Last updated
February 8, 2024

Understanding Spam Traps and How to Avoid Them

Brian Wu

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Navigating the world of email marketing can feel like steering through a minefield, especially when considering that 70% of emails end up in the spam folder, blocking their path to the inbox. 

This statistic isn't just alarming; it's a call to action for every good email marketer out there. This article aims to equip you with the knowledge to identify these hidden pitfalls and implement strategies that keep your emails on course. With the right approach, avoiding spam traps becomes less about luck and more about smart marketing. 

Let's tackle this head-on and ensure your emails find their target every time.

What Are Spam Traps?

Spam traps, often referred to as honeypots, are tools used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and anti-spam organizations to identify and penalize poor email practices. Their primary role is to catch spammers and marketers who don't follow email best practices. 

By inadvertently sending emails to these traps, marketers can harm their sending reputation, leading to blocklisting and significant drops in email deliverability. Unlike regular email addresses, spam traps don't belong to active users and typically enter marketers' lists through outdated addresses or unethical list-building practices. 

They serve as a mechanism for spam detection, signaling ISPs to the sender's email list quality and maintenance standards.

Source: Email Delivered

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3 Types of Spam Traps

Types of Spam TrapsCreation ConsequencesPristine Spam TrapsCreated intentionally by ISPs or anti-spam organizations to catch spammers. These addresses have never been used for communication and are often hidden in websites where only automated harvesting tools can find them.Sending to this pure spam trap indicates poor list sourcing practices and can lead to immediate and severe email deliverability issues, including blocklisting.Recycled Spam TrapsThese are old, no longer active email addresses that have been reactivated to serve as traps. They were once valid but abandoned by their original owners.Hitting a recycled trap suggests inadequate list maintenance and can harm your sender reputation, leading to decreased deliverability rates.Typo Spam TrapsGenerated from common misspellings or typographical errors in email addresses (e.g., "" instead of ""). These are set up to catch emails mistakenly sent due to user input errors.Indicative of poor list collection methods and lack of verification processes, affecting email deliverability and possibly leading to blocklisting. 

The Consequences of Hitting Spam Traps

Impact on Email Deliverability: Hitting spam traps can severely impair your email deliverability, with ISPs potentially marking your sent emails as spam trap email addresses, thus preventing them from reaching recipients' inboxes. 

Risks to Sender Reputation: This, in turn, can tarnish your sender reputation, a crucial metric used by email service providers to determine the trustworthiness of your emails. A damaged reputation might not only lead to increased blocklisting but also result in a lower sender score, making it progressively harder for your emails to bypass spam filters and reach your audiences’ spam folder effectively.

Services like Microsoft’s Smart Network Data Services (SNDS) offer insights into sender reputation with Microsoft mailboxes, while checking your Sender Score provides a numerical representation of your reputation, illustrating the importance of maintaining a clean email list to ensure successful delivery.

Avoiding spam traps is pivotal for the health of your email marketing campaigns and for protecting your sender reputation. With the average email deliverability rate at 85.7% in 2023, a significant 14.3% of emails fail to reach their intended inbox. Spam trap hits exacerbate this issue, potentially affecting over 20% of sent emails, underscoring the need for strict list hygiene practices. 

Strategies for Avoiding Spam Traps

Embracing a proactive stance in collecting and validating email contacts is your best defense against the dreaded blocklist. Here's how you can keep your list pristine and populated with engaged subscribers eager to hear from you:

Never Buy Email Lists

The first rule of thumb for avoiding spam traps is straightforward – steer clear of purchasing email lists. The risks outweigh the benefits, with the legality and authenticity of such lists being questionable at best. You're flying blind regarding whether those addresses are valid or have agreed to receive your emails. Furthermore, since these individuals have no existing relationship with your brand, the likelihood of being marked as spam increases, not to mention the potential legal ramifications under laws like GDPR.

