If you are not cleaning your lists regularly you may be opening yourself up to the possibility of sending your email marketing campaign to a spam trap, which spells trouble. At the most basic levels spam traps come in two flavours: old addresses and scraping traps, in this blog I will explain the former…
ISPs using old addresses as spam traps
Old addresses are the most common to consumer ISPs like Hotmail & Yahoo etc. They are the easiest to hit and the easiest to avoid but rarely get enough attention.
Basically if someone is not using the account, they don’t want any of the emails going to it, so the ISP decides to close it down because it is a waste of space. They’ll normally email that account a few times and send an email to any alternative addresses the user may have registered to ensure the users gets a fair chance to save the account.
Once the account is closed, as with all dead addresses, it will hard bounce. So anyone who has that address on their lists will be able to suppress it and not send to it again, confident that it is of no value to them, as with all hard bounces. Then, once the ISP has decided that everyone has had a fair chance to suppress the address they will re-open it as a spam trap – commonly between 8 – 14 months. This means that any email that goes to that address will put a giant thumbs down against the sender’s reputation metrics (IP, domain, email address etc.).
The reason they do this is so that they can catch the people who don’t care enough about sending unwanted email and just want to spray their wares everywhere, regardless of engagement and permission. This is mainly spam bots, bad list brokers and people who don’t know/care what they are doing and of course some good senders who don’t know about this yet.
This is one of the many ways in which the big ISPs are able to spot spammers early and junk all of their emails before they get to the content filters to save processing power and delivery times.
If you market to consumers but have not always suppressed hard bounces over the years or you have ever bought a list, there is a chance that you have as spam trap or two on your list. An easy way to find out is to talk to your ESP and/or Return Path about it.
There are a couple of tools that can give you an idea if you are on a dedicated IP from SenderScore.org and Hotmail SNDS but if you have a dedicated IP – another good reason to get one.
To avoid spam traps the first piece of advice I can give is not to scrape the web for addresses to market to.
The second piece of advice I will give is not to buy lists. If someone hasn’t asked for an email, do put them on a list, they see this as spam and have a spam button to demonstrate that. This spam button gets more powerful every day and you will see your inbox placement plummet. However, if you absolutely must buy a list, make sure your list broker can provide you with proof that each address was provided by a person, how, when and why. Also do your best to get data that was collected or has interacted with an email as recently as possible.
While it’s not illegal in the UK and US to market to an email that is on a website, people hate it with a passion. The reason those addresses are on the website is for potential customers to make sales enquiries or customers to ask for help. The brands that put them up there do not do so for people to sell to them. But spam bots and irresponsible list brokers will grab the easy pickings.
In order to fight this, brands and spam protection agencies will lay spam traps on web pages that will never subscribe to emails, never send an email and will not appear anywhere else accept on that page. So the only way that address can get on a list is if it is scraped. Therefore any email that goes to that address is 95% likely to be spam. The sender is then identified and is normally added to a blocklist quickly. In most cases, the listing will just be the IP of the box that sent the email.
However, in severe cases, it won’t stop there. Once the initial block is added the ISP owning the IP is contacted, who must then contact their customer. If the ISP does not give a satisfactory response to the spam fighters and if any more emails hit their traps, the blocklisting will then stretch to all IPs related to the email, like the websites of the spamming domain. This way many people won’t even be able to see the spammer’s website. The next stage would be to blocklist all IPs in the range and then block all IPs in the entire hosting centre.
This is a very affective deterrent, because the hosting company’s business is then at risk and they would not have any choice but to stop doing business with that customer in order to avoid losing more of their customers because no one can see their web sites.
Hitting a scraping trap is very, very bad. As far as I know, any ESP will immediately kick off any customer who hits one, in order to avoid being kicked out by their own hosting company.
Generally you’ve got to work pretty hard to hit one of the really bad spam traps. Most brands don’t send bots out to scrape the web to build a list, but some will buy a list. That’s why data integrity is really important.
To avoid any of these, the first piece of advice I can give is not to scrape the web for addresses to market to.
The second piece of advice I will give is not to buy lists. If someone hasn’t asked for an email, do put them on a list, they see this as spam and have a spam button to demonstrate that. This spam button gets more powerful every day and you will see your inbox placement plummet. However, if you absolutely must buy a list, make sure your list broker can provide you with proof that each address was provided by a person, how, when and why. Also do your best to get data that was collected or has interacted with an email as recently than possible.