Emoji usage has multiplied over the past several years, leading to the use of email subject line emojis.
The first emojis were created in 1999 by Japanese artist, Shigetaka Kurita, who wanted to create a unique interface to transfer information in a simple way. But it wasn’t until Unicode adopted emojis in 2010 that they really took off, and as of June 2018, there had grown to be 2,823 emojis in the Unicode Standard.
With emojis now mainstream, it was inevitable they would eventually find their way into email marketing.
Today, we’ll share some of the pros and cons of subject line emojis, as well as how to use emoji in email subject lines to increase open rates and, ultimately, sales and conversions.
A look at email subject line emojis
Notice all the emoji symbols in the email subject lines here:
A few things to note here…
First, messages with emojis in their subject line draw more attention than all the rest. Inboxes are traditionally dull interfaces filled with lots of text; adding emojis is a fantastic way to stand out with some colorful visuals and make people click through.
Second, the snapshot above is from the Promotions tab in Gmail. That’s because subject line emojis are commonly used by ecommerce brands that have a singular, distinct reason to use them: they exist in a digital space. Meaning ecommerce customers generally visit ecommerce sites through smartphones and tablets, which are ground-zero for emoji use.
Why use emojis in email subject lines?
Making your email visually appealing isn’t the only reason to incorporate emoji into the subject line. Here are four other benefits:
They help convey what words can’t
Sometimes it’s hard to put emotions into words. Consider these four examples:
- “I’m so excited.” — The period doesn’t convey too much excitement, does it?
- “I’m so excited!” — That’s a little better.
- “I’M SO EXCITED!” — Now we’re getting somewhere… except spam-filters are sensitive to all-caps.
- “I’m so excited! 😁” — Perfect. Now the emotion is emphasized without triggering spam-filters.
The sentiment of each message is the same, yet the feelings conveyed are different. Emojis can give words and phrases the emphasis needed to excite or intrigue. Including them enforces your message’s meaning and are often convincing enough to make subscribers open the email.
They add personality to your brand
Today’s consumers respond better to subtle, personalized messages. Adding emojis to your email marketing strategy helps humanize your brand, giving it personality and identity. Defining and strengthening that personality throughout your marketing can, in turn, boost brand awareness.
They save space
Email subject lines are limited, depending on the inbox. Especially on mobile, where even fewer characters are shown.
Emoji allow more information with fewer characters, by replacing a word or even an entire phrase. Look how AT&T saves characters in their email by using a gift emoji allowing it to fit perfectly on a mobile screen:
They’re easy to use
Emoji is easy to use in email primarily because it’s supported on almost every device and every inbox client. It’s also simple to utilize because adding an emoji can be as easy as copy-paste.
Just because it’s easy though, doesn’t mean you should start inserting emojis without understanding how to use them. So here are some tips and best practices to get you started.
Best practices when adding them to your email subject line
1. Don’t overuse them
Recipients will likely get annoyed if all your email subject lines look like this:
Emojis add value to subject lines because they’re unique and stand out, but overdoing it could come off as spam. If you’re shamelessly stuffing all your subject lines with them, it won’t be long before people catch on and start to ignore you.
As a best practice, only use 1 or 2 per subject line, and do it strategically. Which leads to the next point…
2. Make sure they serve a purpose
Whether you’re substituting words or phrases, or emphasizing a message, emoji usage should have a purpose. Even if you’re using one outside of its intended purpose, that’s still acceptable — as long as you know its purpose with no room for misinterpretation.
For example, many ecommerce brands use the lightning bolt emoji to indicate a flash sale:
Emoji should also be relevant to your content. Don’t insert just any emoji in your subject line solely to capture attention, like both of these:
Instead, your emoji should match the subject line and relate directly to the email content:
The clock symbol conveys a sense of urgency, which indicates that this deal won’t last forever, and emphasizes that recipients should act quickly so they “don’t miss out.”
The wide variety of emoji available makes it easy to choose a relevant, purposeful one for each of your messages.
3. Consider your content and audience
It’s easy for emoji to come off as unprofessional, so if they don’t fit with your campaign or brand style, don’t use it.
Consider factors such as:
- Does your audience use them? — Social intelligence tools can help determine this.
- Have you used them in other communications? — Don’t use them in your emails if they’re not found anywhere else in your digital marketing efforts.
Since email marketing should personalize messages to recipients, emojis should only be used when you know your audience will respond favorably. For instance, using them for first-time or one-time customers (such as in welcome or abandoned cart emails) might turn people off because they’re not as familiar with your brand.
For one-to-one emails, professionalism trumps personality. So in this case, it’s best to save emojis for personal, known interactions. If you’ve never met your recipient in person, leave the emojis out.
4. A/B test for emoji support
One of the main concerns is how emojis display across various email clients, operating systems, browsers, and devices. For example, the same emoji will appear differently in Gmail and Yahoo Mail. These differences are based on the receiver’s specs, so how emojis look on your screen won’t be the same as they look on the recipient’s screen.
Look at the difference how various emojis render across different desktop, web, and mobile email clients:
In some rare cases, outdated email clients, browsers, or operating systems won’t even display emojis. Here, the recipient will see a ☐ character instead. That’s why it’s important to test your email subject lines in multiple email clients, browsers, and devices before sending, to ensure the emoji appears correctly.
What does the data show?
2012 research from Swiftpage tested the effects of subject line emoji, sending half of the company’s subscribers emails with emoji, and the other half a text-only subject line. The test results showed that emoji in the subject line demonstrated:
- 29% increase in unique open rate
- 28% increase in unique click rate
- 93% increase in click-through rate
In 2017, Phrasee conducted extensive scientific research to look deeper at emojis in marketing language and the impact of its performance at scale. Their researched showed that 60% of the time, emojis work — lifting open rates by about a quarter of a standard deviation. However, when they fail to perform well (about 40% of the time), they deter response by about the same margin:
Inconclusive results at best — so an emoji, in itself, won’t make or break a subject line. However, according to Phrasee, what emojis actually do is amplify a subject line’s message. So adding an emoji will either make a bad subject line worse or a good subject line better.
Your turn to try email marketing with emojis
Subject line emojis are certainly a trend but not appropriate for all brands. Once you’ve optimized your email content and the subject line copy, try adding relevant emojis to amplify your message and increase open rates.
Crafting a persuasive email subject line is only the first step toward producing better ROI with your email marketing efforts. If you don’t follow through on that impression, you’ll lose any momentum towards a sale. That’s why it’s just as important to optimize the post-click experience. Provide visitors with a dedicated email post-click landing page and review the guide below to maximize your post-click optimization opportunities.