Spamtraps: A Marketer’s Nightmare
What makes email service providers groan and marketers panic? Spamtraps! But perhaps they aren’t all bad news…
Join FreshAddress President Austin Bliss to hear an overview of the incredible power of these innocent-looking email addresses. You’ll learn what spamtraps are, what they look like, why they exist, and how they may have ended up in your email list. In the end, you’ll understand the value of these addresses to the email marketing ecosystem and how might even benefit you!
About: Austin C. Bliss
Austin was the driving force behind the original design and development of FreshAddress’s patented Email Change of Address (ECOA) technology. Before FreshAddress he won national recognition for his innovative technical work with the UN and the Carnegie Foundation. Austin is a highly-regarded presenter at national industry events and conferences.
Well, let’s get started. So we’re gonna talk about spam traps, a marketers nightmare. Question mark. And for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Austin Bliss and the president of FreshAddress, that’s my email address, feel free to email me with questions or follow up with me later. If you don’t know FreshAddress, we’re an email database services company. We were founded many, many years ago, at least in internet time back in 1999, so over 20 years ago, and we help marketers clean, protect and grow their email lists. And those are some of the brands we’ve worked with in the past. And I’m supposed to say at this point, we’d be happy to work with you. And I was one of the founders. So I’ve been here through a lot and seeing a lot of listed processed 10s of billions of email addresses and many more to go in our future. But really, what we’re here to talk about today is spam traps. And I’m going to go start slow, and then we’ll build off that. But definitely, you know, drop something in the text chat, if you have any questions as we go through this. And I will try to keep an eye on it. But let’s start with the basics. What is a spam trap? Well, it’s an email address. And it’s as simple as that. It’s just an email address. It looks just like an email address. But it’s an email address specifically that works. Okay, doesn’t bounce, it’s deliverable. It’s actually receiving mail. Okay, so if you have an email address, you think is spam trap a downswing, and you can’t deliver to it. It’s not really a spam trap. Maybe it was a while ago, but it isn’t anymore. And the whole idea of spam traps is that they’re exclusively used to identify incoming spam. So a spam trap, shouldn’t it’s an email address that isn’t signing up for your mailing list, it’s not also associated with an individual, it’s an email address that’s reserved only to receive spam messages. And that’s what makes it special and an indicator of something. And then the messages that come in are monitored either by humans, in this case of the sort of small spam trap network or automated processes that in some cases, some of the spam traps get literally millions of email messages every day. And the thing that you got to remember about a spam trap? Is anything any email marketing message? Oh, yes, please, this is not an email marketing message. But I should hold up an actual email, any email sent to a spam trap, the content of that email will be considered spam. And the sender will be considered a spammer because you just sent to a spam trap. So it makes sense. So what is spam traps look like? They said their email addresses. So I pulled a couple for you don’t even bother to write these down. These are old These are from years ago that perhaps they’re nyman’s bankruptcy anymore. But I want to show you what a spam trap actually looks like. I mean, you know, I was an email address, but let’s look at somebody. So the first one, he has bl trap at I don’t know. So I mean, if you saw that your hand reviewing, you probably be like, Huh, that’s not the email address of an individual. I’m not so sure I even want that on my marketing list. But let’s look at the second email address, Kevin need 22 at AOL, you certainly couldn’t hand review and pull that off your list. Um, and sometimes spam traps or you know, long and crazy like that third one there. Those are just three examples. You know, I think that my point on this slide is spam traps. As I said before, they’re just email addresses. And you can’t sort of look through your list and be like, Ooh, that’s maybe in the case that first one of these three examples, but you can’t look through that list and pull them all out. You got to sort of go deeper than that and think broader about them. We’ll talk about spam traps or just email addresses. Who creates spam traps? And honestly, why? Well, there’s lots of people out there and companies putting spam traps in as I tried to group them up for you here, one group of trap craters or ISP, and you know, often from Microsoft properties, I guess you should say, other providers like that. And you can think of it this way, they’re using spam traps to identify spam to protect their their incoming lists. But of course, there’s also for profit companies who are selling spam filtering services, and they need spam traps to identify the incoming spam. So then they can help their clients filter it out. There’s nonprofits, spam house is probably one of the most famous, but project honeypot is another sort of volunteer projects that are out there, creating spam traps, getting spam trap networks, and then using that information, sort of for the good to filter out spam. And then there’s just some people who just you know, sort of more technical vigilante types who have cobbled together a couple addresses for their spam trap network, or maybe perhaps they just have, I mean, maybe even someone listening to this call has a couple of email addresses they use for spam traps, because, you know, they stopped signing up for stuff years ago. So any emails they get from this point forward, they’re thinking, hmm, those are unsolicited emails, and that is spam. And I do not like that mailing. There’s a lot of spam traps out there. And so I just, I just pulled a screenshot off project honeypot, which is as I mentioned earlier, one of the many spam providers out there, and if you sort of zoom in, on the upper right there, they keep a count of how many