Essential Guide to Avoiding Dreaded “Spam Traps”


Spam traps can become a real nightmare to anyone trying to promote their products with email marketing campaigns. If you‘ve noticed that your email sales or deliveries are down lately, spam traps might be to blame. 



How can you find out whether spam traps are affecting your campaigns? And how can you get rid of the bad apples in your database? We’ll break that down in detail.



How do spam traps work?

Imagine for a moment that you work for a mailbox provider such as Gmail or Yahoo! Your daily job is to seek and punish spammers who send unsolicited emails.

How do you know whether a particular company is sending newsletters to people who didn’t agree to receive them?

It’s pretty simple, actually:


  • You create a number of spam trap email addresses, i.e., or
  • You never share these addresses with anyone and never sign up to newsletter lists.
  • You spread the email addresses around, placing them on web forums and online groups.
  • Now the trap is set! Like a hunter you wait until the prey falls into your trap.
  • Companies that collect your email addresses from those sites and start sending promotional offers are automatically classified as spammers. Trapped!


Spam traps are set up by companies responsible for blocking unsolicited emails. Their aim is to capture careless marketers and spammers. Their sole purpose is to catch illegitimate email and identify senders with poor email marketing practices.

Spam traps are a tool of great importance, as they provide mailbox providers with a direct signal that someone is sending unwanted newsletters.



Why should spam traps worry you?

If such addresses are found in your email database, it’s likely you have serious deliverability problems. AOL, Yahoo! and Gmail have tools to check whether your emails are “good enough” to be delivered to a large number of their users. These tools include:


  • Number of complaints, i.e. clicks on the “mark as spam/this is spam” button, reported by their users upon receiving your email
  • Number of bounces (user unknown) i.e. the percentage of invalid email addresses you are trying to contact
  • Problem content (spam phrases, reputation of hyperlinks, email structure)
  • Number of spam trap hits


That last indicator gives Internet Service Providers (ISP) detailed information regarding the email marketing practices of companies that hit spam traps.

Sometimes it takes just a few hits (attempts to send email to spam trap addresses) to have your emails permanently blocked from delivery to a particular ISP’s users.

BriteVerify reported that one of their clients, who had a great sender reputation, saw their deliverability plummet from 98% down to 25% within 24 hours due to spam trap hits.



How do spam traps get on your list?

If you think you are safe and there are no spam traps in your database, you may be making a big mistake. Spam traps can be found in the mailing lists of even the biggest and most reputable companies — those that, in theory, follow best marketing practices.

Unfortunately sometimes that’s not enough. Spam traps can get onto your list in several ways:


  • Purchasing poor-quality mailing lists that often include many spam traps
  • Harvesting random email addresses from websites and online groups and sending your newsletters to them
  • Not using confirmed opt-in (double opt-in) for sign-ups to your newsletters
  • Failing to remove inactive email addresses from your database,
  • Inattention to mailing list hygiene (bounce management)



How can you fight spam traps?

Getting rid of spam traps is no easy process. Before you actually find one on your email list, it’s best to follow these rules to avoid contaminating your list.


  • Never purchase mailing lists. You are likely to lose money and your sender reputation — which you may never be able to regain.
  • Ask subscribers to confirm their willingness to subscribe. ISPs managing spam traps don’t click activation links and usually don’t open emails, so using this precaution should help you sleep at night.
  • Make sure your marketing platform manages soft and hard bounces appropriately, to keep your database spotless.
  • Regularly use various segmentation methods to filter-out inactive subscribers (those who haven’t opened or clicked any of your emails in the last 6-12 months). Amongst those addresses, one can often find spam traps — get rid of them!


Remember that some of your competitors may know a few spam trap addresses from their own experience. If you don’t use double opt-in confirmation, you are at risk that an unscrupulous competitor may add these addresses through your online form — to get you into serious trouble.



Help! My database has spam traps!

If you find spam traps in your database, getting rid of them may not be easy. Sometimes you might need to “amputate” an infected part of your list to make sure that the majority of it stays healthy.

Some of the known spam traps are collected by a service called Sender Score from Return Path. With this service you can check the reputation of your sending IP address and find out whether in the last 7 days you have sent a newsletter that hit spam traps.

Of course this will not show you all spam traps – only the known ones.




Take action, based on this rule of spam trap behavior:

Most spam traps don’t perform actions (they don’t open emails or click links).

The process involves identifying subscribers that did not open any of your emails in the last 12 months. When you find them, create a separate segment and send a re-engagement email asking them to confirm their willingness to continue subscribing to your newsletters.

Those that do not respond should be removed. Having done so, monitor your performance statistics to see whether this process helped. Follow our free Email Deliverability From A to Z  guide to further improve your scores.

In this process, you are likely to lose valid but unresponsive subscribers along with spam traps. With this in mind, make sure you track the behavior of your subscribers whenever you contact them.

Last but not least, remember that some ISPs make use of abandoned email addresses (user didn’t log in during the last 12 months) and turn them into spam traps. Since these addresses may have actually opted in to your subscription long ago, it may be even more difficult to locate them.

The only effective way to fight spam traps is to track the behavior of your subscribers and regularly manage the hygiene of your email database.


Got a question about deliverability? Pop it into the comments below. We’ll be glad to help!

Email Deliverability From A To Z Guide

Email Deliverability From A To Z

Download our free guide and learn how to make sure that your deliverability is pitch-perfect with tips from a deliverability manager at GetResponse. Nurture relationships, learn how to tackle list building, and make sure that the content you send doesn't raise up any flags.