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.

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