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Email marketing

What Are The So-Called Common Email Spam Words?

Updated in 2021

One of the fundamental factors to make email marketing campaigns successful is good deliverability. Many marketers associate deliverability issues with spam words. That’s why today, I would like to take a look at how spam words came to be and give you a list of the most commonly recognised “spam trigger” words.

What Are Email Spam Words?

Typically, one would define spam words as words or phrases red-flagged by email spam filters, increasing the likelihood of your email being sent to the junk or spam folder. Spammers often use many power words or phrases about easy money and other catchy keywords to convince their targets. Therefore, as these phrases repeatedly get added into spam emails, a spam word list was created and continuously amended to help genuine marketers deliver their emails.

Why Spam Words Aren’t That Scary Anymore?

Spam filters are continuously evolving. Throughout the years, the spam words’ influence on deliverability has become a hot topic for debates. In fact, no one outside the companies in charge of their spam filters would know for sure what impact these spammy words really make on the email deliverability. It’s quite evident that nowadays, such terms would account for just a small fraction of spam filter triggers.

I know that spam filters changed so much since the first spam words lists came out. But in my opinion, it’s good to know what they are. Especially, from email copywriting perspective. For me, it’s important not because of email deliverability, but to understand the potentially negative association that your email recipients might have when they see these words.  If my headlines scream “FREE FREE FREE” or “EARN $$$ FROM HOME”, not only I’d be shouting at my readers, but I would look very spammy. Therefore, here goes me saying better safe than sorry.

That said, if you simply want to use some of those words in a relevant non-shouty context, it’s OK. For example, the word “free” in your email subject line such as “Get a free planner with every purchase” absolutely does not mean that your email will be seen as junk.  If your content is good, your mailing lists are well-maintained and looked after, your HTML is clean – you probably have nothing to worry about.

Why These Spam Words?

While marketers have been sharing the email spam lists, the lists always had a caveat – no one could ever guarantee their accuracy. I reviewed many spam words lists and checked the SpamAssassin test logs (the anti-spam open-source platform). Moreover, I’ve analysed my own email junk folder and read many articles to learn more about the most common spam trigger words. The list you’ll find below is the one I refer to when I plan to write email content.

Examples from SpamAssassin

An excellent example of a spam word is the word “dear”.  Such an innocent word, often used in various email salutations (dear Firstname…). In the older SpamAssassin logs, I’ve found that “dear” in the email body copy could give you 1.605 score. Here’s a screenshot from their log file:

Spam words: example from SpamAssassin logs
A screenshot from SpamAssassin test logs

And, if you think about it, it’s not really a surprise that “dear” has been added to the list, right? If you check your spam folder, you’ll probably find at least 1 in 10 emails with the “dear” salutation.

Here are some other examples indicated in the SpamAssassin test logs:

Example from the SpamAssassin test log
Other words flagged in the SpamAssassin test logs

Moreover, you can find that other factors increased the score. For example, not having a reply-to address, leaving the sender name empty, and even including many extra spaces in the subject line. Fascinating data. Take a peek at these test logs here if you have some spare time.

Spam Words List For Your Reference

Lastly, let’s take a look at these spam words and their categories.

Calls-to-Action

Contains one or more from the following:
"act now"; "apply now"; "buy now"; "click below"; "click here"; "click me to download"; "click this link"; "click to remove"; "call free"; "call now"; "claim now"; "contact us immediately"; "get now"; "sign up free"; "shop now"; "order now"; "get paid"

Money and Finance

Contains one or more from the following:
"$$$ "; "£££ "; "accounts "; "additional income "; "bank "; "bonus "; "cash "; "cost "; "credit "; "earn "; "earn $ "; "earn money "; "earn per week "; "finance"; "financial advice "; "financial freedom"; "free investment"; "get your money"; "insurance "; "investment"; "investment advice"; "investment decision"; "invoice", "lowest price", "make £ ", "make money "; "million "; "money "; "money back "; "nominated bank account "; "potential earnings "; "profit "; "refund "; "risk free "; "save "; "save $ "; "stock alert "; "thousands "; "US Dollars" 

Marketing

Contains one or more from the following:
"ad "; "amazing "; "bargain "; "beneficial offer "; "cheap "; "clearance "; "congratulations "; "" dear "; "direct marketing "; "don't delete "; "email marketing "; "fantastic "; "free "; "free trial" ; "gift certificate "; "increase sales "; "increase traffic "; "internet marketing "; "junk "; "marketing "; "marketing solution "; "member "; "message from "; "month trial offer "; "off everything "; "offer "; "offer expires "; "offer extended "; "online marketing "; "opportunity ";  "performance "; "promise you "; "sale "; "search engine optimisation "; "spam "; "special promotion"; "stop further distribution "; "super promo "; "the following form "; "this isn't junk "; "this isn't spam "; "top urgent "; "unbeatable offer "; "urgent "; "urgent response "; "visit our website "; "web traffic "; "win "; "winner" 

Online Business

Contains one or more from the following:
"additional income "; "be your own boss "; "extra income "; "free hosting "; "get paid "; "home based business "; "home employment "; "income from home "; "profit "; "sale "; "work at home "; "work from home "; "while you sleep" 

Final Words: Always Think about the Bigger Picture

I hope you found this article informative. However, don’t get scared of using a word or a phrase that’s been mentioned in the list. Just don’t overdo it. Include quality content in your email, have clean HTML code behind the scenes, adhere to the recommended image-to-text ratio, and you should be good to go!

Originally published in June 2018, updated in January 2021

13 Comments

  • Charles B

    Can you back this up with data? This seems like very old, hearsay advice that we’re increasingly finding out-of-date.

    • Adele - Codemefy

      Hi Charles, thanks for taking a look at the article. I agree that spam words and their influence is quite debatable in the deliverability scale – and ever so in these recent years. However, I still believe that they do make an impact – especially if, for example, your image to text ratio is off, or you have any other risky elements in your email. Even small thing can tip over the scales. I reviewed spam assassin test logs, and many words are clearly stated as their test functions – have look! http://spamassassin.apache.org/old/tests_3_1_x.html I know, this log may not be the newest thing too, but it’s open source and I think it’s quite a reliable indicator of the existence of such thing as a spam word. And thanks for leaving a comment!

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