Emojis in Subject Lines: 7 Frequently Asked Questions Answered


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Twitter is full of them, cell phones have pages to choose from and now they’re popping up in email subject lines. We’re talking about emojis. From smiley faces to stars, emojis are now communication tools.

Once only popular to teenagers texting at warp thumb speed, emojis have entered email marketing – and many believe they’re here to stay.

In 2012, emojis really started taking off. They were a staple on cell phones, and soon email service providers started supporting the use of these characters. Now, there are close to one thousand emoji characters available.

It’s believed that about 2 percent of emails contain an emoji. Two percent might not seem like a big number, but when you consider 2.47 billion emails are sent everyday, two percent doesn’t seem so tiny anymore.

If you check your inbox on any given day, you’ll likely find several with emojis in the subject lines just like this:

emoji shot

These little symbols and emoticons have raised quite a few questions. Do they improve open rates? Are they right for every brand? If you cater to an older crowd, should you stay away from emojis? Where can you find them? What are the most popular emojis? Will they show up correctly in every inbox? What best practices are there?

To help brands navigate this new crush on emojis, we’ll answer these popular questions so you can decide if emojis are right for your business, and if they are, you’ll have the resources to use them effectively.

Do emojis improve open rates?

Emojis make a subject line standout in an inbox. Your eye is drawn to images and other symbols that are different than rows and rows of text. But is there any data to back that up? According to Experian, 56 percent of brands that use emojis in subject lines see increased open rates.

Other companies have run their own split tests to find email subject lines with emojis have higher open rates than those without. Swiftpage, for example, says their newsletter has a 3.29 percent higher open rate when there is an emoji in the subject line.

Will your business see similar results? The best way to see if open rates increase for your business is to run split tests just like Swiftpage did. Test the idea before adding emojis to high volumes of emails.

Are emojis right for every brand?

The short answer is no. Emojis aren’t fit for every brand. While emojis are socially accepted, they might not fit with your brand’s tone. If your brand is the button-up type that embraces a professional, conservative tone, for example, emojis aren’t for you.

Some people see emojis as unprofessional, so they aren’t appropriate in every arena. It wouldn’t seem right for investment banks with corporate clients, or an academic association to send an email with a subject line like, “We heart your business.”

If you think emojis fit your brand’s tone, and are something that your customers would enjoy seeing – go for it.

The point is you should take some time to consider whether or not emojis are right for your brand before jumping into the emoji pool.

If you cater to an older crowd, should you stay away from emojis?

Some people assume that emojis are great if a business is marketing to millennials, but are they an option for businesses with an older customer base?

While teen pop stars have made emojis look cool in their Twitter feeds, it doesn’t mean they are the only audience emojis are meant for.

Research shows the older generation actually prefers a little humor in their emails. MarketingLand says email subscribers between the ages of 45-64 found funny emails more acceptable than their younger counterparts. Of course, not all emojis are funny, but the research does suggest that you shouldn’t shut the door on emojis because you assume older people won’t appreciate them.

Test them out and see if your audience, young or old, responds to emojis.

Where can you find emojis for your subject lines?

If you’re on the hunt for emojis, there are several sites that allow users to copy and paste the emoji right from their site and add it to a subject line. Here are four popular sites to start with:

Which emojis are the most popular?

There are thousand of emojis, many of which will never make their way into an email subject line because they’re not relevant or appropriate for email.

However, since emojis are now center stage, there is some research that suggests certain emojis are more popular than others. The emojis winning the popularity contest are:


The heart, star and sun take top honors as the most popular emojis. While the heart is the most popular, research shows the sun has the best open rate. The sun had a 14 percent lift in open rates, while the heart only had a 2.2 percent lift, according to Experian.

Research from eConsultancy shows the snowman, sun and star can also increase open rates. The snowman, surprisingly enough, has an open lift rate of 65 percent. Yes, 65 percent. The black sun raises open rates by 20 percent, and the star raises rates by 10 percent.

Will emojis show up correctly in every inbox?

No. While the majority of email clients do support emojis, it’s not a 100 percent guarantee. That means that some subscribers might not see the emoji properly. In some cases, a black box will appear where the emoji is supposed to, or the word ‘emoji’ or ‘symbol’ might appear instead.

It shouldn’t stop you from trying emojis, but it is something you should be aware of.

What best practices are there?

There are some tips or best practices that you can use to ensure that your emoji use is beneficial to your overall email marketing strategy. Here are seven tips to follow when using emojis in email subject lines:

  • Use them sparingly

If you decide to use emojis, don’t go overboard. If you don’t use them sparingly the novelty will wear off and they’ll be less effective.

  • Make sure emojis make sense

If you add a symbol to your subject line, it should be in context. If you’re sending an email about beach getaways, the sun emoji makes perfect sense. The emoji should be a seamless part of your subject line, and should add to the text.

  • Use emojis to convey emotion

It’s not easy to convey an emotion with text. Rather than describing an emotion and taking up precious subject line space, use an emoji. 

  • Test emojis

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. You should test the effectiveness of emojis in your subject lines. Run a split test, also known as an A/B test. You’ll take a small group of contacts and split them into two groups. One group receives the subject line with an emoji, and the other receives the same email but without an emoji in the subject lines. See which one has the best success rates and make your decision based on real data from your subscribers.

  • Experiment with unique options

While we outlined the most popular emojis, it’s okay to try some unique options too. Emojis are meant to be different, so don’t feel like you have to stick to the top ten options.

  • Geography matters

If you have international customers or clients, keep that in mind when using emojis. Make sure emojis are appropriate, and be aware of cultural differences. What you think is a cute face, might be perceived differently aboard.

Testing also becomes important with a customer base that’s spread out geographically. Research shows that regions and languages can impact your emoji selection. Take a look at the chart below. Notice that English speakers prefer the happy face while French speakers prefer the heart. Test, test, test.


  • Create an emoji policy

If more than one person in your business sends emails to customers, make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to emojis. After several tests, come up with a policy that explains how and when emojis should be used in subject lines. Make sure everyone is aware of the policy.

With your questions answered, you’ll be the star emoji user at your business.