If there’s one thing that annoys me it’s marketers who try to change the words in their promo emails in an attempt to get past the spam filters.

You know, things like.

Grab your fr,ee report.

Make a ton of ca$h.

Earn more m0ney.

If you do that do you know you’re probably doing more harm than good?

While I don’t claim to be an expert in this field do you really think the spam filters can’t see past this attempt to beat them?

In fact you’re probably having the opposite effect and are probably labeling yourself as a spammer as you’re using the same tactics they do.

Not to mention the fact you’re probably offending some of your subscribers by using this cheap tactic. They aren’t stupid, they are real people who are reading your emails, and every email they read has an impact on how they feel about you.

My advice is don’t do it. I never have and it’s never caused me any problems. If you need to change anything simply use an alternative word if you have to but don’t resort to the same tactics as a spammer.

    23 replies to "It’s not fr,ee. It’s free stupid!"

    • Randy Smith

      For one of the first times ever John…

      I think we’ll have to agree to disagree 🙂

      I do take your point on board, and would heartily agree in principle.
      However – even in Aweber, if you use words like Free and Money, Opportunity, etc. too many times .. you will find their spam assassin tells you to remove these words ….

      As above 5 points and you won’t get delivered.

      Depending on the email provider it can be a 50/50 gamble if you have these words.
      In fact on one of my accounts even your list emails are always identified as spam – even after I have whitelisted you 🙁 (Luckily – it’s one that allows me to chose to delete my own emails – so I always get them)

      What you ARE right about – is trying to find alternate words.
      That would make the marketer a better person and show some education.

      However – One thing we can learn from the spammers – is that these words obviously have pull…

      Therefore provided that your emails are clear in terms of identifying your list (so people know it’s from you and want to receive it) – I honestly feel that people do understand the reasons why these words are split.

      That said – Just last week I read a comment from a newer marketer who assumed it was done to ‘highlight’ and ‘add impact’ to the word!

      As for the spam filters… there are so many variations of typing free with spaces, extra letters, and numerous character insertions – that the robots who read them cannot distinguish them apart unless someone writes a program containing them all.

      BUT – it’s clear they can see properly written words. And rather than risk going into the cyber-space junk box – I’ll stick with Fr’ee

      In terms of my open rates with a much smaller list than your John… it still makes a large difference…lol
      (even when I gave out software on my last blog post that inserts the * or ‘ for you – it was opened by more people due to the words Fr’ee Software — compared to my open rates when not mentioning a gift)…lol

      Here’s hoping I’ve added something to the debate – And that your loyal reader don’t all want to lynch me at dawn 😉

      Warm Regards as ever

    • John Thornhill

      Some good points Randy but I still have to disagree.

      I use the spam assassin service Aweber provides and always keep my score well down. In fact most of the time my emails score zero.

      And that’s sometimes with words like free, guarantee, money, etc in the email.

      In fact it’s quite hard to go over the 5 point limit.

      Unless your giving away a free make money report with a one time offer promoting a quick cash system with a money back guarantee 🙂

      My main point is that there is really no need to try and beat the filters but I’d love to see what others think.

    • Randy Smith

      [quote]Unless your giving away a free make money report with a one time offer promoting a quick cash system with a money back guarantee -:)[/quote]


      It was worth writing my comment just for that part of your reply….hehe

      It will be interesting to see what people think.

      It could be that having a smaller list I concern myself too much with getting as many as possible delivered – or it could be said that you have the luxury of not having to worry about it?

      So I’d also be interested if people have a strong view either way – whether they consider their list to be a small one or a larger one?


    • Omar Martin


      This is a good topic….
      I see you’re point and I also see Randy’s
      I recently tested this method to see if there was any difference.
      I sent out the same email 4 days apart and but I only used The “F.R.E.E.” method on the second broadcast. It kept my Spam Assasin score at zero and got 41% more click throughs. It maybe a coincidence. I’ll have to try it again sometime.
      I see your point though. I think that if we put our minds to it we can easily come up with good ways to substitute these “problematic” words without giving off the “spammer” impression to filters.


    • Ron


      I completely understand your point and have to agree somewhat with it.

      I am subscribed to a number of lists, mainly to ‘learn’ what others are doing as I go about building a list and marketing products, and the one thing that I don’t like is the use of the extra characters (*, -, $, #, etc.) being substituted in the messages to circumvent the spam filters.

