Increase Deliverability by Avoiding Spam Traps

Unless you have a brand new marketing automation instance with an entirely fresh customer database, the chances are pretty high that you have a few bad records.  While no one intends for this to happen, if you’re not diligent, then you may find spam traps creeping into your marketing automation system.

Spam traps are bad news.  If you’re not familiar with spam traps, they are email addresses used by ISPs and block lists to identify bad email practitioners with the intent to block them. While hitting one or two spam traps is no big deal, there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule on how many you can hit before being blocked, so, like many things, prevention is the key here: It’s better to keep your database as clean as possible rather than get on a black list and then have to dig yourself out.

Before we go through the different things you can do to keep spam traps out of your life, let’s quickly review the different types of traps.  Understanding this will make it easier to remember why each of the prevention methods works, and how to adapt it to your particular marketing automation instance.

Types of spam traps

Generally, spam traps fall into 3 categories.  These are:

  • Pristine traps:  These are email addresses that have never been used and have been purposely created by ISPs and blocklists for the express purpose of identifying spammers.
  • Recycled email addresses: these traps consist of addresses that were previously active, but haven’t been used in a very long time, so they’ve been repurposed by blocklists and ISPs.
  • Typos: Typo traps can be broken out into two main sub-categories, these are:
    • Invalid Email addresses, where the domain is misspelled e.g.
    • Fake email addresses, which are addresses users may provide when they actually don’t want to give you their email address.

Avoiding spam traps

Now we understand the different types of spam traps, we can identify ways to avoid spam traps based on the way the traps are created.

Always double opt-in

Never mind that they help you comply with regulations (hello GDPR and CCPA), double opt-in is the prime way to avoid spam traps because it helps you avoid 2 out of the 3 types.  By only emailing double opt-ins, you’ll avoid both pristine and typo/fake traps.  Because neither of these traps are real, they can’t respond to your opt-in request so they won’t be included in any of your email campaigns.

Don’t buy lists!!!

Lists are so tempting because they represent an easy shortcut to attain new potential prospects. However list rentals are always bad ideas because they:

  1. have been sourced by dubious means, such as screen scraping.
  2. Are aged out to the point of being inactive.

Both of these factors mean that pristine, which are targeted at non-permissioned spammers, and recycled traps are more likely to be on such lists.

If these two reasons don’t put you off, bear in mind that people on lists are not expecting emails from your brand, so they are more likely to make spam complaints and less likely to engage, both of which hurt your email deliverability.

Don’t mail to inactives

It can be a bit of a political battle to get agreement to cleanse your database (what if the person who’s been inactive for years receives just the perfect email that gets them to convert??!!); however it’s really in your best interests. Not only will it give you a true reflection of your actual email metrics by removing dead weight, but it’ll protect you from mailing pristine and recycled spam traps.

Please note that spam traps, even pristine traps that have never been used as real addresses, may engage with emails at some point in their lifecycle, they just won’t engage regularly.  Therefore your segmentation strategy needs to factor this in.

Use tools to identify traps

There’s a number of ways that you can use marketing automation to help you identify traps. Some ideas are below.

If you utilize Oracle Eloqua, use the contact washing machine

As a starter, here are two ways you can use Eloqua’s free Contact Washing Machine app to help you identify traps

  • Use lookup tables:  Out of the box, Eloqua provides a celebrity name lookup table that can help you identify common fake email addresses like [email protected] (unless you expect Justin Bieber to be someone who would sign up to receive your email, that is)
  • Use regex: For those not familiar with regex, it stands for regular expression and is a pattern matching capability within the CWM app.  You can use this to flag many typo email addresses out there. For example, ensure that is accepted but not or, which don’t exist.

Use email verification tools

These tools validate that an email address exists and isn’t a spam trap. While I would take the last statement with a pinch of salt, such tools have their place when combined with the above methods.  These tools come in two different flavors:

Pre-form submission

These tools verify an email address either before the form has been submitted or in real-time as the form is being filled in.  If the email fails the test, the form can’t be submitted and the contact isn’t created in your database.

While this can be handy, note that it 

  1. Will require on-page code,
  2. removes a degree of control from your marketing team, and 
  3. there’s also a danger of false positives (though this last risk is admittedly small)

Post-form submission

These tools examine email addresses after the contact record has been created in your database.  Because of this, such vendors usually A) have an integration with your marketing automation platform and B) have other services that you can utilize at the same time, such as data appending.

Compared to pre-submission services, these tools give more control to the marketer but represent a more manual process as you’ll need to craft policies and programs on when to perform such checks and what to do if a record fails it.

One thing to note with many of these methods is that they go hand-in-hand with a well-crafted data governance strategy.  In other words, you should have a plan with what to do with the records that are identified by any anti spam-trap strategy.  Some of the answers are easy, such as in the case of typo traps, but the correct policy for your organization can be a little murkier when it comes to inactive emails.

If you need help with your data management, deliverability, or spam trap avoidance, feel free to reach out to us.

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