Never Use The Word ‘Free’ – Email Marketing Tips

Updated: January 9, 2017
by Ray Alexander

A while ago I spoke about 'spam words' that we should not be using in our email newsletters according to the suggestion by GetResponse and example phrases ("How To Avoid Email Spam Filters"). For the past few months I've been obsessively monitoring daily incoming emails by signing up with 50+ affiliate marketing sites, and discovered some "spammy patterns" myself.

I have received over 6,000 emails broadcast by AWeber and GetResponse since the beginning of October 2016, and have been checking what's arrived in my Inbox and what's gone into my junk mail folder on a daily basis. I started it purely for a practical reason; there are many sites that list up "spam phrases", but frankly there are too many. I can't remember all that! I can't write anything if those words are really, all censored by email servers. "Great offer" "Insurance" - are they really spammy words? What do insurance companies do to promote themselves by email without using the word "insurance"? It's hard to believe, isn't it.

Never Use The Word 'Free' - Email Marketing Tips

In fact I've found 40+ emails in my inbox with the phrase "great offer"​ in the message body. So you can use that phrase... However there are some "what not to do's" talked about and considered spammy among email marketers. Emails with these patterns have been found in my junk mail folder with very few exceptions.

Please note once again: the emails that I've checked and the numbers mentioned here are all published by affiliate marketers using either AWeber or GetResponse. All others are ignored. I use Gmail as well as but I've exclusively checked Gmail's filtering system. I guess the filter level varies from provider to provider, but's normal setting seems to be much more strict.

'Free' - No, No and No.

The word "free" is commonly known as a spammy word among affiliate marketers. I daren't use the word in my email myself, and after the exercise I think I've proven it here;

Out of 5,000+ emails, I found 10 emails with the word "free" in the message body, all but one were found in my junk mail folder. These emails were sent by 5 affiliate marketers. Let's say marketers A, B, C, D and E.

  • I was receiving emails from marketers A, B and C every day, but one particular email from each one that arrived in my junk mail folder had the word "free" in the message body.
  • Marketer D was running a particular product campaign with a free bonus and he used the phrase "free giveaway" over three emails in a row. Not only those emails but all his following emails were sent to my junk mail folder. That shows my Gmail may have recognised his entire broadcast as a spam.
  • ​One very recent email from marketer E with the word "free" has been found in my inbox. This may be because I have been her subscriber for a while (3+ months)? Or the word was used in below-fold (i.e. towards the end of her email)?

This is so inconvenient, I know! There are many opportunities where you often want to tell your subscribers about some free gifts, free downloads, free access to membership etc. Here are some alternative way to say it instead of using the word "free".

  • It's F-R-E-E!
  • F*R*E*E download here!
  • It's freeee for you! (sounds stupid but many of us use it)
  • Its f ree for you! (as if you've accidentally left a space in between)
  • Question Circle
    It's f'ree / It's fr'ee / It's fre'e.

I've found 30+ emails with these expressions have safely been landed in my inbox (unless there are other spammy elements that I'll mention later on). I've tried all except the last one myself too - and my emails have successfully been sent to the recipients' inbox (i.e. measured by comparative open rates).

However I've had second thoughts since and avoid using them completely. These made-up words such as f'ree, freeeee may not be censored as spam, but they look stupid and can make the whole context spammy. Instead, I would say;

  • There's nothing for you to pay!
  • Absolutely zero cost!

Punctuations & Symbols

​It is said that excessive use of punctuation marks and symbols such as the following can get you into spam.

  • This is an awesome offer!!! You can't miss it!!!
  • It's only......available for......24 hours!
  • You can find it -------- HERE >>>>>
  • Do you like it? Really? Are you really sure???
  • It's soooo #$%@&ing amazing!

I generally found a lot of emails in my junk mail folder with repeated punctuation marks & symbols, especially in the subject line. I personally try not to use any of them, e.g. exclamation mark ! even once in the subject line.


Enojis in email marketing

​I'm really not sure of emojis... Many email marketing experts swear by the use of them (i.e. grabs attention and increase open rates). I have manually searched for emails with emojis (both in subject line and in message body), and they seem "safe". I didn't find any emails with emojis in my junk mail folder, because of the use of emojis.

But in my experience emojis can annoy some subscribers, resulting to unsubscribe. I feel I've lost quite a few because of emojis - but I cannot say it for sure without the numbers to demonstrate or to prove there were no other factors involved. (Such as my message content did not help them decide to unsubscribe.)

This article is based on my own experiences and personal opinion, plus what's been discussed with my fellow affiliate marketers. Therefore you may disagree some of the logics or disagree entirely - if you use AWeber or GetResponse and have a different idea, please feel free to leave a comment below.

About the Author

ASD. Recovering alcoholic. LGBTQ+ advocate. Semi-retired. 15+ years of web-designing experience. 10+ years affiliate marketing. Ex-accountant. I'm nice and real. Ask me if you need any help in starting up your home business.

Thank you for your Comments!

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  1. Interesting ideas. I am new doing affiliate marketing and hope I can see a difference after trying out some of your ideas. Many Thanks!

  2. Well the word Free real makes us interested and exited. I have also used the word FREE for e-mail marketing and it has been recommended by many internet marketers. You promise people a “free” report or video in exchange for their e-mail address and soo on.
    No wonder that it is now considered spammy. It has just been used and overused over and over again.

    1. Hi Jojo, thanks for your comment. Yes, you provide free stuff in exchange for subscription in the beginning – that’s ok because the new subscriber will search everywhere including the junk mail folder for your email in order to obtain the free gift. The problem is after that – if you don’t tell them to mark your email address “not spam”, your future emails may not reach their inbox. It’s frankly ridiculous that we cannot use such a common word “freely”!

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