      Now I understand the issue of deliverability, but when I see subject lines with those characters, or see those particular ‘words’ in the email, I tend to skim over them and NOT click on the links…..

      But, hey, that’s just me.

      I also try not to include those words in the emails that I send out and have yet to test click through ratios like Omar has.

      Anyway….my 2 cents worth…..

      Have a great one.


    • William

      I must agree with you John, and with Ron. It is highly annoying to see all these convoluted attempts to trick the spam filters. To me, comes across as very unprofessional and I have unsubscribed from several lists that use them extensively.

      I have yet to send out to any large lists in the IM field, as we are just building our first sites, but I have handled email lists extensively for clients in many different professional business sectors. In those market segments, if you used that sort of technique you would not last long, being looked at with suspicion.

      It is my belief that if one is using those problematic words often enough to cause spam filters to react negatively, then it is probably best to look at the style of copy writing as perhaps something that can be improved.

    • jamie

      This is a very timely discussion. I had been kinda annoyed by that practice (not sure why) but just earlier today I had read something that about had me convinced to start doing it myself. I’m glad I saw this, if nothing else, just to remind me not to go against my own gut feelings.


    • Leanne Boyd

      John, as usual, such a timely topic. Just today I was dealing with another issue, but still much the same. I was creating a thank you page and cancel/return page for a Paypal purchase and/or cancellation. Since these only ‘go’ to a buyer, I figured I didn’t have to cloak the email address. I usually do this by either using my contact station footer, or by using a JS script that cloaks it. But the more I worked with it, the more I saw that even a page like this, not really a ‘public page’ is also subject to the spam robots.

      And this got me to thinking.

      Lots of people use (and so have I) things like:

      myself [at] myself [dot] com

      How hard is this? Suddenly today I saw that someone out there could easily, or maybe already has…. coded a small program to recognize the two items in brackets, hug the things together, and send the spammer back a report with usable email addresses.

      And the same with using characters in your own newsletters, which I admit to having done. In fact, for several years. How difficult for someone to create a small software to pick up on the common varieties being used? And the list could grow. It would catch many of those uses, right away. And suddenly your/my/our newsletter gets tagged ANYWAY.

      The suggestion above, that the problem is probably in the copy… and to find better ways of wording things.

      It’s amazing what the ‘bots and ‘engines pick up on. Very early in the Internet game, back in about 1997, I posted a page to my university page, with a picture of me and my daughter, then 6, dressed in holiday satins, red and green. Called it Holiday Babes. And I ended up on NO end of lists!!!! The word ‘babe’ has been ‘blacklisted’ forever, it seems. And what that did, late 1990s, to the Christmas season and ‘babe in a manger’ songs and stories, was truly Unfunny.

      I’m very glad you posted this issue.

      One more comment however… I think the number of links in a newsletter does more damage than the use of many of these words, if you keep them to a useful minimum. At least when I was with Aweber a few years back, they really did not like that. And the [Ken Evoy] Siteseller tool for determining is your letter is spammy, did not like outward links, either.

      Now if they would only come up with a similar tool for all the paper junque that ends up in my snail mail box….


    • GregT

      Again John, I think you are on point. The only exception I can see that make sense is when I get my newsletter from Jim C0ckrum. 😉

    • Daniel Sumner

      Well I agree with John, Omar and Randy on this one. If it gets more clicks then fair enough, if it beats the spam filter then great. If it prompts your subscriber hit the unsubscribe button for using n0ne language t-e-x-t then where do you find the happy medium. As a marketer the choice is yours.

      Personally, I like to read and send a straight forward email without the use of edited words, however would I have been able to read this email if my spam filters were on? This has been a ongoing battle for years and it will probably only get worse. What would you have? More clicks or a good read? Or would the good read promote more clicks? Would people delete the email with F.R.E.E thinking it was a spammer even though it was delivered to more people?

      Its all down to personal preference.


    • Ray Johnson

      Gotta agree with Dan here…

    • Rhonda Holland

      When I get email with fr,ee and m0ney or other such things I usually delete them because I see them as SPAM. I figure a good writer could find a way to make their message readable without such tactics.

