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The complete guide to using email emojis in subject lines

· 13 min read · Tips and resources · February 2, 2021

To use or not to use emojis: It’s a question many of us email marketers wonder when crafting subject lines.

There’s a lot of data that’s in favor of using emojis. As research and testing have shown, emojis can:

  • Increase the open and click-through rate

  • Make emails stand out in an inbox that mostly contains hues of grey, white and black

  • Replace entire words, saving you space to communicate more with fewer characters

  • Help convey a mood or reinforce a message its meaning

  • Give your brand personality

  • Be inserted and used easily

Then again, emojis can also make your message seem less serious or miss the mark with your target audience. Using too many emojis can influence your email deliverability as well.

As you can tell, the answer to emojis isn’t crystal clear. In this article, we’ll review the pros and cons of using emojis, show examples to inspire you and finish up with best practices.

Me: 🤜
You: 🤛
Us: 💥

We just talked about the benefits of using emojis, the main one being: They can really improve your email open rates. An emoji can make your email pop within a cluttered inbox and catch the reader’s eye.

For example, this is my personal inbox:

Megan's personal inbox showing few emojis in subject lines

Which subject line caught your attention first?

You can see that most subject lines refrain from using emojis, so it can work in your benefit to add one.

On the other hand, there’s also plenty of data that argues otherwise. 

Overall the research is conflicted, but general trends suggest that:

  • Emojis can negatively impact the click-through and open rates

  • When your business deals with serious or important matters, an emoji can take away the professionalism from your message

  • Using too many emojis in one subject line can trigger spam filters and harm your deliverability

  • If the reader doesn’t know your brand, your email can come across as a mass marketing message

  • Since some emojis can be interpreted differently, your message can end up confusing readers

Some recent stats to keep in mind 👉
  • Likeability: 78% of people agree that using emojis makes you seem like a nicer person

  • Professionalism: 39% of senior managers think that emojis are unprofessional

  • Different audiences: While 68% of millennials are happy to express themselves with emojis, only 37% of people over the age of 65 feel the same way

  • Standing out: In a 2020 study, 33% of participants clicked on emoji subject lines, while 9% clicked on non-emoji emails (the other 58% didn’t select any emails)

The bottom line? It really depends on your audience. Let’s talk about this more below...

The pros and cons make the impact of emojis not universal, it really all depends on your business and target audience. Whether or not your emoji will make the email stand out also depends on other emails the user receives. 

Therefore, it’s hard to give one answer that counts for everybody, but you can A/B test to get an answer that’s right for your business.

💡 Interesting insight

In my Gmail inbox dedicated to newsletters—mostly e-commerce and B2C companies—I expected to come across a lot more emojis. However, from the 50 emails on each page, only about 15% contained an emoji. The majority don’t use emojis.

Your brand, email subject, audience, type of emoji, amount of emojis, etc—all of these factors play a part in the success of your emoji subject line. Since these factors are different for each company, it’s impossible to give a definite yes or no to the question of whether you should use emojis in your subject lines.

However, running regular A/B tests will get you an answer over time. 

Remember to always change just one single element. First test one subject line with an emoji and one without. Then test different types of emojis. Then test the amount of emojis. Rinse and repeat until you start seeing a pattern of what does and doesn’t resonate with your audience.

“If I use an emoji, will it be shown in my reader’s inbox and what will it look like?”

It all depends on the browser, email client and device your reader is using. Different operating systems render emojis differently, hence, a different outcome. How emojis are displayed on mobile depends on what the device supports.

General things to remember:

  • If a reader uses Gmail web clients, emojis are mostly shown in Gmail-style, regardless of the operating system (OS)

  • Most mobile devices display emojis without any issues

  • Subscribers that use Windows 8.1 or up will see your emojis (in color)

  • Most Mac laptop and desktop users will see emojis (supported from Mac OS X Lion (10.7) onwards)

  • Desktop and laptop users with Windows XP will not see emojis but squares ▢

Email clients that display emojis are:

  • Gmail

  • Outlook (2007/2010/2013)

  • Apple Mail

  • Yahoo! Mail

  • Android Mail

  • Windows Mail

Outlook for Windows and Yahoo! Mail can show simplified black and white versions of emojis, while Gmail takes their own designed approach. Normally mobile devices adjust an emoji’s look to match their brand image.

👉 Quick tip

Do you know the laughing crying emoji? Check Emojipedia and you’ll see the many different faces of this emoji—and many others—depending on whether it’s Apple, Windows, Samsung, Mozilla, etc.

how do apple google and microsoft display emojis

Though the power of emojis really depends on how your target audience reacts to them, there are some best practices to keep in mind when adding emojis to your email subject lines.

Don’t go all-in with your emojis

Can one desire too much of one thing? Sure, but not with emojis. 

