Can Adding Emojis to Your Email Subject Line Improve Your Open Rates?

Most people have different opinions when it comes to using emojis in email subject lines. Do they increase or hinder your email open rates? This article provides data-backed insights into the effects of using emojis in your email subject lines.

Can Adding Emojis to Your Email Subject Line Improve Your Open Rates?

One thing most marketers want to achieve when running email marketing campaigns is improving the open rates. As long as email exists, marketers will continue to put in a great deal of effort to summarize a text and entice people to open an email. It's no surprise that there’s a gradual increase in the way marketers use emojis in email subject lines. But can adding emojis really improve your open rates? Do they help your message stand out in your recipient’s inbox? Or do they just annoy subscribers?

To find out the best answers to these questions, let’s go through what research data has revealed about using emojis in subject lines. You’ll also learn about the factors to consider before you use emojis in your subject lines.

Table of contents

  1. The effects of using emojis in your email subject line (based on research data)
  2. Best practices for adding emojis to your email subject line
  3. The bottom line

The effects of using emojis in your email subject line (based on research data)

Emojis may or may not increase open rates

Recent studies have shown that using emojis in subject lines only affects the open rate occasionally.

Research conducted by Return-path found that adding an emoji during festive seasons does increase email open rates. They compared the main email marketing metrics of festive emails that used emojis to regular emails without a smiley in the subject line. The top-3 seasonal emojis performed roughly 3-4% better than average in terms of open rate.

Another study conducted by a search engine journal revealed that emojis in subject lines show a slightly lesser open rate and non-emoji subject lines are preferable. The comparison of wins for emoji versus non-emoji returned the answer that subject lines without an emoji had the higher open rate at 52.94% to 47.06%.

Experian, on the other hand, reported that 56% of brands using emojis in their email subject lines had a higher open rate.

The only unbiased conclusion that can be made from this data is that emojis don’t provide consistent results when it comes to boosting email open rates.

Emojis in subject lines may lead to negative sentiment

Just because an emoji grabs attention doesn’t mean that it could lead to more open rates - sentiment comes into play here. Research conducted by the Nielsen Norman group asks their participants to select  3 words from a list to describe email subject lines with emojis. Two negative words (Boring and Dull) were selected much more often when participants viewed emails that contained emojis. Email subject lines on the other hand were considered to have more value.

Does this mean that you should or shouldn't add emojis to your email subject line? It means that you should think carefully before you add emojis in email subject lines.

Emojis can do one of the three things:

  • It can make a bad subject line worse. For example, if you're running a sales campaign and pressure customers to buy your products by using misleading tactics. Then adding an emoji could even make you look like a spammer. A subject line like this is an example of what you should avoid doing: “🙌 Jackpot! 😱  You've earned 2️⃣0️⃣% off 🔥 new 👕👚 now‼️✨".
  • It can cause an audience to have a negative sentiment
  • It can make a good subject line better

There are different factors (target audience, niche, occasion, seasons, etc.) to consider when trying to figure out if using emojis is ideal for your brand and audience. In other words, what works for another person may not necessarily work for you.

However, you can apply the best practices for using emojis in your subject lines. If you throw in emojis in your subject lines for fun and grab your audience's attention, your open rates could be negatively affected. Instead, you must be strategic when it comes to adding emojis in your subject lines.

Best practices for adding emojis to your email subject line

1. Use relevant emojis

Using an emoji that is completely irrelevant to your subject line can create the wrong impression. It can make you seem out of touch and your audience may feel that you don’t know how to communicate your message appropriately. As a result, you can end up in the spam folder or get more unsubscribes.

Instead, use emojis that convey the emotion that your subject line aims to achieve, just like this example from Dominos:

Dominos: An example of using emojis to convey the emotion that the subject line aims to achieve. (Source)

In other words, there’s no point using a love emoji to announce the launch of a new product.

2. Understand your audience

It’s important that you consider how your audience will respond to emojis in your email subject line. Remember that your audience is individuals with different preferences, behaviors, gender, age, etc. For this reason, they will interpret emojis in different ways.

For example, younger audiences respond well to emojis better than older audiences. A study revealed that 68% of millennials view emojis positively compared to 37% of an older audience over 65 years old.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use emojis for an older audience. it just means that you should consider the type of emoji to use and the context in which you use them. You can decide to use emojis during special events in a conservative manner.

Overall, consider segmenting your email contact list and tailor your emojis to appeal to each customer segment.

3. Consider different devices and different ESPs to avoid misinterpretation

It's not just age difference that can affect emojis in the subject line. Another important thing you need to consider when adding emojis in email subject lines is how they will be displayed on your recipient’s device and ESP. An emoji will not be displayed the same way across different devices. For example, take a look at how the smiley face renders across different devices:

An example of how a smiley face renders across different devices. (Source)

The good thing is that you don't have to worry about opening your email on different mobile devices. You can easily find out how an emoji will appear on various devices like Emojipedia. This site enables you to copy the emoji to your clipboard so it will be easy to paste in your subject line field.

Also, not all email service providers support the display of emojis in the subject line :

Email service providers that do and do not support the display of emojis in the subject line. (Source)

4. Don't go overboard with emojis

It's tempting to want to explore and have a little fun with many colorful emojis but you need to remember that a little goes a long way. You should avoid including too many emojis in your subject line. There's no need to add a double smiley face when a single one can do the job. Emojis are meant to supplement your subject line, not be the whole message.

5. Use popular options

Research by Econsultancy revealed the best and worst symbols to include in your email subject lines. The snowman symbol had a huge effect on compelling people to open an email. In the second place, is the sun symbol followed by the star symbol.

Econsultancy: the best and worst symbols to include in your email subject lines. (Source)

While using popular options can be beneficial, it's also important to consider the context in which you use emojis. Do you think adding a sun symbol in email subject lines during winter will significantly improve your open rates?

So, remember to use them when applicable.

6. Test your subject lines

This list wouldn't be complete without A/B testing. Just because something works for others doesn't mean that it will appeal to your audience. The best way to know how your audience perceives emojis is by running an A/B test. You need to test different variations and figure out what gets the best results. After running a couple of tests, you should start to see the effect emojis have on your subject line.

The bottom line

Emojis in email subject lines can grab people’s attention while conveying the emotion or idea behind your message. However, when you misuse them for the sake of grabbing attention and increasing your open rates, you stand the risk of being identified as a spammer. This could provide negative results in your email marketing campaigns.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use them in your email subject lines. While research study has shown that people tend to perceive emojis the wrong way, emojis can still have a positive effect on your subject lines.

If you’re trying to increase your email open rates, emojis are a great tool that you can use. However, you shouldn’t rely on them as a strategy of its own. Instead, think of emojis as an accessory to spice up your subject lines. Remember, the only way to know what works for your brand and audience is to run an A/B test.

With Engage, you can add any type of emoji to your subject line when using our application or your email gateway that is already integrated. You also get to preview your draft email on a mobile or desktop screen, to see how the emoji(s) make your subject line look better and consequently improve your open rate. Sign up for free!