    • TomH

      I agree with John on this. Probably more strongly than he. You put that screwed up spelling in the email, then I delete immediately. It is not read, regardless who the email is from.

      I find it insulting. If you think more delivery equates to more read and appreciated, you just may be fooling yourself.

      And Randy, and others, do we really need to do the LOL thing after every sentence that may be in disagreement with the original comment? Really!


    • Hillbilly

      Hi John,

      Good topic. I have thought of this too, it kind of ties into the concept of defining Internet Marketing Ethics. If one wants to be ‘good’ which is better in the long run anyway then how do you determine where that line is?

      My thought is, everyone is different. Just like any business, everyone is unique in how they apply and work their business, including marketing to potential customers. As potential consumers, most of us are pretty used to this varied approaches anyway. So, my thought is to “go with your gut” if it feels wrong, don’t do it. If you don’t feel it is wrong, then proceed. Maybe try testing to see what happens to your list. Go to sleep at night feeling you have operated fairly and with integrity, chances are your business will do better for it in the long run.


      Jeromy AKA Hillbilly

    • Robbin K Tungett

      Good discussion John. This may seem strange, but I agree with you, even though I’m guilty of doing it. I have gone back and forth with this one. I don’t like to do it, so often I don’t… However, there are times that I use the word money and Aweber doesn’t like it so I change it to m0ney. I know people aren’t stupid and they see what I’m doing, and if anything it makes ME look stupid.

      You know what I really hate? I hate it when someone puts the same link over and over and OVER in their email.


    • Ade

      I agree with John.

      People really should know that spam bots are “clever” enough to see right past the trickery. Dan Thies also tells us that there is substantial evidence that Google takes into account the use of the word FREE, (and all the spammy counter measures), when it sits in judgment of how to index our pages or award quality score. Using the word “free” in its natural form is less likely to hurt you than trying to be clever.

      I also use Aweber and just sending out emails with normal content and using free, money and so on has not been an issue. To get the Aweber spamometer up to 5 and over is mind boggling. (Note to self; Gotta give this a go!)

      Email delivery is an issue and I am not sure it is possible to put a realistic figure on this. My reason for saying this is that if we take Yahoo for instance, (I believe AOL is even worse), there is no rhyme no reason to what it delivers and when. Important non IM emails may get delivered, may be filtered to the spam box or may get rejected or lost so you never see them. Additionally it may take anything from an hour to a week to receive an email. This is regardless of the content and “spammy” words.

      The procedure for junk email is exactly the same and may be delivered, filtered or lost so trying to figure out the delivery rate for certain words I believe is an exercise in futility for us mere mortals and even geeks with funds and resources to research this stuff can at best only obtain an approximation or trend.

      To me the all important point is that if you give good content people will read your stuff – assuming it gets delivered 😉 It’s no more complicated than that.

      Take John for instance. He used a subject line a while back “$5000 in 9 days!” Almost anybody else sending me this and I will unsubscribe.

      The thing is with John I know this Subject line is true and there is valuable content to follow otherwise it’s just from some marketing wannabee who doesn’t know Jack trying to sell me an affiliate program they have probably never even bought.

      Forget the spam filters and Google though. Readers are becoming savvy enough nowadays to see right past all this nonsense and they don’t need an algorithm loaded into them to instantly spot all variations of Free.

      A real pet hate of mine is people using Re: in the subject line to draw attention and attempt to fool the spam filters into thinking it’s a reply. Unsubscribe.

      If people just gave out good content and treated their list with respect, then resorting to Subject line / body content spam trickery is not even an issue for discussion.

      OK, I think I have strayed off topic somewhat so it’s time to stop.


    • Mark McWilliams

      TomH Said: And Randy, and others, do we really need to do the LOL thing after every sentence that may be in disagreement with the original comment? Really!

      LOL at Tom!… 😀

      Now lets get back on topic!

      For starters, I completely agree with what John is saying, but I ALSO agree with what Randy is saying! Now some of you might not know were I’m going with this next comment, but I’ll do my best to explain things!

      Spelling/Grammar Errors!

      Do you still just delete these emails if you don’t understand what someone is saying?! I meam lookd at this, completely accidental, but I bet sone of you just ignore whats I’m trying to put accross right?! (Yeah, I just just put some errors to try and prove a point!)

