man and woman colleagues checking marketing email on laptop screen for email spam trigger words

117 Email Spam Trigger Words to Avoid and Stay out of the Junk Folder

Can spam trigger words really send your emails to the junk folder? They sure can, but things aren’t as black-and-white as they seem. Moosend’s Senior Content Writer Téa Liarokapi goes into the topic below – and shows you why and when certain spam words cause email deliverability issues.

Many email marketers worry about their emails going to spam. Some people never check their spam folder, so if you’re sending out an important campaign, you want it to arrive in the inbox.

While email deliverability involves a multi-layered effort, the words you use in your emails can cause mailbox providers to relay your messages to the junk folder. However, it all depends on the context, so let’s examine this closer below.


What are email spam trigger words?

Email spam trigger words, or spam words, are words and phrases commonly found in the content of spam emails. They aim to lure recipients with an attractive offer and obtain sensitive personal information. As email filters have become more advanced, Internet service providers (ISPs) flag spam words as malicious and automatically direct them to the spam folder.

screenshot of an email that landed in the junk folder
Gmail and other email service providers have advanced algorithms to determine whether an email is spam. What stands out in this example is the lack of personalization, the excessive punctuation marks, the different fonts, colors and the broken image.

Related: Do you know the origin of the word “spam”?

But here’s where things get confusing: some email spam trigger words are also some of the most common words marketers use. Save, last chance or discount are just three examples you’ve probably used yourself.

So, should you stop using them altogether to avoid triggering spam filters? Email is more complex than that, and your copy isn’t the only factor determining where your email will be delivered.

When and how can you use email spam trigger words?

The fact that powerful marketing words are also common words used in spam emails doesn’t mean that you cannot pepper them into your content. The important thing is for your emails to have valuable content, compelling copy and responsive templates.

Here’s an example of a legitimate marketing email using words that can trigger spam filters:

screenshot of a legitimate marketing email using spam trigger words in black friday offer

Relevant emails, with valuable information and spot-on recommendations, will allow ISPs to understand that your emails are something users would love to see.

So, yes, you can use words like “free” or “urgent” as part of a relevant, legitimate-looking email.

On the other hand, if you use spam trigger words in an email that already looks like spam, you’ll get in trouble with inbox providers.

Here’s an example of a spam email:

screenshot of a spam email using words that trigger spam filters

This content is not helpful, and it’s poorly written. Not to mention that I do not own a website.

Of course, spam filters can be triggered for various reasons, and there are many ways your email campaign can end up in the spam folder. Common words in spam emails can cause problems, especially when they’re a part of your subject line

But let’s talk about factors beyond that for a second.

Why would your email go to the spam folder?

Your emails can end up in the spam folder for many reasons, and spam trigger words are not at the top of the list. There are more important factors that can sabotage your email deliverability.

Here are just a few:

Poor email list quality

A common reason emails go to spam is that you haven’t built a valid email list or may not prune it as you should. On average, almost 23% of an email list decays annually. Every email list will have contacts that go bad, so remember to run your database through an email verifier no less than quarterly.

man with glasses in front of computer wearing short-sleeved shirt checking average email list decay report from zerobounce
Running your database through an email verifier allows you to see how many of your contacts have churned so you can remove them.

No unsubscribe button

Another common issue that causes poor email deliverability is the lack of an unsubscribe button. When people don’t have a way to leave your email list, they can always flag your email as spam. This will send ISPs the wrong message, leading algorithms to categorize you as a spammer.

Poor email design

Since users are weary of spammers, we can all agree that poor email design is sometimes a dead spam giveaway. 

Creating an email that is not responsive, useful, or even sports broken elements will surely earn you a place in the spam folder. So, always make sure to create emails with a clean design. Your campaigns should follow email marketing trends, as this is something spammers rarely – if ever – do.

Related: Why emails go to spam – and how to fix it

But now, let’s revisit the email example from before.

The email addressed me as “Boss.” Much like “Dear” or “Mam,” “Hey Boss” is not an appropriate greeting. In the era of segmentation and hyper-personalization, such greetings seem awkward, to say the least.

It would be best to add a personal touch by greeting your recipients by name. 

Lastly, spam words aren’t the only problem here. Have you ever seen an email with all caps like “URGENT: ACTION NEEDED”, or “CLAIM YOUR FREE PRIZE!!!!!!”?

If the answer is yes, did you think that it was a legitimate email? Too many punctuation marks, all caps, strange fonts and too many emojis can all trigger spam filters.

Be mindful of this before you harm your credibility with emails that go straight to the spam folder for no apparent reason.

117 email spam trigger words to avoid

There are many words you should use rarely in your marketing emails. We’ll look at the most common spam trigger words and highlight the ones that don’t belong in your copy.

Bonus tip: Avoid spam words in general, but especially in your subject line, as they can dramatically lower the chances of your email landing in the user’s inbox.

