7 spam words to avoid in email marketing (and why)

#4 was the big surprise to me as I read this piece from EMMA the email marketing platform. Below you will see they not only list the spam words that cause your emails to be rejected, but why.

As a marketer, there’s so much on your mind every single day.

Not only do you need to worry about creating content that converts, you need to ensure that your emails are also accessible and GDPR compliant.

And … there’s another concern that all email marketers have: avoiding the email spam folder.

Ending up in the spam folder is basically a waste of the time and effort you expend to put together an awesome email campaign. Not only that, but it can also damage your online reputation. After all, no legitimate company would send spam emails, right?

Actually, it happens more often than you might think. You’ll find that there are many reasons why your emails might end up in your subscribers’ spam folder, but one of the most common is spam words in email.

In this post, we’ll share why certain words can get you tagged as spam and which ones to start avoiding like the plague.

Why certain words can land you in the dreaded spam folder.

The most common place to use spam words in email is in the subject line. However, if you use these words throughout the body of your content, you could still be flagged—especially if you are using other practices that make your emails appear spammy.

Spam filters are a great way for people to protect themselves from unwanted junk email or even harmful emails.

Spam filters definitely have their place. Unfortunately for email marketers, these filters can target emails that aren’t even remotely close to spam.

Spam words in email—even if it’s a perfectly legitimate email that people have signed up for—can land you in the spam folder. These are words commonly used to grab people’s attention and either excite them or scare them into action.

In 2018, three million people reported scams to the Federal Trade Commission. Of those, 25% had been scammed out of money—nearly $1.5 billion (yes, billion) had been lost to scammers.

Both the young and not-so-young were targeted.

Both the young and not-so-young were targeted.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

Scam artists use a variety of means to take money from their victims, including the telephone, snail mail, and email.

Fortunately, email filters have helped to reduce some of the more blatant scammers out there. What’s not so great is that your marketing email can end up stuck in the spam folder with the scammers just because of the words used in the email.

Again, these words are used to entice people into taking action, which is the purpose of email marketing in the first place. However, there’s a way to motivate your audience without sounding like a spambot.


Words you should use carefully, or avoid using at all costs.

Here are our top 7 spam words in email that can get you into trouble. Avoid using them and you’ll not only stay out of your subscribers’ spam folder, you’ll actually improve the overall quality of your email content.

1. Dear Friend

Un-personalized emails are one of the first indicators of spam. You’re probably 99% sure you don’t know who is sending you an email when you receive one that simply says, “hi” or something like “dear friend.”

Even if you sent an email this way and it passed through the spam filter unscathed, that doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal.

Personalization is one of the keys of a successful email marketing campaign. You want each person in your audience to feel like you are writing specifically to them.

First of all, it’s just a courteous, professional thing to do. Second, you have to remember that your audience is always wondering “what’s in it for me.” If you can’t even take the steps to personalize an email, your subscribers are probably going to wonder why they should invest their time, attention, and eventually, their money in your company.

Takeaway: Always use your subscribers’ name if at all possible. Personalization is key.

2. Click here

Another phrase on the list of our top spam words in email is “click here.” When it comes to spam and scams, this phrase is a huge red flag. Millions of people have clicked where they shouldn’t have and ended up with a computer virus or losing money.

But isn’t “click here” a call to action? Yes, it is, but it’s not a call to action you want to use. Instead, use a call to action that tells your subscriber what will happen when they click your call to action button.

  • Pre-order
  • Take our survey
  • Read more
  • Learn more
  • Subscribe
  • Contact us
  • Schedule an appointment.

Takeaway: Calls to action are imperative to the success of your email campaign. However, you want to avoid using the click-bait call to action of “click here” and guide your potential customers to take a specific form of action.

3. Free

The word “free” is completely enticing. After all, who doesn’t love a deal, especially one that results in little-to-no money being laid down?

Unfortunately, this is a word that a lot of spammers tend to use.

This isn’t to say that you can’t use it at all. Using it once or twice in the entire body of your email copy is not a big deal, and it’s a great motivator for your audience.

With this word, remember that a little dash will do. Overwhelm the content of your email with it and you’ll definitely end up in the spam folder.  

Takeaway: If you have a free offer, make sure you don’t go overboard with your use of this word. Use it sparingly and you’ll avoid being tagged as spam.

4. Re: or Fwd:

When you think of spam words in email, you might not think of “Re:” and “Fwd:” because these are actions people actually take with their email on a daily basis.

Source: Pinterest

When you think of spam words in email, you might not think of “Re:” and “Fwd:” because these are actions people actually take with their email on a daily basis. It’s definitely not uncommon to forward a cool email to a friend or reply to an email that someone sent you.

Spammers know this, which is why they use these words so frequently.

“Fwd:” and “Re:” are used so often that when people see an email with this subject line, they almost always automatically open their email.

Avoid using these words unless you’re actually replying to an email conversation with one of your subscribers. Using them simply to increase your open rate is dishonest.

Takeaway: Avoid “Fwd:” and “Re:” unless you’re actually replying to an email from a reader.

5. Great offer

This is another one of those phrases that scammers know people are intrigued by—just as they are with the word “free.”

Again, use these types of phrases as you would salt—sparingly. It is also good to avoid using it in the subject line, just to be safe.

Takeaway: When using anything pertaining to spending money (free, great offer), make sure to lightly sprinkle the words throughout your email. Avoid stuffing the words in your email or using them in the subject line.