they’ve issued. And from whenever I issued, whenever I pulled the screenshot, you can see they had issued 411 million spam trap addresses. And that number, if you went and checked it today, probably would be higher, maybe 112 million or something like that. My point in this is anybody who ever tells you, oh, yeah, I got a list of spam traps, and I pulled it off your list is kidding. Because the list of spam traps, there’s no stat, there’s no such thing as a static list of spam traps. There’s, these organisations are always creating more. And honestly, if a spam trap was well known, like, honestly, the first three I showed you on that first page, they’re kind of useless at that point, the whole idea of a spam trap is sort of a more secretive, and that the owner of the spam trap network knows who they are knows what they are, but everyone else doesn’t. So this is just a good reminder that you know, they’re out there, there’s more and more of them all the time. And you can’t really get your hands around a crisp list of spam trap email addresses. It’s more complicated than that. But they are ending up on your list, unfortunately. And I think we should spend some time now talking about how spam has gone on your list. And sort of the the number one way that spam traps are ending up on your list is through activities that you or something organisation was doing, or Oh, no, no, no, it was that was it was the people before you before you became the marketing manager, right? These people, they did some scraping, or they grabbed some email addresses from somewhere on the web. And unfortunately, those lists out there often in spam traps, or or actually some sites, for example, project honeypot, the whole way they work is they place the spam trap email address, it’s out there on the internet in various locations where computers can see them, but humans can’t. So you sort of accent is sort of like a nail on the floor where you you only notice it, you know, you don’t notice a nail sticking out of the floor until you run around the socks on it sort of like that, you know, basically the computers will trip over those, grab those email addresses, and then they’ll end up on the list. And so that’s why you probably heard how scraping is bad. In fact, it’s illegal in many countries, the scraping of email addresses the grabbing of email addresses that you see just in random places on the internet is bad, bad bad is definitely going to get some spam traps on us. Even if you didn’t do that it’s possible to acquired some names somehow that had spam traps on them. Maybe you or Oh no, of course not. Of course you didn’t. But maybe the prior marketing manager bought an email list. Or maybe the hire marketing manager did a low quality email append where there was no opt in process. So those names were just grabbed from somewhere. Or maybe they’re you’re using a lead gen provider who’s kind of honestly unscrupulous ensures stuffing the ballot box with email address, and they’re just finding from wherever. And that’s all ending up on your list. And those are definitely going to contain some spam traps. Another way and this is really unfortunate, but I see this happening with a lot of our clients is they feel like they’re doing everything right. But they’re still occasionally hitting spam traps and that’s because some spam tops or typos Commonly used domains. So for example, you definitely have some customers at hotmail right? There’s misspellings of the domain hotmail.com that are spam traps. So your user might have genuinely trying been trying to sign up for your mailing list at ac [email protected] But if they misspelt hotmail wrong, it might actually keystroke a spam trap into your input field. And that means you as the, you know, attempting to do everything, right legitimate mail market or our mailing list. And finally, and this is sort of tragic, but we’ve seen more than we should number of incidents of this poisoning, were actually spam traps or maliciously introduced into your list. Why? It’s unfortunate, right? I mean, we’re, there’s a, it’s a competitive marketplace out there. And people do stuff that, you know, might not be as ethical as AI, or perhaps you would operate. I’m well aware of some companies who, you know, offer spam filtering, who take email addresses that they wouldn’t have caught in jam them into your list when you’re not looking by signing them up. I’ve also heard of competitors intentionally signing up spam traps on their, on their other competitors site or through some sweepstakes form, or something like that. It shouldn’t happen that often. But unfortunately, I’ve seen we have is probably three or four times a year, I have seen actual evidence of this happening. And it’s really unfortunate, and it’s not good for our industry. But again, on the high level, this is how spam traps are ending up on your list. And, you know, what do you want to remember about all this is spam traps are not associated with real people. And they didn’t voluntarily sign up for your list. So you know, maybe in the case of those last two typos and poisoning, they’re getting inserted, but for the majority of the way spam traps are getting in your list is because there was some scraping or something like that going on where the email address was not voluntarily registered for years. So why do we care? Well, spam traps are bad news for marketers, and I’m sure that’s why you originally tuned in will later talk about whether they’re truly a nightmare or not. But they’re definitely bad news. Because when you mail a spam trap, as I said, your your the message you send. And again, this isn’t the meat of it, you know, I mean, the messages sent or us the sender look bad. And by looking bad in the eyes of either the ISP or some sort of blocklist provider know what they’re gonna do, they’re gonna flag you as a bad sender. And that might end up getting you blocked, or perhaps even blocklisted. In some cases, hitting spam traps is so bad that your phone’s gonna ring and you’re gonna pick it up. And it’s gonna be your account manager at your ESP saying what’s going on, you’re hurting our IP reputation. And that’s bad news. And perhaps some of you are listening to me right now, because that’s exactly what’s happened to you. That’s why I think we as marketers have this huge Oh, we