandon a basket or browse. If you run abandoned basket or abandoned browse automations, add this and condition:
- Email activity: Interacted with a specific automation campaign - not received - select the abandoned basket/browse campaigns. Select multiple campaigns here if you run more than one.
Saving the segment
Depending on the number of contacts in your spam trap segment you may wish to either:
Click Save as new segment, name the segment and save it as dynamic.
- To test the segment and it will update automatically.
Click Save as new segment, name the segment and save it as static.
- If you want to remove the contacts from active segments.
Testing the segment
There are several ways to test the spam trap segment.
- Monitor the segment size over time. Make a note of the number of contacts in the segment at the time of creation. Monitor whether the segment size reduces over time - i.e. the contacts start to re-engage with either email or website activity.
- Send a targeted re-engagement campaign to this segment. Any contacts who engage will be automatically removed from the segment.
Removing the spam traps
When you’re ready, you should remove these contacts from your active sending segments.
This can be done in two ways:
- Excluding the segment from your sends. This has the disadvantage that these contacts will still appear under your total number of subscribed contacts even though they are not valid contacts.
- Remove them entirely (recommended). Export the segment, then re-upload the segment using the Force unsubscribe option. This will remove these addresses from your subscriber numbers.
The method above will help identify and remove most spam traps. It will not identify all spam traps, as there are some circumstances where spam traps may look like active contacts, e.g.:
- Recently subscribed
- Contact mistyped address when making a purchase and so trap has recent purchase or browse history
- Spam trap address uses link checking software causing clicks to be seen
Preventing spam traps is easier than removing spam traps.
Sending to spam trap addresses can be prevented in a number of ways, including:
- Implementing double opt-in for new subscribers
- Verifying email addresses at the point of sign up
- Not accepting malformed email addresses at point of sign up
- Segmenting based on contact engagement with email to remove non-engaged