6. Guarantee

Who doesn’t love a guarantee, especially if the guarantee is related to getting money back or achieving some fantastic results?

Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to guarantee anything. “Results may vary” may seem cliché but it is the absolute truth.

Scammers know that the word “guarantee” feels like a security blanket to many people, though, so they use it often.

You can avoid false advertising, disappointing your readers, ruining your online reputation, and ending up in the spam folder by avoiding the word “guarantee.”

Takeaway: Can you really guarantee anything? If you’re not 100% positive it’s possible, avoid using this word in your emails.

7. Risk-free

“Risk-free” is often used in conjunction with “guarantee,” especially by spammers and scammers. It conjures similar feelings as the word “guarantee,” which is why it’s one of the most popular spam words in email.

Saying anything is “risk-free” is the same as offering a guarantee to your readers. If you can’t offer that, then don’t say your product/service is risk-free.

Takeaway: “Risk-free” is yet another spam email phrase. If you’re tempted to use it, ask yourself if you can 100% guarantee that what you’re offering is risk-free. If you can’t, don’t add this phrase to your email.

Honorable mentions…

Here are just a few more things to add to your “do not insert” list for future email campaigns.

  • Anything with a character: !$#&%
  • ALL CAPS SUBJECT LINES
  • Discount
  • Big bucks
  • Extra income
  • Fast cash
  • Apply now
  • Don’t hesitate
  • Explode your business
  • Join millions
  • This is not spam.

Wrap up

Using spam words in email is a sure way to send your emails straight into your subscribers’ spam folders. The following words should be used sparingly or not at all in your future campaigns.

  • Dear friend
  • Click here
  • Free
  • Fwd: or Re:
  • Great offer
  • Guarantee
  • Risk-free

Avoiding these words will help protect your reputation, as well as the time, effort, and money you put into your email marketing campaigns.

Sometimes it is simple; sometimes you need a role model

Richard Branson’s “Five rough guidelines for creating a successful business” stopped me in my tracks this morning as it is one of the best summaries I have seen.

Pay special attention to #5.

After five decades in business, I’m often asked if there is a shortcut to success. Unfortunately there isn’t — or if there is, I haven’t found it yet. Creating a successful and profitable business takes time, since you build your reputation as customers learn to trust and rely on you, one by one. 

Richard Branson

Image from John Armstrong Photography

Also, there’s no guarantee that spending a huge amount of money on marketing will slingshot your business forward. If you spend your time looking for shortcuts, you will find one — right out of business. 

While there are no set rules for succeeding in business, I have embraced some rough guidelines that can be very helpful:

1. Create a useful product or service

Image from Virgin Orbit

Above all else, you should not go into business purely for financial reasons. Running a company involves long hours and hard decisions; if you don’t have a better reason than money to keep going, your business will more than likely fail, as many new businesses do.

So it’s important to create something of use that is going to benefit society as a whole. If you do something you truly care about, you will be in a much better position to find customers, connect with them, and keep them coming back. 

Once you have decided on the type of product or service that interests you, focus on how to do things differently from the competition: Do your research, find a gap or an area ripe for innovation, and position your business in a way that sets it apart. 

2. Simplify your message

richard_branson_taking_notes_-_image_by_john_armstrong_photography.jpg

Image by John Armstrong Photography

Customers don’t just shop for a brand and its products, but also identify with its core values. Ask yourself, why did I start my business? Be honest – this will help you establish an authentic value and voice. Then break your message into something simple.

At Virgin, we stand for great customer service, good value and innovative alternatives to our competitors’ offerings. Most importantly, we view business as a force for good. Knowing who we are and what we stand for ensures that we don’t waste time or money on messaging that doesn’t represent us or resonate with our customers. 

3.  Market yourself

Richard holding his daughter Holly as he celebrates launching Virgin Atlantic

Image from Virgin.com

 Marketing is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. My mentor, Sir Freddie Laker, a man who had started a company to challenge British Airways on their home turf, gave me some invaluable advice when I was starting up Virgin Atlantic. Knowing that we couldn’t match the more established airlines in terms of marketing budget, he encouraged me to drive the publicity myself: “Use yourself. Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won’t survive.” 

I took his advice and I’ve been thinking up fun ways to stand out from the crowd and draw the media’s attention to our company ever since, from breaking world records to pulling pranks. 

While I’ve always been interested in sports and physical challenges, that might not be the route for you. Find your tone, know your brand, do things your own way, and create waves. The free advertising will follow.   

4. Embrace social media

Image by Owen Buggy

Tools like Twitter and Facebook are wonderful ways to get your message out to a wide audience. Social media is not only more cost-efficient than advertising, but it also offers great opportunities for innovative engagement with your customers. Use it to your advantage.

Remember that there is a difference between selling and marketing. In my experience, selling a product through social media doesn’t always work – it’s better to simply communicate with your customers in an authentic way and have fun. As you build an online profile that people can identify with and trust, you’ll find that they will soon become customers. 

The feedback you receive on social media can be invaluable, especially when your business is just starting out. Listen to your customers’ comments about your company’s offerings to gain an understanding of what you are doing right and wrong. You can also use this feedback to sharpen your social campaigns and measure the effectiveness of your calls to action. 

5. Keep on enjoying what you do

Image from Virgin

If you genuinely love and believe in what you do, others will take notice and share your enthusiasm. 

If you find your interest flagging, it’s time to make a change — switch from operations to management, move on, expand into new territories, anything that interests you. To find success, you need to be fully committed or your work will show it.