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Should You Use Emojis in Your Email Subject Line? [Plus Best Practices for Adding Them]

9 min

Much like public transport, our inboxes are crowded places. Approximately 90 emails, the average that a working person receives daily, jostle together, bumping into each other in an attempt to get the recipient’s attention.

Naturally, the sender puts in all the efforts to make his email stand out, including personalizing the subject line and making the recipient feel special. Some may even pop in an emoji – a trend that has picked up from 2017 with 5% of the global subject lines including one or more emojis.

But are they enough to encourage people to open their emails?

The curious minds over at Litmus had the same question, so they tested their open rates, learning that adding emoticons in their subject lines increased their open rates by 10-15%. Similar results were observed in the Email Marketing Benchmarks report from GetResponse.

Yellowball, a digital marketing agency, however, did not have such luck since their tests showed that open rates dropped 2% below their average. And they’re not alone in this, the same thing happened to Jamie Turner, of 60 Second Marketer, when he was testing his email subject lines.


Confusing, right? The answer seems to be a mixed one. So let’s explore further to get a more accurate picture.

We’ll dig into what research has to say, how emojis can benefit email marketing, and whether you should add them to your subject lines, alongside tips on how to add emoticons for best results.

Let’s get started.

Related: How to write email subject lines that get your emails opened

What research on emojis in email subject lines says

2016’s The AppBoy Emoji Study learned that emoticon-containing subject lines have bumped up email open rates by 15% year-over-year. The same study also pointed out that these smiley faces didn’t impact click-through rates.

Similarly, Mobile Marketer reported on another study that concluded that emoji-bearing emails witnessed 66% higher open rates. Experian and Econsultancy took a deeper dive into the matter. They went on to scout the influence of different types of emoticons on the email open rate.

Experian’s research showed that:

  • Emojis in subject lines encouraged an open rate that was 56% higher than text-based subject lines
  • The black sun emoticon upped open rates by 15%
  • The umbrella emoji lifted open rates by 50%

At the same time, here’s Econsultancy’s 2015 data showing the champion emojis as well as those that negatively influenced email open rates:

Despite these findings, marketers using emojis in their email subject lines have trickled down from 6.5% in the last quarter to 3.94% lately.

In Econsultancy’s research, the team learned that emojis bumped up open rates 60% of the time, in contrast with no-emoji subject lines. However, 40% of the time, the emoji played a negative role or no role at all.

Here’s the formatted data:

So what should you do? The mixed results indicate that emojis could work for you if used correctly (more on that in a bit). “Emojis don’t bite” as the senior account manager at GetResponse, Przemysław Depka Prondzinski points out.

So you can give them a shot, right? Let’s see how smileys and symbols can benefit you.

Benefits of adding emojis to email subject lines

First things first, are emojis fit for use in professional settings? Luckily, there is a straight answer to this – yes. Findings from the University of Missouri-St. Louis deduced that an emoji was always a winner as compared with a word from the Oxford dictionary. This was true in formal settings too.

In fact, the study learned that emojis helped make communication friendly. Even if a sender added four emoticons in his work email, the sender’s credibility wasn’t affected.

Talking specifically about subject lines, though, emoticons reap the following benefits:

Emojis make you more approachable

Emoticons can make you appear as an approachable person, which is crucial, considering most of our communication takes place in a digital setting.

In a study, participants were asked to chat with health and film experts who used or avoided emojis. For both of the topics, the participants rated experts more competent and friendlier when they used emoticons rather than when they avoided them.

Emojis capture attention in a crowded inbox

Subject lines work a lot like fishing lines that try to hook recipients’ attention. Since inboxes are text-dominated, emojis can serve as the right baits to get attention.

For instance, note how emails with emojis stand out here by adding color to the sea of black and white text:

Emojis in email subject lines stand out in the crowded inbox
Emojis in email subject lines stand out in the crowded inbox

Emoticons save space in the subject line

55% of the emails are now opened on mobile devices. That’s over half of all the emails. Naturally, you need to be optimizing your subject lines for mobile.

In other words, you have 30-40 characters before your subject line is truncated. Emojis take no more than one character and can replace words, when used correctly, helping save space.

They add personality to your emails

Emojis help humanize your brand, too, adding to its personality. Of course, personalization is an excellent way to enhance brand awareness.

For instance, a running shoe brand, Cloud X uses a cloud emoji (☁) in their emails, which is a creative way of making their message easily recognizable in their audience’s inbox.

Here’s one of their subject lines:

Emojis convey emotions

Emoticons can convey what words alone can’t. Smiley faces are proven to evoke the same parts of the brain that are triggered when we see a real face. No wonder emojis can help you tug at your readers’ emotions. 

