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There’s something lurking out there, in the corners of the email marketing world, that scares a lot of people: the spam trap.

Spam traps instill fear in marketers because most people don’t really understand how spam traps work or how common they are. While it’s impossible to avoid spam traps entirely, good data hygiene will help you limit exposure.

Sending unsolicited emails isn’t the same as sending spam – but if you do send cold emails, you’ll want to take precautions to avoid spam traps. Keep reading to learn all about spam traps and how to avoid them!

What is a spam trap?

A spam trap is a valid, deliverable email address used exclusively to receive (“trap”) unsolicited emails. Spam traps usually look just like normal email addresses, making them seemingly impossible to identify. They’re responsible for keeping spam out of our inboxes, and for that we should all be thankful.

The purpose of a spam trap is to identify spammers and senders with poor emailing practices. But sometimes spam traps find their way onto the email list of a legitimate sender. In most cases, this happens as a result of the sender’s lack of data hygiene, and the consequences can be severe. The sender’s email deliverability may drop significantly, and entire domains may be blacklisted, preventing even operational or one-on-one correspondence with customers and prospects.

Spam traps don’t just catch spammers: They can catch the good guys, too. Companies have adhered to best practices when building up IP and domain reputation and still ended up hitting a spam trap.

When companies conduct cold email campaigns, it’s possible they’ll fall into a spam trap. It’s the nature of the business. Data providers, email verification tools, and email marketers can minimize the possibility of hitting a spam trap, but they cannot completely eliminate the risks.

So, what’s a legitimate email marketer to do? If you want to truly avoid spam traps at all costs, you can only send to opt-in contacts and avoid purchasing data from a data provider. Great idea…unless you want to generate new leads and increase sales.

Outbound campaigns are the key to growth in the B2B world, and every sales and marketing team has to leverage data to be successful. So the first step in dealing with spam traps is to realize that they aren’t entirely avoidable. Choosing to conduct outbound campaigns automatically increases the risk that you hit a spam trap.

To mitigate risk, let’s learn a little bit more about how they work.

Types of Spam Traps

Today, there are two major types of spam traps used by corporations: pure spam traps and recycled spam traps.

Pure or “Pristine” Spam Traps

1. Fake Address for a Real Person

Pure spam traps, also called pristine spam traps, are set up for the whole purpose of attracting spammers. Let’s say your CEO’s name is Henry Schuck and your email formula is <first.last@company-name.com>. You could create the inbox for <hschuck@company-name.com> as a spam trap (assuming that anyone who had a legitimate reason for emailing Henry would send an email to <henry.shuck@company-name.com>) and mark all incoming mail to that address as spam. Companies often plant spam traps like <hschuck@company-name.com> in corners of the internet, luring web scrapers into emailing to their trap.

2. Real Address for a Fake Person

Companies looking to thwart spammers have gone as far as to create a fake social profile, setting up an inbox for that fake person as trap – and then reporting any company that emails that inbox. This identifies people who are emailing someone they don’t know; however, this practice casts a broad net, since there are many legitimate reasons to email people you don’t know.

Recycled Email Spam Traps

Another type of spam trap is a recycled email address. Some companies take the emails of departed employees and convert those email addresses into spam traps. Marketers who purchase old lists or use data that isn’t regularly cleaned are particularly susceptible to these types of traps. It’s important to know that all types of marketers are susceptible to these types of spam traps, because even a company’s own customer accounts can recycle addresses and convert them to spam traps.

How to Avoid Spam Traps

Q: I want to do absolutely everything I can to avoid a spam trap! Eek! What can I do?

A: It’s impossible to completely eliminate this risk, but there are steps you can take to minimize it:

1. Make sure you have access to the most up-to-date data possible.

When searching for best practices in avoiding spam traps, many authorities recommend sending to only the most recent lists.

Purchased lists are not up-to-date. They can be really, really old. The bounce rates you get won’t be pleasant, either, so we highly recommend staying away from static contact lists. Work with a data provider that prioritizes ongoing data hygiene so your lists are constantly being reviewed, cleaned, updated, and any old or out-of-date emails are being removed.

2. Clean out inactive contacts in your CRM and marketing automation tool.

If someone hasn’t opened, clicked, or responded to an email of yours after 15 consecutive campaigns, you probably want to suspend all emails to that contact. They are at risk for being converted to a recycled spam trap. Most marketing automation platforms have filters that enable you to remove contacts from email sends that have not had any activity within a recent time period.

3. Invest in email verification services.

Email verification services like NeverBounce are capable of verifying the emails in your list to ensure that they’re real and up-to-date before you send to them. Keep in mind: email verification will certainly help you avoid spam traps, but only if you’re taking other measures to ensure your list is clean and accurate. Unfortunately, many spam traps will get past email verification tools because they are actual inboxes. That’s why it takes several more levels of checks to sniff out spam traps entirely.

Email Verification for Avoiding Spam

Email verification services can mark emails as being at a higher-risk of being a spam trap. Be careful, though, because these services are not a complete solution to your problems, for two reasons:

  1. They don’t actually know which emails are spam traps.
  2. These types of services often classify an address as “potentially dangerous” just because it was on a list that contained a spam trap. For example, let’s say there’s a list online of 1,000 marketing professionals, and your email address is on it. Now let’s say a company emails everyone on that list and gets notified that the email hit a spam trap. Your email address would also get tagged as “potentially dangerous” because it was on a list that contained a spam trap. In reality, though, your email is perfectly fine, and you’re definitely not a fake person (at least, I hope not!).

Using verification tools decreases the odds that you hit a spam trap, but it also decreases your addressable market and potential – because you’re avoiding the inclusion of many valid emails in your campaigns. The answer is “proceed with caution.”

Key Takeaways on Email Spam Traps

If spam traps sound like they’re difficult — borderline impossible — to avoid, don’t fear. While spam traps are one of the biggest roadblocks to a perfect email reputation, you can avoid them as long as you put the right processes in place. Don’t assume your email list is spotless just because it appears to be; the more time and effort you put into avoiding spam traps, the more you’ll reap the rewards and fuel a winning email strategy.

Contact ZoomInfo today to learn more about improving your B2B marketing efforts. Our business database is the tool you need for more informed marketing decisions.

About the author

ZoomInfo

ZoomInfo combines the leading business contact database with best-in-class technology to pinpoint, process, and deliver the marketing and sales intelligence you need— exactly when and how you need it, to always hit your number.

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