We recently sent our entire email list through a scrubbing process. It was the first time we’d ever done that, so I was a little anxious about what we’d find.

We’ve been good about removing hard bounces and anyone who complains by hitting the spam button. Those are easy to manage because we can track that within our CRM.

But I’d been hearing about other categories of “bad emails” that are not as easy to see on our end, including bots and spam traps.

What’s a spam trap? There are a few types. Inbox providers (Gmail, Microsoft, etc.) create fake addresses known as honey pots and put them out on the web. They never opt into anything, so if you are emailing them, you aren’t using good list building practices.

Another kind of spam trap is a recycled old address. These could have opted into your list many years ago, but the mailbox has been abandoned by the original user. The inbox provider has taken it over and converted it to a spam trap to find email senders who aren’t responsibly managing their lists.

If you continue to send to spam traps, the inbox providers are more likely to send your emails to the spam folder of legitimate addresses. Your email service provider is also likely at some point to restrict or suspend your sending abilities.

Thankfully, we had relatively few — 18 to be exact — of these malicious bot and spam trap email addresses on our list. They’ve been removed.

But we were also introduced to a new category of problematic email addresses I wasn’t aware of: Known Complainers.


Known Complainers are people who basically hit the spam button a lot in their inboxes, even if they haven’t marked any of your email as spam.

In our scrubbing process, we found 137 people who are currently subscribed to our email newsletter, but who were tagged as Complainers.

In our case, whether we continued to email them was our decision. We decided to leave them in for now because we are carefully watching email engagement. If they do end up hitting the spam button or stop engaging with our emails, we have other systems in place to remove them from our list.

It’s not always up to you, however. We suggest that you find out what your email service provider’s policies and recommendations are regarding complainers and other types of email addresses that fall in the “gray area,” including role addresses (e.g. info@, sales@).

We recently learned of a case where a nonprofit’s biggest major donor hadn’t been receiving any of the group’s emails. That’s because their email service provider had tagged the donor as a “known complainer” and opted that person out automatically, but without explicitly telling the nonprofit they had done so. The nonprofit stumbled over this info when looking at the person’s history in their CRM and asked that the donor be opted back in manually.

If you’ve never scrubbed your email list, it’s time to add it to your budget. Start by checking with your email service provider for their recommendations. You can also google “email verification services.”

You don’t want to waste all the potential of your email list because you were accidentally emailing a bunch of spam traps.

Published On: November 20, 2019|Categories: Email List Management, Email Marketing|