What are Spam Traps and Honey Pots?

If you’re doing email marketing, chances are you’ve heard the terms ‘Spam Trap’ or ‘Honey Pot’ bandied about, but what are they and how can you avoid them?

Spam Traps are email addresses that ISPs use to identify unethical senders. If you have one of these email addresses on your list, chances are that it was not added in a legitimate manner. If you are repeatedly found to be sending to a Spam Trap, you could end up blacklisted at an ISP and your mail won’t be delivered.

Spam Traps are usually old email inboxes that are no longer in use by clients, but can still accept email.

Let’s say for example I open up a Hotmail account, superduperlester@hotmail.com. I use the email address a few times but then abandon it for fear of ridicule, never to return again. After a period of time, mail will bounce from this inbox and after an even longer period, Hotmail may use this inbox as a spam trap. Any marketers sending email to this dead inbox are clearly doing something fishy, since the original owner of the email address is no longer using it. This tells Hotmail that your Email Marketing is not up to scratch and your deliverability will be affected.

The second kind of trap is called a Honey Pot. It’s am email address created specifically to catch spammers. Here’s how it would typically work. I will create an email address called poohbear@gmail.com and publish it on my site in a way that is not visible to normal subscribers, e.g. white text on a white background. If an email harvester visited my site and scraped it for email addresses, it would find this Honey Pot. Before too long, I would start to receive unsolicited email. Since I would not use this email address to subscribe to anything to send mail to any real people, I can now identify the source as a spammer. All in all it’s pretty neat and tidy.
Another way that this is often used it to add the Honey Pot to the WHOIS record for a domain, as that is a popular target for spammers.

How Did The Spam Trap Get On To My Email List?

99% of the time the answer is very simple – list buying. When marketers use list brokers or buy lists from other 3rd parties, this is the most common way for a bad email address to make it in to your database.
If you do aquire new data in a legitimate fashion (e.g. via a merger) my advice would be to relegate that data to its own sending IP and keep is seperate from your existing lists until you are 100% sure that the data is clean. Blending the new data right away is risky, as it could affect your IP Reputation if it contains bad records. I would advise a 3 month quarantine period.

What should you do if you have hit a Spam Trap?

Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) there is no way to know which email addresses on your list are honey pots or spam traps. The best way to avoid the problems these emails cause (blacklisting) is to segment your list by subscriber engagement.┬áIf someone hasn’t opened one of your emails in a year, it’s probably a good time to stop sending them campaigns – you’re not getting any ROI for that user anyway. I have found that an inactivity period of 6 months is usually a good benchmark.

Another important step is bounce management. Since some ISPs will take over dead inboxes and use them as Spam Traps, it’s important that you remove hard bounces from your list, that way you might dodge the bullet by removing the inbox before it becomes a spam trap.

Lastly, if you do get black listed because of a spam trap, you should open a support ticket with the source of the blacklisting and request a removal. The process can be slow, but the effects on your delivery make it worth the effort.