The more you’ll use, the higher the chance that your emojis affect your email deliverability or trigger spam filters. Don’t use emojis for click-bait efforts, use them sparingly and when they’ll enhance your subject line.

Though two emojis in a subject line won’t hurt your deliverability, do think about whether you need each emoji or if you can use a single one instead. Like in this example: ☀️  Summer is here ☀️.

The newsletter subject below uses emojis only and upon first look, it’s hard to grasp what the email is about. This can either work in your advantage or disadvantage. The answer is in the A/B test 🕵️‍♀️.

Using too many emojis in subject lines

Know your audience

What's your audience like? Will they enjoy emojis or will they perceive your message as less serious? Does it fit the tone of the content inside the email?

If you have this information available, check to see what age range your audience is in. Do they use emojis? What type of emojis are appropriate?

A younger crowd might resonate more with emojis like 💁 , 🔥  and 😍  while an older audience engages better with 📈  and ✅. Or no emojis at all (depending on the age range).

Audience-targeted examples of emoji in email subject lines

Keep the emojis relevant

Add emojis because it makes sense, for example: 📈  How we grew our email list from 0 to 10,000. 

This emoji is strengthening the message because it instantly indicates growth. 

Add emojis when they are relevant to the content, not just because.

Using relevant emojis in subject lines example

Say it without words

Though you don’t want to make it too hard on your readers by sending them mystery riddles, it can be fun to think out of the box and surprise readers every now and then with a subject line that uses emojis in a creative way. 

For example, use different emojis to tell a creative story: ☕️  + 🍪  = $5.

Replacing words with emojis in email subject lines

Switch it up with different emojis

Surprise readers with an unconventional emoji. Have a look at your own inbox to see what popular emojis others are using and think of alternatives that you could use. Does everyone else use emoji faces? Maybe you can find emojis in other categories.

Unconventional emojis in email subject line example

Tell a story

If you see that most of your audience uses an email client where preheaders are shown, you can play around and tell a story using the subject line and preheader. 

Go for an all-emoji subject line like Chubbies or use the emoji to make your story more clear, like Torrid (both shown below).

Tip: It’s always a good idea to use a preheader, as preheaders can increase your open rate.

Telling a story with your email subject lines

Take inspiration from these examples!

Makerpad - 👋 Welcome to Makerpad | Before you dive in…

Ryan at Animalz - 🥇 How to succeed as a content team of one, ft. Buffer, SaaStock, ChartHop

Native - [SAVE $5] Megan, celebrate our birthday with us! 🥳

Goodiebox - Baby, bye bye bye 👋🏼

Books Are Magic! - Must be books on the brain 💫

Mark Groves - Are You Codependent? 🙋🏻‍♂️ Me too.

Chrissy Teigen - My new favorite pasta 🌶

Too Good To Go - Save 🥘 🍣 and we´ll plant 🌳🌳| European Sustainable Development Week

Tara Reed - I'm hiring! AGAIN 🎉

Andy 👋 GMB Fitness - How the crow pose will make you better at everything

International Animal Rescue - A few ways YOU can help rescue captive bears 🐻

Steph at Clue - Bi the way…bisexuality isn’t a phase 🌈

Latest in Beauty - You haven't seen our new box! 😱

Curves - 👭 Hi, exercise is more fun with friends!

Red Cap Cards - Summer Greetings 💛

Fair Trade Winds - 💭 Thursday thoughts: Gardening 🥕

When you’re using MailerLite, adding emojis to your subject line is super duper easy. You don’t need to go to any online emojipedia and start copying-and-pasting the right emoji, instead just click on the 😀  emoji in the subject line field. This automatically opens an emoji keyboard.

How to add emojis in email subject line using MailerLite example
🔥 Tip

Our emoji keyboard is available for all subject line fields. If you want to quickly add emojis to your email content in the newsletter editor, install an add-on like Emoji Keyboard (Chrome and Firefox) or Joypixels (Chrome and Opera). This way you’ll always have an emoji keyboard available in your browser.

Whether or not to use emojis really depends on your brand. If your audience resonates with emojis in your email campaigns, it can definitely increase the open and click-through rate. Emojis can also backfire and make your message less serious, come across as marketing or appear off-brand. The rule of thumb is: Only add an emoji if it adds to your subject line, not just because.

To find out how your newsletter subscribers react, you can A/B test emoji use and analyze your findings over time.

Will you start testing emojis? Let us know your findings in the comments!

Editor's note: This article was originally published in July 2020, and has now been updated with some new statistics. 

Jonas Fischer
I'm Jonas, Content Manager at MailerLite. I’m not the 4th Jonas Brother, but I do write content (which is similar to being a teen heartthrob). After writing for a bunch of companies over the years, I discovered my professional passion—helping add some humanity to B2B marketing. Email is the perfect place to start!
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