John Jantsch, author of "Duct Tape Marketing," highlights the significance of customer acquisition:

"Customer loyalty is mostly about choosing the right customers." Acquiring subscribers through genuine engagement channels (such as signup form during checkout processes) leads to better email program performance, while list purchases and poorly done list rentals result in high bounce rates and spam complaints.”

Regularly Clean and Validate Your Data

Keeping your email list free of errors is crucial. Regular cleaning can help you spot and remove inaccuracies, such as typos that could lead to hitting recycled traps, thereby safeguarding your email performance. 

Purge Inactive Subscribers

Pay attention to your engagement metrics. High bounce rates and lack of interaction are clear indicators that it's time to clean house. Removing subscribers who no longer engage with your content minimizes the risk of encountering recycled traps. Consider launching re-engagement campaigns as a last-ditch effort to revive interest; if these attempts fall flat, it's time to part ways.

Implement Double Opt-In

Verifying that your subscribers are legitimate and actively choosing to receive your emails is paramount. Double opt-in processes not only confirm the authenticity of your real email address but also reinforce the recipient's interest, providing an additional layer of protection against inadvertently adding incorrect or fraudulent addresses to your list.

6 Best Practices for Email List Hygiene

As the landscape of email marketing adapts to the increasing desire for personalized content, it's notable that nearly all individuals check their emails daily, with an average open rate of 17.61%. Maintaining a clean and engaged email list is crucial.

  1. Maintain List Cleanliness: Achieving a pristine email list involves a dedicated routine of regular review, focusing on both the quantity and quality of your data to determine cleanup frequency. A list crowded with unengaged subscribers needs reevaluation and cleaning, including the removal of duplicates, correcting typos, and eliminating emails flagged with "spam".
  1. Address Email Bounces: Identifying and addressing bounced emails—categorized into soft bounces (temporary issues) and hard bounces (permanent problems)—is essential. Prompt removal of hard bounces from your list is critical to maintain credibility with Email Service Providers (ESPs) and ensure high deliverability rates.
  1. Leverage Automation in Marketing: Utilize marketing automation tools to streamline subscriber management, such as auto-segmenting inactive subscribers or removing them from irrelevant campaigns. Automation facilitates targeted re-engagement efforts without manual overhead.
  1. Offer "Opt Down" Choices: Provide subscribers with the flexibility to "opt down"—selecting the frequency and type of emails they wish to receive. This option helps mitigate the risk of unsubscribes or being marked as spam by offering a tailored email experience.
  1. Segment Your Audience: Before purging your list, assess the alignment between your current and ideal audience profiles. Engage different subscriber segments with tailored content, such as welcome emails for newcomers or special offers for long-standing subscribers, to enhance conversion rates.
  1. Purge Inactive Subscribers: Removing subscribers who show no engagement helps improve the relevance and performance of your campaigns. Before final removal, consider a last engagement attempt, such as a feedback request, to rekindle their interest. Ultimately, a focused approach on active and engaged subscribers enhances overall campaign effectiveness.

The Role of Email Validation API

Email Validation APIs, like the one provided by AbstractAPI, play a critical role in maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of your email marketing efforts. By integrating such an API, you can instantly verify the validity of email addresses at the point of capture. This not only helps in reducing bounce rates by ensuring that only valid emails are added to your lists but also protects your sender reputation, which is crucial for maintaining high deliverability rates.

The process of email validation includes checking for format correctness, domain existence, and even the mailbox's existence. By filtering out invalid, disposable, or risky email addresses, you significantly improve your email campaign's performance and engagement rates. 

Implementing Double Opt-In Procedures

Double opt-in procedures are a cornerstone for building a healthy and engaged email list. By requiring new subscribers to confirm their email address through a confirmation email, you achieve several key benefits:

Confirmed Interest: Double opt-in ensures that subscribers are genuinely interested in receiving your content, leading to higher engagement rates.

