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Should you be using emojis in your subject lines?

It’s a deceptively simple concept: Use an emoji in your email subject line, and it’ll help you capture more attention in the inbox. After all, it’s an easy way to stand out, and everyone loves a good emoji…right?

Maybe not. The whole emojis-in-subject-lines thing is actually a pretty divisive issue, and marketing experts have come down on both sides as to whether or not the practice is effective. Litmus anecdotally found that open rates increase 10-15% as a result of adding emojis to subject lines, while Yellowball got open rates 2% lower than average when they ran their own test. But for the most part, it’s difficult to find any solid stats in either direction.

So is it something you should try? There’s no definitive answer, but here are a few things you might want to consider before adding that heart, winky face, or adorable little cat to your next subject line.

1. Some email clients don’t support emojis.

Even though symbols are now generally well-supported across popular email clients, there are still a couple that don’t support them at all. Currently, the two biggest ones to watch out for are Outlook 2003 and Lotus Notes – not the most popular email clients by any means, but they’re still worth noting when you’re deciding whether or not emojis will work for your brand.

To help decide how relevant these support issues actually are to your email marketing, simply check out your opens across clients. If most (or all) of your recipients are opening your emails in clients that support emojis, you don’t have anything to worry about. But if a good portion of your audience does use Outlook 2003 or Lotus Notes, including emojis in your subject lines isn’t a smart move.

2. Emojis can look different across clients.

Even across the many clients that DO support emojis, symbols can look extremely different from client to client. The discrepancy is especially apparent in popular clients like Gmail’s web version or Yahoo's web version versus the mobile Gmail or iPhone Mail apps. Here’s an example of what the difference can look like:

What it looked like on my iPhone 6

What it looked like in Gmail in Chrome

On Gmail’s web view, the screaming emoji looks like a chicken-fish hybrid rather than the symbol we’re more used to seeing on our phones. It isn’t so distracting as to completely take away from the message of the subject line, but it is something that captured my attention – and not necessarily in the best way. 

(Note: If an email client doesn't recognize a particular symbol, it will often display one of these guys ☐ instead.)

3. Never replace an actual word with an emoji.

You may be tempted to replace the word “love” with a heart or “hot” with a flame, but you should never allow an emoji to potentially obscure the meaning of your message. So if you do choose to include an emoji in your subject line, it’s best to use it at the beginning or end. That way, it won’t be a big deal if the emoji doesn’t show up in some clients or if it doesn’t render correctly. After all, cuteness should never come at the expense of clarity.

Here, the subject line makes sense with or without the emoji at the end.

4. Consider your audience.

If you’re a B2C brand with a fairly young audience, it’s more likely that they’ll respond well to emojis in your subject lines. But let’s say you’re a medical supply manufacturer marketing to hospitals or a law firm reaching out to potential clients– in that case, it’s probably not the best idea. You know your audience better than anyone, so just be sure to stay true to their needs and your voice as a brand.

Though they often market to professionals, this emoji in Evernote's subject line still felt on-brand and didn't come across as too gimmicky.

5. A/B Test.

If you do decide to experiment with emojis in your subject lines, split-testing is a great way to start. An A/B test between a subject line that contains an emoji and one that doesn’t will quickly show you how well your audience responds to it.

And remember to keep testing. Even if your audience loves the first emoji you include in a subject line, they may grow tired of them – especially if you overdo it. So continually test to ensure you’re always fulfilling their needs and hitting all the right notes.

Thoughts? Have you tried using emojis in your subject lines, and if so, how did it impact your open rates? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!