Special Delivery—Why Using “Free” in Your Subject Lines Can Cost You Big

Share the Knowledge:

Free. But not quite clear.

Using the word free in your subject lines can cost you big.

For the first two parts in our email deliverability series click here and here

At some point, Webster’s Dictionary should have to re-write the definition of a headache as creating a perfectly legitimate online offer only for it to end up being flagged and sent hurtling helplessly into the infinite abyss of a Spam folder. The equivalency of a false start in every way imaginable, we utilize our marketing expertise here at Hownd to save you money on Excedrin and minimize the risk to ensure that your email reaches your targeted client list without arising the suspicion of highly sophisticated spam filters. For those that prefer to get their hands dirty and create and distribute offers on their own, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty on why the word “Free” should start being substituted for a safer alternative.

An Itchy Trigger Filter

In the case that you’re feeling out of the loop, the way spam filters work is that they assign ratings to your email. Based on a myriad of factors from your list size and reputation to the contents of your email and subject line, falling prey to the ever-evolving spam filters via a poor rating is easier than you’d think. While using “free” freely may not rate near the top of common offenses, the context in which you use it is what to take away here. That means using the word in conjunction with “offer”, “deal”, or any other sales vernacular typically can have a negative effect on your deliverability rates. The same goes for combining “free” with emails using all-caps, color highlighted text, punctuation, spelling mistakes or an excessive number of fonts can cause a comparable crash and burn into the junk folder.


One angle to keep in mind when using free as an incentive for any of your services is what the customer is going to think if your offer does find its way to their inbox. This is where having a key understanding of your consumers’ behavior comes into play. Generally speaking, are they the type to find instant gratification at the first sight of something free? Or are they a solid bet to give a skeptical side-eye as if to say “okay, what’s the catch?” like you were trying to peddle something too good to be true. While your mileage may vary, the word free is capable of garnering unpredictable responses even when attached to the back end of an enticing BOGO special.

To Put it Another Way

All in the interest of keeping you spam-free, we’ve instrumented some alternatives to keep you safe. For those in the Health & Beauty, Salon, Float or Med Spa industries consider using “complimentary” in place of free, as in “Receive a complimentary facial with the purchase of a 60-min massage”. Adding a touch of class and exclusivity to your campaign, such a term effectively illustrates the incentive without sounding pushy or unprofessional.

For Family Entertainment Centers such as roller skater rinks, bowling alleys, arcades, and laser tag arenas try turning the fun up a notch by opting to use “on us” in the same manner as free. Becoming somewhat of a standard lately in the advertising world with companies such as Sprint, Chipotle, and Target among others helping to popularize the phase in the mainstream, this alternative creates a relatable, friendly, and unmistakenly inviting feeling around your special offer.

Recent Posts

New to Hownd?
Sign up now to share promos, get customers, and make money!


We Deliver Revenue and Customers to Your Business

Want to see how?
Just fill out this form and we'll be in touch!

    Business Location:
    Let us know where your business is located to get the best available offer. If your business qualifies, you may be able to get Hownd and/or other benefits at a reduced cost through one of our partnerships.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.