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Revealed: Spam trigger words… are a myth!


Read time: 7m

Picture the scene: You’ve spent hours creating an email, it’s sure to be a hit with your mailing list… except it goes straight into the spam folder.



But, that’s just how it is, right? Like, when you play the game of email marketing, you reach the inbox, or you don’t. There is no middle ground.

Or, so we thought. I’ve actually recently found out that everything I thought I knew about spam filters and trigger words may not have been as reliable as I thought it was.


So, let’s dive into that one, shall we?

Back to basics: How do spam filters work?

Unsurprisingly, it takes more than words to beat the spam filter.

And, with more than 306.4 billion emails sent every day in 2020 (which is a staggering 74 trillion emails per year), spam filters have to work pretty hard to break through the noise – especially when 55% of all sent emails are spam.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that not all spam filters are created equally, but many of them share similar functionalities.

Many mail and internet service providers (like Gmail and Outlook) now have to look beyond an email’s content to determine whether or not it reaches your inbox. But, there are also contributing factors to an email’s fate:

1. Where the email has come from

Internet service providers assign all organisations that send emails with a sender score. Your sender score is a pretty good indication of your reputation as a sender. The higher your score, the more likely it is that your mail will land in its recipient’s inbox.

Unfortunately, once your score falls below a certain threshold, the more likely it is that the spam filter will kick in. Thankfully, by regularly monitoring your mailing list (as well as opens and clicks), you’ll be able to preserve your sender score.

2. Your reputation as a sender

Are you living your email marketing life as your true, authentic, self?

Knowing you’re legit is one thing – proving it is another matter entirely. There are three standards for email authentication:

  • Sender Policy Framework (SPF): Is a sender’s domain coming from where it’s supposed to be?
  • DomainKeys Identified Email (DKIM): A “digital signature”, that shows your email is authorised and also associated with your domain.
  • Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC): The big guns: A policy and reporting layer above SPF and DKIM, to help combat spoofing and phishing.

Even with the added security, spammers are always evolving in-line with the filters designed to keep them out of inboxes.

So, what’s the solution? Providers got smart. They gave the power of determining spam to their users. Ultimately, once your email is classed as spam by the user (even if your mail is legitimate), it becomes harder for marketers and spammers alike to play the spam system.


Plus, the more abuse complaints a campaign receives, the bigger the sign that you probably need to reevaluate your broader email marketing strategy!

Existing subscriber engagement

Email engagement is serious business – and has been for quite a while. Even as far back as 2014, Gmail’s Anti-Spam team was encouraging marketers to “Think of how you can make the user love your emails, rather than how to land in the Inbox”.

By utilising advanced algorithms, spam filters now look at how your existing audience is interacting with your mail. If they’re opening their emails, making purchases, or forwarding onto friends – great! If they’re marking them as spam, or deleting your emails as soon as they arrive… it’s going to impact your sending marketing emails in future.

So, are spam trigger words really a thing of the past?

More or less.

At least, that’s according to Litmus, anyway.

But, this is just the latest instalment of a forty-year-old back-and-forth between spam filters and spammers.

Back when email marketing first took off, it was helpful for marketers to have a list of words that would help emails escape the junk folder. The list wasn’t a secret – if the marketers knew what they were, then the spammers did, too.

Once the spammers knew how to get into an inbox, the spam filters had to get smarter. So, sure, while words may have helped marketers avoid the junk folder in the ‘80s, it is 2021 now.

What if I’m caught in an email delivery nightmare?

If you’re stuck in some sort of nightmare-ish email hell, as a result of underhand email marketing techniques, wiping the slate is easier said than done.


Ultimately, in order to avoid the spam filter, you need to be able to prove you’re legitimate, and also create content that your audience engages with, and loves. By the time your sender reputation has been tarnished, you have way more to worry about than spam trigger words!

But, hopefully, you’ll never reach that point.

What does this mean for email marketing in 2021?

If you haven’t got the gist of this by now, then I’ll make it obvious:

All these years, everything you thought you knew about spam trigger words was (more or less) nothing more than an email deliverability myth.

(That doesn’t mean you should go out and paint inboxes everywhere with spam words, by the way.)


If a user loves your mail content, then their spam filter shouldn’t stop it reaching the inbox. If this isn’t happening, think about why a user may be marking your emails as spam, and not why the spam filter is stopping your mail from reaching its end destination.

It’s 2021: the time has gone for just being legitimate – your emails need to be wanted, too.

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