Here in Austin we have an annual event called Spamarama. It’s a funny thing, but I think it can really only be appreciated by those who have an unnatural love of the pink, salty, pork product that comes in that odd can shape. Having spent much of the last decade working in marketing, with a very specific focus on deliverability, I can’t help but think about email every time Spamarama comes around (see, work ruins everything!).
Most marketers have only a vague understanding of spam and spam traps, mostly driven by their cursory readings of US CAN-SPAM legislation, or more recently CASL. The basic idea is, don’t send email to people who don’t want it, that’s called spam. When it comes to “spam traps”, most seem to think that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are out creating email inboxes like bait, just waiting to catch marketers in the act…not quite the truth.
Here and now, let’s set a few things straight on what spam traps really are and how to avoid “hitting” them.
What Are Spam Traps?
Spam traps are email addresses that don’t belong to real recipients. A spam trap either never belonged to a real recipient, or did but was closed and sent a hard bounce error code stating the email address was bad or inactive for a significant period before being re-purposed into a spam trap. They are used by ISPs and blacklists to track email spammers.
Recycled Spam Traps
Recycled email addresses are email addresses that, at one point, were active and being used. After a certain time period of inactivity, the ISP or domain will start sending you hard bounce error codes if you send to a perpetually dormant email address. After a few months or even years of inactivity, these email addresses will be turned back on and monitored to see if new mailings are being sent to these addresses. Since these email addresses shouldn’t be receiving mailings, marketers who didn’t suppress these addresses, or have started resending to older lists, will be dinged for sending to these types of spam traps.
Most Marketing Automation Platforms will suppress hard bounces from your sends once something has bounced once. But what happens if Joe Smith, your friendly sales rep, digs up some old list he had lying around that is just “full of gold” and holds untold opportunity? Well, first off, run screaming. No, really, just don’t take it. If you do not know where a list came from and you don’t know how old it is, you are putting yourself and your programs at risk. Remember, the longer data sits, the more likely it is to be wrong. Industry estimates say that 25-33% of email addresses on a “house” file will become outdated every year. Just imagine how many of those addresses Joe is trying to get you to email to are outdated?
Honeypot Spam Traps
Honeypots are set up specifically by ISPs to look for spammers. Basically, someone at the ISP creates a new address and never uses it. In this case, there is zero legitimate way that this address can “subscribe” to a list. Sending to a honeypot typically results in an immediate blacklisting of your domain and IP address. In some cases, you can contact the blacklist owner and petition to be removed, but sometimes there is no way to contact them. If you hit a blacklist, you will be looking at a long hard road where the only option is to build your reputation back up brick by brick.
If a honeypot was never used, how does a marketer come into possession of them? Think of honeypots as just what they sound like – bait. These addresses are typically hanging out in the corners of the internet and when a marketer purchases third- party lists, they expose themselves to the tactics used to gather those addresses. The most common way a honeypot gets added to a list of emails for purchase is when a vendor “harvests” lists using a web crawler to hunt for email addresses. Not only is email harvesting illegal under most of the spam-related legislation, it also is pretty darn shady.
Avoiding Spam Traps
The impact of spam trap hits can vary, depending on what kind of spam traps you hit and how many you hit. Your email might just go into the junk folder, or if you are having a particularly bad day, your IP address could be listed at a major blacklist. Blacklists like Spamhaus can cause upwards of 80 percent of your mailings to be blocked. Spamhaus listings are not nice, and not simple to remove yourself from.
You can avoid spam traps by building your database organically, not buying subscribes, and consistently mailing to active subscribers. Kick the dead weight out of your database periodically and just say no to those ancient spreadsheets someone else in the company “happened to find.”
Blog Written By: Lauren Kincke
Lauren is an Eloqua Team Leader for The Pedowitz Group. She is an Eloqua Partner Certified Consultant, Certified Salesforce.com Administrator, and has a wide range of experience with various marketing and email automation platforms.