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Spamtraps are overblown… by senders

One of the fascinating parts of my job is seeing how different groups in email have radically disparate points of view. A current example is how much value senders put on spamtraps compared to ISPs and filtering companies.

I understand why this is. In all too many cases, when a sender asks why they’re mail is going to bulk or being blocked, the answer is “you’re hitting spamtraps.” The thing is, spamtraps are almost never the only reason mail is being blocked.

In many circumstances mail is blocked because the recipients don’t like it. They’re complaining to whomever is running the filter or they’re acting in ways that signal the mail is unwanted. Spamtraps are often used to confirm blocking decisions, rather than driving them.

When I talk to clients and colleagues and mention that spamtraps don’t drive most filtering decisions they’re shocked. They are so conditioned that spamtraps are bad. And, it’s totally understandable where that conditioning comes from.

When asked why mail is blocked many filter maintainers will answer “because you’re hitting spamtraps.” The reasons they say this are mostly because they’re tired of arguing with senders about their mail. Spamtraps are hard to argue with. The mail is arriving at addresses that didn’t opt-in to receive it, therefore the mail is spam.

Now we have companies selling list hygiene services which offer to remove spamtraps. We have other companies selling “sensor networks” that most of their customers refer to as spamtrap feeds. We’ve monetized spamtraps. Great for the companies who are selling the services, but what does it get their customers?

Spamtraps are a signal. They are a sign that there is a problem with an address collection process or a problem with list maintenance. Removing every spamtrap on a list will not fix the problem. It won’t even stop blocks.

Blocks aren’t primarily based on spamtraps in most cases. Spamtraps aren’t the problem. Don’t spend time or money on removing spamtraps from a list. Instead, focus on on sending mail recipients ask for and want.

3 comments

  1. Judyta says

    Another great post! I visit your blog on a daily basis for some time now, and I’m really glad for the content you make 🙂 Thank you! 🙂

  2. John Stephenson says

    I agree. Spamtraps are an indicator of other problems with practices which lead to problems with bad data. They are the canary in a coalmine. Senders who want to suppress the spamtraps which they are able to identify are merely depriving themselves of the a key measuring stick they could use to monitor aspects of their list quality.

  3. Richard says

    I felt compelled to offer our perspective as I think it’s a valid one. Spam Traps (or honeypots) are useless if they are static which is why we have literally hundreds of them on different domains on different mail services and each is seeded and withdrawn on a schedule. The life of a spam trap is actually quite limited lasting only a few years each but the email delivered to them is aggregated and fed into bayesian and block lists depending on occurrence and other metrics which change regularly. As a company with a several levels of filtering each with increasing levels of scrutiny we regularly get helpdesk tickets asking why email is rejected, and I’d like to think in all cases we track it down and give a meaningful response but 99% fall into these causes. (a) spammy, either spammy content or blacklisted. (b) misconfigured, the standards exist for a reason and we validate them, things like rDNS, and address validation. (c) the end user has added the sender to their blacklist.

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