Consider this:

“Our new collection is out.” – The period at the end can make things somewhat reserved.

“Our new collection is out!” – Thanks to the exclamation point, your excitement is starting to show.

“Our new collection is out! 😍” – That’s it! The heart-eyes emoticon shows that your new products are something worth checking out.

Similarly, look at this email from Readdle. Their team stuck with a short and sweet subject line, but added an emoji to emphasise that the message was about growing your year:

3 questions to ask when deciding whether you should add emojis to your emails

Now that we’ve seen the benefits that emoticons in subject lines can bring to the table, let’s dive into questions to consider when you plan on adding emoticons to your email subject lines.

1. Will your audience appreciate emojis?

One of the leading ways of learning your audience’s taste is by exploring demographics. Checking their age brackets will give you a good idea of your audience’s approach to emoticons.

If your emails are sent to a fairly young audience, they’re more likely to appreciate the emoji. The same, however, may not be true if you email 60-year-old executives.

2. Are you in the B2B or B2C realm?

B2C audiences tend to react better to emojis than B2B readers. This is not set in stone though. You can use emojis in your B2B emails, too. However, the success of such subject lines, again, depends on your audience’s age.

Since you know your audience the best, you should be able to decide if they’d welcome an emoji in their inbox or cringe at it. You can always split test your emails to be sure. We’re getting to that in a bit.

3. Do emojis align with your brand voice?

Equally important to knowing your audience is keeping your brand and its voice in mind. The field in which you work is a crucial aspect to consider before using emojis. For instance, it’s not the very best idea to use emoticons in your subjects if you’re a medical supply manufacturer.

Think of your brand voice. Is it formal or is it friendly-professional? Apolis, a customizable bag brand, follows the latter tone of voice, so they added an emoji in their subject line:

For their audience, it is not uncommon to see such an emoji since emoticons are also used on their website:

Apolis website using emojis in their design
Apolis website using emojis in their design

Best practices for using emoticons in subject lines

If your answer to the three questions above is yes, you need to remember these best practices when adding emoticons in your subject lines:

Never stuff emojis in your subject line

A good rule of thumb is to use emojis sparingly. Add one or two smiley faces or symbols like Birchbox did in this email:

Note that Birchbox did not add an extra flash symbol ⚡that brands often use to indicate a sale. They kept their subject line crisp with only one symbol to grab attention.

Overusing smileys as you can see below can annoy your recipients.

Multiple emojis in a single email subject line

What’s more, if you pepper your emails with multiple, irrelevant emojis frequently, your audience may start seeing that as lack of professionalism.

Beside leaning on scarcity when adding emojis, you need to ensure that you’re using them only when they are relevant, which brings us to our next point.

Only use them when they are relevant

An irrelevant smiley doesn’t serve a purpose. And, a purposeless emoji deserves no place in your subject line. Whether you are using an emoticon to emphasize your message or substitute words, it should always have a purpose, so that there’s no room for misinterpretation.

ReturnPath noted that relevancy in using emoticons can increase open rates. For instance, when they added a lips emoji 💋 in their email subject lines that went out on Valentine’s Day, their open rate increased by 4%. Similarly, adding an Irish flag emoji 🇮🇪 on St. Patrick’s Day lifted their open rates by more than 6%.

Put simply, don’t add emojis to your email for the sole purpose of catching attention.

A/B test your emails

The best thing you can do is test your audience’s response. And the easiest way to do this is split testing your emails and determining what suits your audience – emojis or no emojis.

Send out an email with emoji in its subject to 50% of your email list. Send another 50% of your list the same email with the same subject line, but without the emoji. Compare the results to learn how receptive your audience is to emojis and how they impact your open rates.

Another very important point here – emojis display differently in various browsers, email clients, operating systems, and devices. So, what you see in your Gmail is not what your recipient see in Outlook.

In certain instances, an outdated email client or operating system may not even display the emoticon, so it would show as ☐. Again, this can annoy your recipient. So, it’s best if you test your email subject line on multiple devices, email clients, and browsers before sending it.

Read more: Email Marketing Best Practices

Ready to try out emojis in your subject lines?

There’s no harm experimenting with emojis in your subject lines. If these align with your audience’s tastes and your brand voice, you might as well note an uptick in your open rates. That said, try not to overstuff emojis, and always choose the relevant ones.

Before you leave, share your thoughts on emojis. Do you like them? Do you think they look good in email?

Masooma Memon
Masooma Memon
Masooma Memon is a pizza-loving freelance writer by day and a novel nerd by night. She crafts research-backed, actionable blog posts for SaaS and marketing brands that aim to employ quality content to educate and engage with their audience. You can reach her on Twitter @inkandcopy