Email Marketing 11 Spam Words to Avoid in Your Subject Line

Published on August 16th, 2011 | by Jill Bastian

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11 Spam Words to Avoid in Your Subject Line

Spam Words to Avoid An ever-popular question we get here at VR is “What words should I avoid in an email to ensure inbox delivery?” If only there was a straightforward answer to that question! As with many things email marketing related, the answer is: it depends. Sure, you know not to use pharmaceuticals like Cialis or Viagra in your subject line or email, but what about the word Free? Before I give you a list of words to avoid there are some things to keep in mind when writing your email. First, always have someone proofread your email! A typo in a benign word can suddenly create a delivery nightmare when it transforms into the hottest new spam word. If a word in your subject line gets truncated or broken it could go to a spam folder, or even worse, cause unsubscribes.

An example I saw was the phrase “Buttons and Bows” in a long subject line. Because the subject was too long the word Button was broken in the middle and caused delivery and unsubcribe problems. In addition, a subject line is not the place to use the short words for texting, like 4U, U or even #1 . Sometimes unsavory types want to use known spam words and try to get around delivery issues by breaking them up with spaces or disguising them. Spam filters know these tricks, so C r e d i t, C*r*e*d*i*t or CREDIT can still put your email in a spam folder. Using all caps for a word or a whole subject line can flag the email as being spam. Plus, all caps in the internet world means you’re yelling, and you don’t want to do that to your readers.And now the list you were looking for:

  1. Affordable
  2. Apply Now
  3. Additional Income/ Extra Income
  4. Dear Friend
  5. Free
  6. Home Based/Work from Home
  7. Mortgage Rates
  8. Opportunity
  9. Remove
  10. Save $
  11. Weight Loss

There are more of course, but you want to try to keep these 11 out of your subject line. Which brings up the question, “Free shipping is the number one subject line, how is Free on the spam word list?” Ah, great question! The word Free in your subject line won’t put your email in a spam folder all on its own. Most spam filters use a rating system so while Free can be a trigger, if the rest of your email is good (content clean, clean HTML, good links, and good delivery system) you can expect your email to be delivered to the inbox. To see more words to avoid, check out this list. And if you like things a bit more technical SpamAssassin has some great info, too. We have a recorded webinar and guide, Savvy Subject Line Writing for Success, to help you create successful subject lines.

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About the Author

Jill Bastian

Jill Bastian is the Training and Education Manager at VerticalResponse.



11 Responses to 11 Spam Words to Avoid in Your Subject Line

  1. Denny Hatch says:

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  3. SteroidS says:

    A benign word can suddenly create a delivery nightmare when it transforms into the hottest new spam word. If a word in your subject line gets truncated or broken it could go to a spam folder.

  4. krista says:

    Thanks for the list, it will be very useful for me.

  5. A benign word can suddenly create a delivery nightmare when it transforms into the hottest new spam word. If a word in your subject line gets truncated or broken it could go to a spam folder.

  6. Pete Austin @MarketingXD says:

    Reminds me of the time we were sending an email about the UK Budget, on behalf of the Labour Party – an impeccable client.
    They had changed interest rates and expected mortgage rates to fall.
    It was almost impossible to get the thing delivered.

  7. Dan Harrison says:

    Hello to all ! As an emailer for a reputable company for over 15 years, I would like to add some words and terms that I know will kick off systems like Spam Assassin and Baraccuda (sp?) if found in the subject line and/or the body of the email message.
    1- offer
    2- offers
    3- special offer
    4- spam
    5- spam filter
    6- email filter
    7- million
    8- millions
    9- large numbers like 1,500,000
    10- large dollar values like $42,500
    11- low
    12- low prices
    13- guarantee
    14- guaranteed lowest prices (that’s a killer)
    15- special
    16- special sale
    17- discount or discount sale
    18- sale offer
    19- any “800″ phone number (always use your non-800 # in emails)
    20- Free, free, FREE
    Also be carefull if you either OVER USE SENTENCES IN ALL CAPS LIKE THIS, or you over-use the “bold” tag.
    Hope this helps :o )

  8. Dani says:

    Another one to avoid that isn’t on either list is specialist. Why? speCIALISt.
    On the subject of learning from personal experience though, we used to have an office dog and a colleague wrote in our campaign that the dog would ‘cock a leg at something it didn’t approve of’, obviously you can guess where all of those emails went – straight in the spam folder!

  9. Jill Bastian says:

    Hi Kelly,
    Great point! And I do agree, using the word Free in your subject line won’t put your email in the spam folder on its own. The key is, as I mentioned in the post, that the email and the sender of the email need to be good. Since our customers are usually relatively new to email marketing its important for them to understand that there are a lot of things that they do that can impact the delivery of their email, including the content. We have a team that works hard to ensure inbox delivery, but it doesn’t take much to push a great email into a spam folder. We just want people to be aware that some words are better than others in the email marketing world.

  10. Kelly Lorenz says:

    Jill,
    While I appreciate the intention behind providing this list, I have to ask that VR stop spreading this fallacy around spam words. The words in your list will not cause a reputable marketer to end up in the spam folder period. They haven’t caused problems for reputable senders for years.
    Check your own inbox and you’ll see numerous emails with all of these words in the subject line and body of the email. Heck, I get some emails with “free” repeated 10+ times always into the inbox! The only case where this is *potentially* not true is if an IT Manager is especially rigid in what is allowed in employee inboxes.
    As your blog and content get read by numerous amateur and beginner email marketers, I would appreciate you disseminating accurate best practices instead of perpetuating a fallacy.
    Best,
    Kelly Lorenz

  11. Nancy Myers says:

    Thanks, a useful list. Re: typos, although I didn’t learn this from personal experience I watched in horror as a colleague did: If you leave the ‘L’ out of the word ‘PUBLIC’…spellcheck won’t stop you.
    Awkward, awkward, awkward.

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