Return Path conducted an excellent webinar on email deliverability and avoiding spam traps. The information was incredibly helpful and takes the mystery out of managing data health to ensure optimal email performance.
I wanted to share the highlights and takeaways from their webinar that you can use your marketing operations. Many thanks to the Return Path team of Kelly Hogan, Lori Vaughn, and Tom Sather for sharing this helpful content. Providing educational content like this helps organizations improve their practices and ensure reputable marketing practices and strong customer relationships.
What are these dreaded Spam Traps you speak of?
Spam Traps come in two categories: Honey Pots and Recycled Traps.
Understanding these two categories helps marketers manage their database assets and data health practices. Honey Pots are set up specifically with the intent of capturing and reporting malicious or poor email practices. Recycled Traps are those that have addresses that are out of date or no longer used for legitimate communications. These addresses are placed in Recycled Traps to capture email sends over a period of time, sometimes for 6-12 months. Because the address is inactive, emailers with strong practices should remove or segment those inactive contacts out of the database. If after a period of time an organization continues to email, they can be reported and blacklisted.
Who Uses Traps?
Return Path provided a listing of organizations who regularly employ spam traps and broke them into three categories. I recommend that anyone working in Marketing Automation or Email Marketing be very aware and track these organizations and how they operate and track spam issues.
Spam Blacklist Organizations
Some of these organizations are a collective of various groups that share information on problem spammers.
3rd Party Spam Filters (Note: This is a crowded category with many vendors, products and solutions. This listing is by no means complete.)
Risky and Bad Practices
Avoiding spam traps requires an ongoing effort that utilize multiple tactics. The starting point is understanding the quality of the data currently employed and where it comes from. Return Path shared the risky and bad practices with list acquisition that increase the chances of poor data records and spam traps entering the database. Some of what ReturnPath calls “Bad Practices” are using purchased lists, reverse appending incomplete contact records with email information, and email harvesting.
I do support buying sources of data to augment build databases. However, my standards for finding reputable data providers are very high. I will never recommend that a client buy a list from an offshore provider or some of the mercenaries that spam contact records for pennies on the dollar. The risks to reputation and revenue are too high. I do not support harvesting email addresses which I sometimes hear of where students or freelancers scrape and scour websites for contact information. Again, the risks outweight any potential benefit and the performance of harvested lists is poor.
Return Path shared risky practices that increases the chances of Spam Traps entering a database. While many of these are relevant to B2B marketers, several seem exclusive to B2C marketers.
Be Afraid and Avoid:
- Poor bounce processing
- Integrating databases from mergers without cleansing and normalizing first
- Importing address books
- Affiliate Partner Lists
- POS email capture
- Contests or Drawings
- Restricted Website Access
Tactics to Responsibly Manage Email Deliverability Performance
1. Bounce, Deliverability, Spam Complaint Data: Used the bounce and delivery performance analytics and reporting in your Marketing Automation Platform and Email Service. These data points can help administrators forensically identify where probalem addresses lie, which helps with ongoing management. Don’t continually batch and blast your email database without continual health checks and purges. Checking deliverability is important because a rapid drop in delivery performance can indicate you are blacklisted.
2. Review Bounce Code Reports – Return Path shared helpful information on a series of Bounce Codes that email systems and marketing automation platforms can track. The Bounce Codes that may indicate problems with Spam Traps are 500, 501, 502, 503, 504, 550, 551, 552, 553, and 554. In some cases education institutions or some government agencies may use 400-level bounce codes that can indicate spam monitoring. Monitoring and managing email performance through Bounce Codes is potentially tedious work. But again, administrators should use the tools and information that are available. Ignorance is not an excuse!
3. Microsoft Smart Network Data Services - Microsoft’s Windows Live initiative designed to allow everyone who owns IP space to contribute to the fight against spam, malware, viruses, and other Internet evils, to protect e-mail and the Internet as a valued communications, productivity and commerce tool.
4. Blacklist Websites: You can check sites like WhatIsMyIPAddres.com to determine if your IP address is blacklisted
5. SenderScore: Companies that have dedicated IP addresses for their email marketing efforts should check their Sender Score on a weekly basis. Some companies with high email volumes may need to monitor their Sender Score on a daily basis. Sender Score is recognized as an industry standard in Marketing Automation and Email Marketing. Sender Score is managed as a free service from Return Path. NOTE: If you have a Shared IP address through your vendor or service provider, the Sender Score will reflect the cumulative efforts of all vendors on that IP. Sender Score is much more valuable for organizations with relatively high email volumes per month and a dedicated IP.
6. Welcome Messages – When users subscribe to email lists or fill out forms, sending welcome messages can help segment the most active contacts. Active and responsive contacts have the most value over time.
7. Reminder Messages – If contacts are occasionally inactive, send a reminder message to ask them if they are still interested in receiving communications.
9. Review IP Address Activity – Malicious bots can subscribe to email databases and sometimes they will flood in from a single IP address. Segment and suppress IP addresses that show unnatural subscriber traffic volume.
10. Segmentation Lists by Data Source – At a minimum all list sources should be identified with a standard taxonomy. Whenever possible, especially with organizations with high volume email and dedicated IP’s, it’s important to isolate and test third party list sources before incorporating into the overall database.
11. Implement Custom X-Headers – Custom X-headers can help with segmentation because they can track details like list sources, and engagement levels. This may not be completely practical for all marketing operations. But I can see the value for organizations with high email volume.
12. Reliable Data Partners – As I mentioned before it’s critical to use reliable and reputable data providers. Organizations that provide sources of data should employ rigorous standards on their data. Also, working with providers like Return Path are valuable in managing strong sender reputations.
13. Inbound Signup Forms – It’s becoming more common to ask users to double enter their email addresses for verfication. Malicious bots aren’t able to do this very well and it helps users verify their email in case they entered their own address wrong. (I’ve fat-fingered plenty of sign ups and a double verification saved me!) There are plenty of other verification methods top use including semantic tools, image identifiers, etc. Captcha is still used broadly but apparently some problems are arising with malicious bots being able to fool them.
14. Segment Active and Inactive Records – Segmenting contact records based on engagement and email response is one of the easiest and best ways to minimize problems with Spam Traps. Working with the most active contacts also ensures the best response to campaigns. Remember the Honey Pots and Recycled Spam Traps? Email addresses that never respond to an email, even though they show deliverability, are potentially at high risk of being a Spam Trap.
This list isn’t comprehensive but I can guarantee that you will find some useful tactics to employ in your operations. Thanks again to Return Path for sharing this valuable information.