October 27, 2017
Deliverability Danger — Watch Out for SPAM Traps!
By Samantha McGuin
When’s the last time you drove by a speed trap on your local interstate? Did you get that sinking feeling because you were worried you might get a ticket? Well mailbox providers like Gmail, Microsoft, and Yahoo set similar snares — known as SPAM traps — to catch email spammers in the act.
SPAM traps are email addresses that don't belong to actual people. Instead, they exist to “trap” or identify email senders who demonstrate spammy behavior. They’re used as a fraud management tool by mailbox providers and blacklist services to identify and block emails from spammers.
There are 3 types of SPAM traps:
Recycled SPAM Traps (RST) — Recycled SPAM traps include email addresses that are abandoned by recipients or retired by email providers. These addresses are then re-purposed to identify senders who continue to send to them.
Mailbox providers can convert abandoned or retired addresses into RSTs after just six months. After their pre-defined period of inactivity, providers turn accounts off and return hard bounce errors to senders. This process is known as gravestoning, and it typically occurs for 30-90 days. Some of the addresses are then reactivated to serve as RSTs. When you send messages to RSTs, it indicates to mailbox providers that you’re not removing inactive or unengaged recipients from your list.
Pristine SPAM Traps (PST) — Pristine SPAM traps include email addresses that mailbox providers and blacklist services create to identify poor or malicious senders. Since the addresses aren’t associated with people, mailbox providers know that you didn’t add them to your list naturally (such as through email signups or donations). Therefore, when you send to a PST, they consider it a worse offense than sending to a RST. Getting caught in a PST indicates to the mailbox provider that you purchase lists. It also indicates that you send to unengaged users since no one owns the addresses to take actions from the messages you send.
Role Account (or Function Email Account) Traps — Role account SPAM traps include email addresses with webmaster@, hostmaster@, sales@, support@, postmaster@, etc. Since these accounts are usually aliases for multiple recipients, people don’t normally use them to sign up for email communications. Rather, they’re included when you purchase lists. You should routinely look for these addresses and send individual (rather than bulk) messages to request different personal addresses.
Depending on the type of trap and the mailbox provider, the penalty for getting caught varies. At a minimum, you damage your sender reputation which can cause your overall deliverability to suffer. Sometimes, providers simply place messages from trapped senders in SPAM or junk folders. Other times, they’ll block all messages from the sending domain or IP address. Typically, Role Account (or Functional Email Account) traps result in the highest penalties, followed by PSTs and then RSTs.
How to avoid SPAM traps
The most effective way to avoid SPAM traps is to properly build and segment your list.
Only send to people who opt-in to receive your messages and touch base at least every 6-9 months to ensure they STILL want them. Better yet, have those messages require an action to opt recipients into your list again.
Don't purchase lists of email addresses to import into your database since they typically contain pristine SPAM trap addresses. Also, using purchased lists is against our Acceptable Use Policy.
Establish a communication plan that ensures you send email to each of your recipients at least once every 3 months. Regular contact helps you catch email addresses which hard bounce before they’re switched to recycled SPAM traps. Since our system automatically suppresses those addresses from future mailings, you can protect yourself from traps when you email regularly. This doesn’t give you carte blanche to email your house-file daily; just ensure you email all your engaged users every 90 days to verify their email addresses haven’t started hard bouncing.
If sending to SPAM traps is so harmful, why doesn't Blackbaud automatically suppress these addresses?
The answer is simple. We don't know which addresses are SPAM traps either because — returning to the previous analogy — there’s no radar detector for them. Mailbox providers are purposefully secretive about traps because they’re a tool to help catch spammers and keep unwanted email out of recipient inboxes.
How does Blackbaud know if I'm sending to SPAM traps?
Blackbaud, through various partners who create and maintain SPAM traps, analyzes email deliverability across all organizations sending through our systems. While not every mailing is monitored, we do use tools which randomly select messages to check for overall deliverability and identify problems like SPAM traps.
How can I tell if I'm sending to SPAM traps?
If you haven’t removed inactive or unengaged recipients from your list in the past, you’re probably sending to SPAM traps. Blackbaud may also contact you to alert you of a problem with traps within your segmentation and provide guidance and oversight to identify and correct the problem.
If you regularly remove inactive and unengaged recipients and actively segment your engaged users, you shouldn’t have deliverability problems related to SPAM traps. If you’d like to have Blackbaud work with you on increasing your deliverability, contact your account representative or customer success manager about our email deliverability consulting package!