  • Reduced Spam Complaints: As subscribers explicitly confirm their willingness to receive emails, the likelihood of your emails being marked as spam diminishes.
  • Cleaner Email Lists: This procedure naturally filters out invalid or mistyped email addresses, as only verified emails make it onto your list.
  • Regulatory Compliance: In many jurisdictions, double opt-in is either recommended or required by law, helping you comply with regulations such as GDPR.

Detecting and Removing Spam Traps from Your List

Detecting and removing spam trap email addresses from your list is crucial for maintaining a healthy sender reputation and ensuring the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns. 

Tools for Identifying Spam Traps

There is no foolproof way to identify spam traps in your list simply because they are designed to look like legitimate email addresses. However, using a combination of strategies and tools can help minimize the risk and impact of spam traps:

Email Validation Services: Utilize email validation tools like Abstract, ZeroBounce, NeverBounce, or Hunter’s Email Verifier. These services can help you filter out invalid email addresses, which are often a significant component of spam traps. They check email syntax, domain health, and even the existence of the email addresses, reducing the likelihood of including spam traps.

Engagement Monitoring Tools: Services like Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or Campaign Monitor offer features to track subscriber engagement. Low engagement rates can be indicative of spam traps or disinterested subscribers. Regularly cleaning your list of these inactive subscribers can reduce the risk of spam traps.

Advanced Email Hygiene Solutions: Providers like Webbula or FreshAddress offer more advanced list cleaning services that can detect and remove not only invalid email addresses but also potential spam traps by analyzing engagement patterns and other email risk factors.

6 Steps for List Cleaning and Maintenance 

Cleaning and maintaining your email list are essential practices for any email marketing strategy, ensuring your messages reach genuinely interested and engaged subscribers. Here are some expert steps and tips to ensure your email list is thoroughly cleaned:

  1. Audit Your Lists

Begin with an audit of your email lists to identify the segments that need immediate attention. Prioritize lists based on engagement levels, starting with the most active subscribers.

  1. Identify and Remove Duplicates

Use tools or your email marketing platform's built-in features to find and merge or remove duplicate entries. This prevents sending multiple copies of the same email to a single subscriber, which can annoy recipients and harm your metrics.

  1. Filter Out Spam Addresses

Utilize email validation services to identify and remove spammy or fake email addresses. These addresses can skew your engagement metrics and damage your sender reputation. Below are some examples of what spam emails might look like:

  1. Correct Typos in Email Addresses

Manually or with the help of tools, fix obvious typos in email addresses (e.g., changing "" to ""). This simple step can recover potentially lost contacts.

  1. Ensure Data is Correctly Categorized

Make sure that all subscriber information is correctly placed within your database. Email addresses mistakenly entered in non-email fields should be corrected to ensure proper communication.

  1. Implement Robust Email Validation Tools from the Start

To minimize the need for extensive cleaning in the future, integrate email validation and list management tools into your subscription process. This could include using services that verify email addresses in real-time as they're entered into your subscription forms.

Legality of Spam Traps and Compliance with Email Regulations

Spam traps are a tool used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), anti-spam organizations, and email providers to identify and filter out spam. 

The use of spam traps is a legal and widely accepted practice in the email marketing industry, serving as a defense mechanism against unsolicited emails. 

However, the legality of sending unsolicited emails varies by country and is regulated by specific laws designed to protect consumers from spam. One of the most well-known regulations is the CAN-SPAM Act in the United States.

What is the CAN-SPAM Act?

The CAN-SPAM Act sets the rules for commercial email and messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations. 

Key requirements include:

  • Not using false or misleading header information
  • Not using deceptive subject lines
  • Identifying the message as an ad
  • Telling recipients where you’re located
  • Telling recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails from you
  • Honoring opt-out requests promptly

Maintaining a Healthy Email Marketing Strategy

Maintaining a healthy email marketing strategy is essential for ensuring your messages reach your audience and drive engagement without negatively impacting your sender reputation. 

