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Like any good trap, a spam trap is built to capture things—in this case, that thing is evidence that that a given email sender isn’t being thoughtful about the people they’re sending messages to. Find out how spam traps work and how to avoid them.

Whether you’re a spy, a backwoods hunter, or a company sending out marketing communications, it’s important not to fall into a trap: It could damage your reputation and blow the entire mission. If you happen to belong to that last category, it’s particularly essential to watch out for the metaphorical hole in the ground covered with leaves and sticks known as the spam trap.

What’s a Spam Trap?

Like any good trap, a spam trap is built to capture things—in this case, that thing is evidence that that a given email sender isn’t being thoughtful about the people they’re sending messages to. Spam traps are essentially dummy email addresses, ones that no sensible sender should be targeting, and they’re used by internet service providers (ISPs)/inbox providers to identify and blacklist emails from potential spam senders.

There are a few different kinds of spam trap out there, but three main types are in broad use today:

  • Pristine Spam Traps: These are email accounts never belonged to a real person—they’re created by an ISP or security company with the sole purpose of trapping spammers and senders with bad acquisition practices.
  • Recycle Spam Traps: These traps leverage defunct email addresses that were once used by actual people—but which have been reclaimed or repurposed by ISPs to identify senders who aren’t removing inactive users from their lists

Typo Spam Traps: These addresses are designed to capture emails that resemble actual accounts but which are misdirected due to common typos (think “username@gnail.com”)

Avoiding The Spam Trap

On a surface level, staying out of spam traps seems pretty simple: Just don’t send email to these sorts of accounts! Of course, when your company has millions of users—with millions of email addresses—that can be easier said than done. The best way to avoid this deliverability pitfall? Follow established email best practices, such as:

  • Always sending opt-in confirmation messages to ensure that the people on your email lists actively want to receive your messages
  • Practicing good email list hygiene by ensuring that the addresses you hold are valid and have engaged with your messages within the last six months

Avoiding buying or renting email lists from third-parties of any kind

Anything Else?

Want to dig deeper into sending great email and mastering deliverability? Check out “Emails on Email,” our interactive look at modern email marketing and where it’s going.