Partner Insights: Spamtraps and Honeypots and How to Avoid Them

In this issue we return to our “Partner Insights” series, which we hope will provide you with answers to some of your most vexing issues.

Your roving reporter had an opportunity to sit down (over email, of course) with Gregg Hanson, Manager of Support Services at NetAtlantic and ask a couple of questions of interest to our readers. We asked Gregg for his insights on how spamtraps and honeypots work, and how marketers can keep their lists clean and compliant by avoiding them.

FreshPerspectives (FP): What category of email addresses now constitutes the bulk of spam traps and honeypots in use today? How do the ISPs or Spamhaus track these?

Gregg: ISPs and spam tracking services like Spamhaus rely on spam traps and honeypot addresses to catch spammers.

The bulk of the spam traps and honeypots in use today are dormant email accounts and closed domains. ISPs review their list of members every year and disable accounts that have been inactive for a long period of time. They clear out these mailboxes and let the accounts sit disabled for a few years, during which time legitimate marketers should notice the hard bounces and remove them from their lists. The ISPs then re-activate these email addresses in an attempt to catch spammers. The ISPs know that anyone sending to these newly reactivated addresses either purchased an old list, used software to pull email addresses from web sites (also known as scraping) or has not been performing basic email hygiene functions..

Some spam tracking services use websites to capture spammers. These companies create email addresses by the hundreds and place them on unused websites, pages hidden within websites or even in files called ‘email-addresses.txt’. When spammers scan the Internet for email addresses, they find these web pages and files, and download the addresses to build their lists. Spam trackers know that any mail sent to these email addresses are from “scraped” or purchased non-opt in lists. This is how the term “spam trap” was created.

So how can senders best avoid spam traps and optimize their email marketing performance?

  • Only message to opted-in addresses – don’t buy lists.
  • Use a real-time email correction service to help keep problematic email addresses from ever entering your marketing database.
  • Remove hard bounces.
  • Update your opt-out file on a regular basis and always honor your subscribers’ wishes.
  • Clean your file on a quarterly basis to remove dormant email accounts and closed domains, suspect and malicious addresses, and possible spam traps.

Senders should also measure their engagement with their email subscribers. This means identifying subscribers who open or click on your emails, and focusing your campaigns on them. The rest of your file should be segmented for fewer mailings, and eventually removed from your marketing database. Anybody who has not opened your emails in six months to a year should be sent a request to re-engage, and be removed from your list if they don’t respond.

FP: Email marketing generates the highest ROI of any marketing channel. But one spam trap address can bring your email marketing program to a standstill for months. Don’t “kill the goose that laid the golden egg” by neglecting to keep your email database as fresh as possible at all times.

Thanks so much, Gregg, for sharing your insights on this subject. We’ll “talk” again next month!

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