Ramsay Leimenstoll emphasizes treating email communication as a privilege, not just a transaction:

"I want to do business with a company that treats emailing me as a privilege, not a transaction. A small list that wants exactly what you’re offering is better than a bigger list that isn’t committed.”

Here are some fundamental practices to help you achieve this:

Regular Engagement with Subscribers

Personalized Content: Tailor your emails to meet the interests and needs of your subscribers. Use data insights to segment your list and deliver content that resonates with each group.

Consistent Communication: Establish a regular email schedule that keeps your audience engaged without overwhelming them. Consistency helps build anticipation and keeps your brand top of mind.

Re-engagement Campaigns: Identify subscribers who haven't interacted with your emails over a certain period and target them with special offers, surveys, or a simple message asking for feedback. This can help reignite their interest in your brand.

Value Proposition: Ensure every email adds value to your subscribers, whether through informative content, exclusive deals, or insider news. Emails that consistently offer value are less likely to be ignored or marked as spam.

Feedback Loop: Encourage and monitor feedback from your subscribers. Use surveys, polls, and direct replies to gather insights on what content your audience prefers and how they wish to engage with your brand.

Avoiding Scraped or Purchased Lists

Build Organically: Focus on growing your email list organically through sign-ups on your website, at events, or via social media campaigns. This ensures that your subscribers are genuinely interested in your brand.

Transparency: Clearly communicate what subscribers can expect in terms of content and frequency during the sign-up process. This transparency helps set the right expectations and reduces unsubscribe rates.

Incentivize Sign-ups: Offer incentives for signing up, such as discounts, freebies, or valuable content. This can motivate potential subscribers to willingly provide their email addresses.

Double Opt-In: Implement a double opt-in process where subscribers confirm their email address after signing up. This not only verifies the email's validity but also reinforces the subscriber's interest in your brand.

Privacy Compliance: Adhere to privacy laws and regulations, such as GDPR, CAN-SPAM, or CASL, when collecting, storing, and using subscriber data. This not only protects your subscribers' privacy but also builds trust in your brand.

List Maintenance: Regularly clean your email list by removing inactive subscribers, correcting typos, and addressing undeliverable emails. This helps maintain a high-quality list and reduces the risk of spam complaints.

By implementing these practices, you can maintain a healthy email marketing strategy that fosters long-term engagement and minimizes the risk of damaging your sender reputation. Remember, the goal is to build and nurture relationships with your subscribers through relevant, valuable, and engaging content.


Understanding, identifying, and avoiding spam traps is essential for maintaining a healthy email marketing strategy. Spam traps can significantly harm your sender reputation and email deliverability, underscoring the importance of clean email lists. To combat this issue and enhance the effectiveness of your email campaigns, consider using an email validation service like Abstract's Email Validation API. 


What is a spam trap?

A spam trap is an email address used to catch and filter spam. These addresses are either created specifically for trapping spam (pristine) or are old, inactive addresses repurposed as traps (recycled), utilized by ISPs and anti-spam entities to maintain email communication integrity.

How do spam traps affect email marketing?

Hitting a spam trap can severely damage an email marketer's reputation, leading to decreased deliverability, potential blacklisting, and long-term harm to sender reputation. This indicates poor list management practices, affecting future email marketing efforts.

Can spam traps be legally used?

Yes, spam traps are legally used by ISPs and anti-spam organizations to combat spam. Their use is a legitimate method for protecting email users from unsolicited messages, with no legal regulations against them. Marketers must adhere to email laws like the CAN-SPAM Act.

How does an email validation API help avoid spam traps?

An email validation API verifies email addresses for validity and deliverability, filtering out potential spam traps by checking syntax, domain existence, and assessing email activity. This proactive measure ensures only valid, active emails are added to lists, reducing the risk of hitting spam traps.

Brian Wu
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