      So Mark, how come you don’t mind reading these emails with 0 $ ‘ * or even .???? Well the answer in my eyes is pretty simple, I can see through them and just see what kind of content the marketer is trying to send me! Heck if I unsubscribed from people who ever bothered to do something like what John is talking about then I wouldn’t be on many lists, if any!

      I mean look, Omar got around 40% more clicks because of it! There ain’t no point having a list, that is if you’ve started building one, and sending out followups or even broadcasts and nobody opening it! – Talk about a waste of time if nobody opens! 😉

      Well that’s either added to the debate, or maybe just irritated a few more people! Whatever it has, John AND Randy both have a point they make!


    • Dave Nicholson

      Hey John,

      I think you knew you were going to throw the cat among the pigeons when you wrote this! 🙂
      I kinda agree and kinda disagree … does that make sense?
      What I mean is that I do sometimes disguise the word ‘free’ as it is a spam blocker keyword and there’s not much point being marked as spam for the sake of a little apostrophe, I know what you are going to say here “use it in a different context” well, I think that no matter how you dress up the sentence with ‘free’ it is still going to mess with the spam filters, I don’t care what aweber scores it at. Another thing to remember is that these spam/filters are all interlinked, so if you’re down as a spammer in one, chances are you will be marked in a lot more.
      Saying all that the amount of people we are talking about here is negligible compared to the list size!
      Damn, you nearly got me off on a rant there! 🙂



    • John Reed

      I read both John’s and Randy’s output addressed to me because of who they are, and I don’t give a toss if there are odd spellings or not!
      However, on the other hand – if I receive mail from Justin Blake or Sebastian Foss (and these are just examples) I do the opposite, again because of my opinions!
      So if both John and Randy stick to their guns I’ll still be happy, and (I’ll bet) so will most of their readers.
      Oh yes, I do open Jim C0ckrum’s Mail, and JIM COCKRUM’s, and Jim Cockrum’s too – it’s all in the name!!
      Content-Content-Content Fellas

      Regards to all
      John O’York

    • natalie

      as long as i know who the email is from i don’t mind the occasional ‘ or *. i chose to subscribe to their list and i know they are trying to give me a message in the quickest possible way. it’s about the content not the spelling or grammar. an asterix in my inbox from john or randy is far preferable to knowing how adeeb grows his equipment for best pleasure (the latest in my spam box) tom, i really need to lol about adeeb.

    • Nick

      If you were to receive an email from your bank containing malformed words such as ‘fr’ee’ or ‘fr,ee’ in connection with an offer, you would raise an eyebrow or two. You would, wouldn’t you?

      As an internet marketer, however, you can get away with it to some extent because you are not perceived to be a real professional. Sadly, most internet marketers are held in the same contempt as spammers and scammers and they only have themselves to blame.

      So I have to agree with John. If you don’t want to tarnish your image and you do want to gain some respect, don’t do what the vast majority of internet marketers do.

      Just my two cents!


    • Frank Haywood

      Well, just browsing around and you’ve pushed a button here with me John.

      I wrote about this almost two years ago on my blog:-


      The comments I made then are as true today…

      (There’s a link on that post to an article Tom Kulzer of Aweber wrote around the time saying don’t use word variations as it hurts you, with a good explanation of why.)

      Your email deliverability is reduced to ZERO using word variations (I GUARANTEE sys and network admins know a lot about marketers and their tactics). Using those variations will mark you loudly and clearly as a spammer to them, even if you use double opt-in and you consider yourself as clean as the driven snow.

      And let’s not forget readability. It drives me mental (it REALLY does), to see to see typos in my own work let alone emails I’m receiving from other marketers. 😉

      So deliberately adding in mistakes in a vain attempt to get through spam filters is a bad move for both the reasons above.

      Here they are again:-

      #1 – They get filtered at the mail providers network level so your carefully crafted emails don’t even make it to your subscribers spambox, let alone inbox.

      #2 – It hurts readability and the flow of your email.

      Just don’t do it.

      -Frank Haywood

    • James Anderson

      I wanted to thank you for your statements on this subject. I don’t know how many of the vendors lists that I am on, but I can sure tell you that when they send me information with any of the tactics you mention here, they immediately get deleted. Even if its the best product I would have ever seen….zap they are gone.

      Thanks and keep up the great content…!!


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