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How to avoid spam traps this holiday season

Don't let spam traps ruin your email marketing success this holiday season. Follow our expert guide to keep your sender reputation intact and achieve maximum inbox placement.
Marketer learning about spam traps during the holiday season.

As we approach the end of the year, there is a strong urge to send as many emails as possible to increase revenue. It’s important to remember the best practices for email communication. 

Sending emails to outdated or improperly obtained contact lists can significantly damage your sender reputation, making it harder for your emails to reach the inbox, even for those who are loyal to your brand.

Sending emails in this way can result in severe inbox placement issues or even cause your emails to be blocked, particularly if they are sent to a spam trap. Reputation damage can be long-lasting and may negatively affect your ability to generate revenue from email marketing for weeks or even months.

In this post, we’ll guide you on how to avoid spam traps. We’ll explain what spam traps are, why they can harm your email deliverability, and provide tips to help you maintain a healthy and strong inbox placement during the holiday season.

What is a spam trap?

A spam trap is an email address that would not actively sign up to receive marketing communications. They are part of the toolbox used by anti-abuse networks, security appliances, and mailbox providers to identify emails that would be unwanted or even harmful to recipients – and then to prevent senders of those emails from reaching the inboxes of real people.

There are different types of traps:

  • recycled traps – these are email addresses that were once valid but have been abandoned and repurposed as a spam trap
  • typo traps – these are entire domains that look similar to popular mailbox provider domains (e.g. instead of that are used as traps 
  • pristine traps – these are email addresses created to be spam traps and never used by an actual person to send or receive email

Why is sending to a spam trap so bad?

A mailbox provider’s priority is to protect its users from unwanted and malicious emails. Regardless of your intentions, if you’re indicating that you’re a bad actor by sending to spam traps then your sender’s reputation will be negatively affected. 

This means your emails are more likely to land in the junk or spam folder, may take much longer to be delivered, or may be rejected outright and not even delivered to junk.

Negotiating the removal of a block listing and repairing the reputation damage caused is not fast or easy. It can take weeks or sometimes months to fully recover from a bad block listing due to hitting a spam trap. If your business is hit at the beginning of the holiday season, that could mean you’re only just back on your feet again in time for Valentine’s Day.

How to avoid spam traps during the holiday season

Most commonly we see clients hitting traps when they’ve succumbed to pressure to increase their sending volume and send emails to recipients they don’t usually send emails to. This a bad idea for a few reasons:

  1. Mailbox providers a) like to see consistency from senders and b) are often on the verge of being overwhelmed given mail volumes at this time of year. 
  2. Recipients are also overwhelmed with far too much email and are less likely to engage with and more likely to complain about receiving emails they don’t remember signing up for.
  3. A lot of the ways marketers try to quickly increase volume at short notice significantly increase the risk of hitting spam traps.

3 risky strategies to avoid

To ensure your email deliverability stays strong during the holiday season, steer clear of these risky strategies:

1. Sending to lists that haven’t been sent to for over 12 months. Or ever.

Risk: Recycled traps tend to be found in old data, even if it was originally collected using permission marketing best practices. 

If you’ve found a segment missed by your automation or some other permissioned data you haven’t sent to for a while, and you know you’re going to want to send to them over the holidays, our advice is: start now. It’s much better to do this early to give you time to resolve any issues before critical sending days.

Send slowly over days or weeks, include a reminder of why contacts are receiving your emails (in case they’ve forgotten about you) as well as a clear unsubscribe link, suppress any soft bounces and remove anyone who continues to not engage. If you’re a Dotdigital customer and you want help with re-activating lapsed contacts, contact your Customer Success Manager to start a conversation about our re-engagement package.

2. Trying to“reactivate” contacts from the suppression list

Risk: Abandoned email addresses will usually hard bounce for at least 6 months before being repurposed as a recycled trap. A good email service provider (ESP) will automatically suppress contacts that hard bounce, so these traps are likely to lie within your suppression list.

3. Purchasing or renting some more data to send to

Risk: Not only is this against most ESPs T&Cs which means you risk having all your sending suspended when they spot the purchased data, but lists for sale or rent tend to contain a lot of scraped data. Spam traps, especially pristine type traps, are very commonly found in this kind of data – and they tend to be the ones that cause the most serious kinds of block listings that have the widest impact across mailbox providers and take the longest to resolve.

If you are importing data into your Dotdigital account during the holiday period (or any other time of the year) then our Watchdog will be taking a look and flagging anything suspicious. An import that’s got a high-risk score is more likely to contain spam traps. So we’ll block the upload while you take a look at the data sources and remove anything risky that’s made its way into your list.

What if you do hit a trap?

The key here isn’t identifying the specific spam trap you hit and removing it from your list. Spam traps are intentionally a closely guarded secret, and for every trap you find, there could be ten, fifty, or a hundred more in your list. That’s because spam traps indicate underlying problems with your data collection or management.

The first step is to use whatever information is available to try to identify the source of the problematic data. Different trap operators will offer up some information that’s redacted to a greater or lesser extent; some offer a rough estimate of the date and time when the trap was hit, and others will provide the subject line of the email sent that hit the trap.

The next step is to temporarily stop sending to all data that’s come from the high-risk source while you go through step three: segmenting out contacts who you know are engaged. Purchase history, opens, clicks, etc. can all be used holistically to identify recipients who are most likely to be real people who want to hear from you.

Finally, it’s time to plug the hole in your data collection. Depending on the type of trap, it can indicate different areas of vulnerability:

Pristine traps

Make sure your forms are secured with CAPTCHA, double or confirmed opt-in, and remove any third party data from your lists

Typo traps

Ask your web developers to add some basic validation to points of collection to check that the email addresses are valid. It’s pretty easy to add some logic that suggests someone might mean “” instead of “hotmial.cmo” in the email field. Plus double or confirmed opt-in at the point of data collection can help weed these out as well.

Recycled traps

Make sure you have a strategy for sunsetting contacts who never engage with your brand or who haven’t engaged for a very long time. Use knowledge of your sales cycle and typical customer journeys to plot the point at which the risk of keeping an address on your list outweighs the potential that they might convert into a customer. And engage a responsible ESP that suppresses email addresses that bounce.


It’s so easy to sabotage yourself in November by making some choices that temporarily boost revenue for Singles Day or Black Friday, but then tank your reputation so you’re in the spam folder throughout December and even into January. It’s far less risky in the short term – and more profitable in the long term – to be smart and stick to your sustainable sending and organic growth strategies to avoid jeopardizing inbox placement. 

If you need any help this holiday season with how to avoid spam traps or anything else related to inbox placement, our expert Deliverability team is always around to assist you in making the best choices for your business.

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