hate spam tax on that level, because it just gets us in a lot of trouble. It gets us in trouble with our ESP, maybe we’ll get blocked, maybe we’ll get blocklisted. And of course, all of that really results in US failing to get in our clients inbox. And when we’re landing in the junk folder, again, blocked entirely rather than getting an email, you’re just not making as much money, obviously. And when you’re not making money, you got a problem. So really, you know, I think the bottom line from the marketers point of view is spam traps on your list are bad. And they could even kill your marketing efforts, certainly for a short period of time, if not a longer period of time, while you let’s say negotiate, you know, policy with Spamhaus if they really get mad at you. But there is a brighter side. And I think that’s really, that was the ultimate goal I had in this talk. And I don’t know, let’s stare at this poster. What are you seeing here? Do you see a problem? Well, I mean, obviously, there’s a problem, right? There’s a there’s a rotten apple there. But it’s telling you something right? And we could we could solve it by just pulling that rotten apple out of this bunch. And we’re like, Oh, good. We’ve solved this problem, right? But have we solved the problem? Or do we now want to say how the heck did our red apple end up in this? I don’t know. Flat of apples I’m trying to sell. And does this mean the next flat of apples is going to have one red apple in it and one red apple that then rots and gets gross. Right. So I mean, I think what we want to do when we hear as a marketer, what do you want to do when you hear your spam traps on your list? You honestly want to lean in and you want to listen and you want to think what are those spam traps telling me what is this rotten apple telling me? How did it rock how did it end up on my list? Is it an indicator that the next batch of apples I’m going to get are going to have even more rotten apples? Is this something that should be paying a lot of attention to? Let me go upstream and fix it? Does it make sense? So what I want to encourage you to do is think of spam traps as an indicator, an indicator of a problem. Not a nightmare, but an opportunity to fix something. Okay. Spam traps are useful. Oh, my God, I just lived in Rochester. Yes, because they can help you identify and stamp out, stomp, stomp out for Acquisition sources and practices. We talked about how they could end up on your list. Well, how is that happening? Why are you even doing that? Why are spam traps on your list? Let’s figure it out. If you’re sourcing new data, you know you’re on someone saying hey, I can get you these new opt ins were a great lead gen company, you could use spam traps to assess the quality list. And the same way that we looked at that bushel apples you’re just looking for. Are there any spam traps in there? Whoa, I don’t want anything to do with that. If you’re looking to, you know, acquire another company, or are you you’re merging or your merge your trading lists in the nonprofit world that used to trade a lot of lists, you can sort of value that other list based on the fact that are the spam traps. And then, and is that an indicator of the overall list quality. So I think that’s that’s sort of my point in this talk. And my point today, I’m not gonna try to draw any parallels to COVID, or no parallels. But, but for spam traps, I don’t think a spam is evil. I feel like they’re an indicator of a problem. And they can be leveraged, and they’re actually an incredibly valuable tool, that entire email marketing ecosystem. But that doesn’t mean that you as a marketer aren’t, don’t need to struggle with stuff, right? So if you have spam traps on your own personal list, what the heck you’re gonna do, right, you know, and there are some straightforward things you can do. First is, talk to an expert to help really get to the root of your problem. Maybe you see that one rotten apple, but maybe there’s more. You want to figure out how that rotten apple got on your list and go upstream? What is going on? Here? Are my is there one of my five people who’s picking apples picking bad only picking bad apples? Are they picking them off the ground rather than off the tree? Now, whatever. And then you want to just deal with that, you know, if you’re going upstream spam traps are so important for figuring out you need to go upstream and solve this problem. And then you want to set yourself up for future success. Once you’ve started dumped your bad practices. You want to figure out how to avoid traps getting in your life in the future. So you want to get some type of correction. At your point of collection. You want to figure out ways to routinely scan your list for any spam traps. And of course, you want to introduce as many good vetting processes as possible, so that you’re only getting voluntary opt in email addresses. From this point forward. No scrape data is sneaking in in any possible way. All data sources are going through a really robust process. So even typos that might be in another data source are being scraped out before they can even remove before they end up on your list. So I’m just gonna end with one quick sort of success story. If this stuff can work out, we had a client, a triple A auto, they were working with us. We we did. Honestly our on our first run, we found over 2000 trap addresses, help them go upstream and tighten their collection practices. Even just the typos that we noticed and help them correct. The typos alone misspellings of signups as part of the registration process generates $60,000 of additional value for them. And, and then the cleanup of their list and the cleanup of their practices, not just the removal of those bad addresses. But the cleanup of their practices got their deliverability and their landing, the inbox rates up to nearly 100%. So it can happen to you too. And there is a happy side to this. If you want to talk more about spam traps. I’m happy to talk about them any point. There’s lots of ways to hunt me down. There’s lots of ways to hunt pressure dress down a bit to take any questions right now if we still have time. Thanks. Thanks, guys. Thanks for joining. Thanks for texting. Or I’m sorry chatting and stay safe. Wash your hands a lot, I guess. And hope to see you at future sessions.