Common email spam trigger words: A non-extensive list

  1. Order status
  2. Order shipped
  3. Buy
  4. Free
  5. Urgent
  6. Urgent action needed
  7. XXX
  8. $$$
  9. Money
  10. Earn $$$
  11. Home-based
  12. Extra income
  13. Cheap
  14. Affordable
  15. Exclusive deal
  16. Act fast!
  17. Click
  18. Click this link
  19. Important information regarding
  20. Cash
  21. Credit
  22. Dear/Dear friend
  23. Your income
  24. Debt
  25. Collect
  26. Save big
  27. The following form
  28. You won’t believe this
  29. 100%/One hundred percent
  30. New customers only
  31. Make money
  32. Online biz
  33. Opportunity
  34. Be your own boss
  35. Earnings
  36. Passive income
  37. Work from home
  38. No cost
  39. Save big
  40. No credit card required
  41. Credit card debt
  42. Eliminate debt
  43. Package
  44. Social security number
  45. Lifetime
  46. Trial offer
  47. Weight loss
  48. #1
  49. No catch
  50. No hidden cost
  51. Prize
  52. Prizes
  53. Priority
  54. You won!
  55. Free sample
  56. Limited time
  57. Bonus
  58. +++
  59. Miracle
  60. Miracle solution
  61. Click here
  62. Email list
  63. Increase sales
  64. Mass email
  65. Spam email
  66. Link
  67. Amazing
  68. Cash bonus
  69. Compare rates
  70. Re:
  71. Order confirmation
  72. Order shipped
  73. Ad
  74. Opt in
  75. Risk free
  76. Score with
  77. Stock statement
  78. Will not believe your eyes
  79. Open cargo
  80. Best deal
  81. Invest
  82. Customer base information
  83. Affair
  84. Prescription
  85. Don’t delete
  86. Read this
  87. Cancel
  88. Last chance
  89. No gimmick
  90. No strings attached
  91. No obligation
  92. Refund
  93. Drug
  94. Promise
  95. Reply
  96. Stuff
  97. Strong
  98. Loan
  99. You’ve been selected
  100. Free cash
  101. Free money
  102. Don’t hesitate
  103. Instant access
  104. Terms and Conditions
  107. Dear [Name]
  108. Zero chance
  109. Eliminate bad credit
  110. Allowance
  111. Avoid bankruptcy
  112. Password
  113. Email harvest
  114. Offshore
  115. Clearance
  116. Meet singles
  117. Big bucks

Can spam words affect the entire email?

In short, yes. Not just because your email goes to waste (aka in the spam folder), but also because one slip of the tongue can earn you a reputation. And when you’re marked as a spammer by ISPs, it’s not easy to get out of that.

This is where smart email marketing tools can save you a lot of headaches.

Your email subject line

Writing a catchy subject line is great, sure. And you’ve probably seen humorous subjects like “This is NOT spam, we promise!” But capital words and the phrase “not spam” can look fishy to spam filters.

Invest in an email marketing platform to help A/B test your email subject line or provide a dedicated subject line tester. That way, you’ll know when your copy is risky to your email deliverability.

If you want even more reassurance, test your email deliverability with popular providers before sending your campaign. Inbox testers pinpoint potential issues so you can improve your content and design ahead of time.

Try ZeroBounce’s inbox tester

Your email copy

We all know that emails start with a “Hey, [First Name]” and then continue with the reason why the brand is contacting the recipient. At this stage, make sure to steer clear of words like “amazing,” “proposal,” “fantastic” and so on.

An eCommerce offer could very well start like this:

“Hey, friend. Fantastic news! We’ve got a limited time offer just for you!”

But this is a suspicious opening line. Even if spam filters don’t detect it, the user will flag it.

We already talked about broken design, but what happens when your body copy sounds slightly fishy?

Let me show you what I mean with another example from my own spam folder:

example of a spam email using emojis and words that can cause emails to land in spam

First, the emojis are a little too much. There’s mention of a specific dollar amount, plus the “sign up here” call-to-action (CTA). Also, I’ve never signed up for this newsletter. You see how all these elements leads me to believe this email is spam.

I know the brand tried to seem fun and score some much-needed customer engagement, but including figures and percentages, emojis and a link is not the best move.

Your email footer: CTA and signature

Your call-to-action (CTA) is not immune to commonly used email spam trigger words, as it’s where your brand urges users to take action. So make sure it’s not spammy.

Of course, your CTA alone won’t make you look like a spammer. But try to avoid phrases like “Act now” or “Click to claim.”

Also, when prospects get to your signature, be sure you look real. What do I mean by that?

Your email signature is what gives your message extra credibility.

For instance, if you’re an eCommerce store, include your social media profiles and a customer service email. If you’re an individual, include your LinkedIn profile, your brand’s website and your phone number.

Related: How to create a professional email signature

It’d be unfortunate to create and customize the perfect email template, segment and personalize your campaigns and end up in the spam folder – just because you didn’t polish your email signature.

Use email spam trigger words – but always in the right context

So, is it safe to use spam words in your emails? Some of you may choose to stay clear of them altogether, but you can include some of these words and phrases in your copy, so long as they are within context.

What matters more is to ensure that:

  • Your email list is valid and your bounce rate is under 2%
  • You segment your database so that you can send the most relevant content to each group of customers and prospects
  • Your email templates have no glitches and render correctly on desktop and mobile devices.

Otherwise, using spam trigger words, even sparingly, will send your email straight into the spam folder.

Author: Téa Liarokapi is a Senior Content Writer for Moosend, an email marketing and marketing automation platform. In her free time, she tries to find new ways to stuff more books in her bookcase and loves exploring new content ideas.