What are Spam Traps and Can You Actually Avoid Them?


For 2022, Webbula is launching a series of blog posts about email deliverability topics. We have a variety of esteemed authors from the email industry lined up to participate. 

Previous Articles in the Deliverability Series
  • Subscriber Management: How to Start, Maintain, and Break Up by Elizabeth Jacobi. Read it.
  • Email Opt-Ins: It's All About Consent In the End by Matthew Vernhout. Read it here.
  • Email Authentication 101: What It Is And Why It Is Important For Brand Reputation by Yanna-Torry Aspraki. Read it here.
  • Why Blocklists Make Us Better Email Marketers by Andrew Kordek. Read it
  • IP Warming - Do It Right or Do It Twice by Amanda Jackson. Read it
    Email Deliverability and Subject Lines by Dela Quist. Read it
  • Email List Cleaning: 6 Tips For Mastering a Clean, Active Email List to Achieve High Deliverability by Jack Wrigley. Read it
  • Embrace Your Email Unsubscribe: 6 Recommendations to Optimize Your Unsubscribe Process for the Holiday Season By Mathias Ullrich. Read it
  • 9 Examples of Email Bounces and How to Analyze Them By LoriBeth Blair Read it

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Relative Articles
  • 8 Types of Email Spam Traps Every Marketer Should Know
  • How to Avoid Spam Traps and Protect Your Sender Reputation
  • Dispelling the Myth: Email Hygiene is unnecessary with Double Opt-In


What is a spam trap? 

Let’s kick things off with the definition of a spam trap. It’s an email address that is created or maintained to indicate poor list collection or negative sending habits. For many senders, (especially those new to email marketing) spam traps can be intimidating and cause alarm. So, what can you do as a sender to avoid these ending up on your list?

What are the three different types of spam traps?


  • These traps were once valid active addresses but have since been retired.
  • Recycled traps are meant to catch senders who do not manage bounced addresses properly or senders who send to very old lists that haven't been contacted in a long time.


  • This is the most serious type of spam trap. Pristine traps are email addresses that are created but never used to sign up for any email marketing or to purchase anything. However, they are typically added to a purchased list or a public website. This means, if a pristine trap receives email, the sender either purchased a list, scraped addresses from a website, or obtained a bad list in some other way. 


  • This is an email address that appears to be typo'd, but since it is being used as a spam trap, it can receive mail. An example of a typo'd domain is gnail.com.
  • This isn't as serious as a pristine trap, but shows that the list collection and hygiene practices could use some improving.


Who can create spam traps?

Anyone can create and manage a spam trap network. Some blocklists and mailbox providers have their own spam trap network that they use to determine which senders might be problematic. Other blocklists and mailbox providers reference external spam trap networks to inform their decision making. 

Individual mailboxes also do this. Spamhaus, a well-known blocklist, deploys their own spam taps to decide which senders are consistently using poor sender practices. At that point, they can decide to blocklist your domain or IP address completely. 


A myth about spam traps - they all can’t be identified 

One thing to keep in mind is that spam traps are ALWAYS kept secret. It’s common in email marketing to see email list cleaning platforms promise that they will wipe out any spam traps on your list. Senders should be wary of those types of promises. If spam traps were easily identifiable, they wouldn’t be doing their job. 

I like to remind senders that they aren’t the target customer for mailbox providers. It’s the job of mailbox providers to protect their customers (aka the subscribers on your list). While I personally don’t love the idea of having a spam trap on my own email list, I do find comfort as a subscriber knowing these sorts of protections exist to prevent abuse. 


What’s the damage of having spam traps on your list?

Depending on the severity and the amount on your email list, a spam trap can cause all sorts of issues. Mailbox providers may begin sending emails to the spam folder or blocking them. Your domain and IP address are at risk of being blocklisted. It’s far more difficult to resolve these kinds of issues once they’ve started. It’s best to be proactive and make sure you are following best practices to avoid damage to your reputation. 




6 steps senders can take to avoid the damage spam traps can cause

1. Never purchase a list. It might be tempting for some senders to purchase a list. Let me tell you, it’s NOT worth it. You will get much further by cultivating a relationship with an audience than you will by emailing someone who never opted-in to receive an email from you. Additionally, using a public list can be just as bad. You are essentially signing up to damage your domain reputation instantly.


2. Don’t use gimmicky signups: Not all opt-ins are created equal. Gimmicks don’t get senders very far in the email marketing world. Even if you have pure intentions, giveaways and forced opt-ins don’t equate to healthy lists. Provide true value to those who are signing up. Remember, there is a person on the other side of the email address. 


3. Don’t send to old lists: Old lists can be problematic. I know it’s tempting to want to email a list of 10,000 addresses you collected from an old business 5 years ago but don’t do it. The reward does not outweigh the damage. Those old email addresses could have very easily turned into a spam trap during that 5 year period. You will see a high bounce rate, complaint rate and so on. I see this question often and every time I try to explain how unhelpful this strategy is. You don’t make progress and in fact you go backwards. It’s so much more beneficial to start over. 


4. Protect your forms. A double opt-in can really help protect forms against typo’d addresses. While some senders prefer not to use double opt-ins, I do think it’s helpful to take a quick audit of your list hygiene and practices. If you don’t feel you are cleaning your list often enough, it may be time to consider adding a double opt-in.


5. Manage your bounced addresses Most senders who are sending with a reputable ESP often already have bounce management. However, it’s definitely a good idea to be sure that bouncing emails are dealt with properly. Continuous sending to a bounced address can cause issues. 


6. Pay attention to misspelled emails Have you ever been asked to enter your email address in order to get internet access at a coffee shop? Well, often times people will enter an invalid address like gnail.com. These kinds of addresses are not only bad quality but can also end up being a spam trap especially if you leave them on your list long-term. 



While it may not be possible to completely avoid a spam trap, there are plenty of ways to keep your email list healthy such as:

  • Don’t purchase a list
  • Manage your bounces properly 
  • Don’t use gimmicky signups
  • Pay attention to typos
  • Don’t send to old lists

Spam traps, (while problematic for some senders) are ultimately a helpful tool for mailbox providers and blocklists to hold a standard for “good senders” and protect individuals from poor practices and spam. 

Treat every email address as if you personally knew the person who gave you the right to email them!

About the Author


Melissa Lambert, Email Deliverability Specialist at ConvertKit

Melissa works as an email deliverability expert at ConvertKit. She is also the co-host of the Deliverability Defined podcast which dives deep into topics about email deliverability, giving you the insight you need to reach the inbox of your subscribers. She enjoys working with customers to help them optimize their marketing strategy and ensure they are using best practices in deliverability. 


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