Best Practices for Using Subject Line Emojis

Before we get in to the best practice for subject line emojis, we need to discuss emojis in general. The first emojis were created by Shigetaka Kurita way back in 1999, to help facilitate electronic communication on NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode mobile Internet platform


It wasn’t until 2010, however, when they were adopted by Unicode, that emojis really took off. As of June 2018, there were a whopping 2,823 emojis in the Unicode Standard – which is just way too many emojis – and in 2015, the Face with Tears of Joy emoji (😂) was named the Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries.

Given how mainstream emojis have become, it was only a matter of time before they found their way into email marketing.

However you personally may feel about emojis, there is evidence that they can increase open rates and, ultimately, sales and conversions.

A Look at Subject Line Emojis

Take a look at this inbox:

Subject Line Emojis

One of the first things you’ll probably notice is that the subject lines with emojis draw more attention than the others. The reason for this should be obvious – an inbox is usually a dull wall of text, and adding colourful little pictures is a great way to stand out.

Why Use Emojis in Email Subject Lines?

Breaking the monotony of your audience’s mailboxes isn’t the only reason to use emojis in your subject lines. There are other benefits, and here we’ll give you four of them:

1. They help convey what words can’t

Ask any writer and they’ll tell you – conveying emotion through text is hard.

Consider these four examples:

  • I’m so excited. — This just sounds sarcastic.

I'm Very Happy Gif

  • I’m so excited! — That’s a little better, if a little flat

  • I’M SO EXCITED! — This could work – but spam-filters are sensitive to all-caps.

  • I’m so excited! 😁 — Perfect. The emotion is emphasised without triggering spam-filters.

While the sentiment of each message is the same, the feelings they convey are wildly different. This is the power of the emoji. They give words and phrases the emphasis they need, and including them can enforce the true meaning of your message. For this reason alone, they’re often convincing enough to make your subscribers actual open your emails.

2. They give your brand some personality

Modern consumers respond better to subtle, personalised messages, and using emojis in your emails can help to humanise your brand – giving it an identity and personality that your audience can engage with.

3. They save space

The ideal subject line is only 41 characters long – anything longer than that and you run the risk of clipping on mobile devices. For those not in the know, clipping occurs when the subject line is too long to display, and the email client simply cuts off that which exceeds the maximum character length. Do you know how short 41 characters actually is? The sentence in bold iss 48 characters. That short.

Using emojis allows you to convey more information with fewer characters – allowing you to replace a word or an entire phrase. Look at how this e-commerce brand saves valuable space by using an ice-cream emoji.

Subject Line Emojis

4. They’re easy to use

Because they’re supported on virtually every device and email client, emojis are extremely easy to use. They’re also simple to add, because usually you can just copy-paste them from a quick Google search.

Like everything in marketing, there are some best practices you should follow, and just because they’re easy to use doesn’t mean you should use them willy-nilly.

Subject Line Emojis – Best Practices

1. Don’t overuse them

People will probably start to get annoyed if all your subject lines look like this:

The reason emojis add value is because they stand out and are unique. Overusing them just comes off as spammy, and eventually people will start to tune them out. As a general rule, you should only be using one or two (strategic) emojis per subject line.

Which brings us to our next point. 

2. Make sure they serve a purpose

Any emoji you use in your subject line should serve some sort of purpose – whether you’re substituting a word or phrase, or emphasising the meaning of something. For example, many e-commerce brands use the lightning bolt or siren emoji to indicate flash sales or discounts:

Subject Line Emojis

They should also be relevant to your content. Don’t just insert a bunch of random emojis to try and capture attention, like this:

Any emoji you use should relate directly to your subject line or the content of your email, like this:

With more than 2000 emojis currently available, finding a relevant and purposeful one for your message shouldn’t be difficult.

3. Consider your audience and content

If emojis don’t fit in with your brand style, it is easy for them to come off as unprofessional and amateurish. When deciding whether or not to use emojis, 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.

Above all, email marketing should personalise messages to recipients, and you should only use emojis if you know that your audience will respond favourably. It’s probably a good idea to save them for people who know your brand – not one-off or first-time emails, such as welcome or abandoned cart emails.

For one-to-one emails, however, professionalism trumps personality, and it’s best to save the emojis for friends or clients you know very well.

4. A/B test for emoji support

One major consideration when choosing emojis for your subject lines is how they will display across various devices, browsers, operating systems and email clients – because the same emoji will often appear differently in Gmail vs. Yahoo, or on a Samsung phone vs. an iPhone.

Subject Line Emojis

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. These slight (or not so slight) differences can drastically alter the meaning of your message.

Subject Line Emojis

Of course, outdated software might not even display emojis – displaying a ☐ character instead.  That’s why testing your email subject lines across multiple devices and in multiple email clients and browsers before sending, to ensure the emoji appears correctly.

What Does the Data Say?

Research from Swiftpage tested the effects of subject line emojis,  sending emails to half of the company’s subscribers with an emoji, and the other half a text-only subject line. The test results showed:

  • 29% increase in unique open rate

  • 28% increase in unique click rate

  • 93% increase in click-through rate

Phrasee also conducted extensive scientific research in 2017, looking deeper at the performance impact of emojis in marketing language at scale. The results from that test showed that emojis work 60% of the time, increasing open rates by a quarter of a standard deviation.

The downside is, the other 40% of the time, they deter response by about the same margin:

Subject Line Emojis

Though I wouldn’t call the results conclusive, Phrasee does say that what emojis actually do is amplify a subject line’s message – meaning that adding an emoji will either make a bad subject line worse or a good subject line better.

Are you going to try email marketing with emojis?

While subject line emojis are a trend, and may have good results, they are definitely not appropriate for all brands, and they won’t fix an otherwise awful email campaign. Once everything else has been optimised – content, copy and design – try  try adding relevant emojis to amplify your message and increase open rates.