Using Symbols in Subject Lines

Symbols in Subject Lines

Lately, I’m beginning to see more and more articles concerning whether or not to use symbols or emoticons in email subject line headers. The symbols, which typically consist of shapes that you’d find in a box of Lucky Charms cereal, are used throughout subject line copy to grab the attention of the recipient. When looking at line after line of words and phrases that seemingly blend together, the thought behind including a tiny star or smiley face is that it will make the message look different and stick out. While this may be true, is it necessarily good for your audience?

The trick is to know your demographic and what you’re trying to promote. If you’re trying to sell perfume or teen magazine subscriptions to a teenage girl, then symbols are right up your alley. Even including a few Halloween-themed symbols like bats to promote Fall retail would be a great idea. Keep in mind, though, these recommendations work well for the B2C market and typically moreso with retail and publishing.

Symbols typically do not work well with sending to B2B clients or anyone within the financial or health industries. Why? Because nothing quite hints at spam like a subject line including the words “Finance” or “Pharmaceutical” followed by a cutesy money bag emoticon. Your sender will not take your message seriously, given the small likelihood your message makes it to their inbox in the first place.

In fact, here’s an example pulled from my spam box this morning:

Symbols in email subject line

It should be noted that I am not single, not a member of any dating site, and this message was wedged between an email from my “great uncle’s bank” looking for me to “claim my inheritance” and a message concerning weight loss patches that can help me drop 20lbs in 2 weeks. While the hearts are quite fitting for the contents of the message, I wouldn’t necessarily say it gave the subject header much credibility — But, hey, I’m pretty jaded.

If you’re considering using symbols in your subject headers, determine whether they are a good fit for your list demographic, what you’re trying to promote, and if it will garner positive or negative attention. If you do decide to opt for symbols, err on the side of less is more (one or two should be enough). Also, try to keep the symbol towards the front of the subject header, since it defeats the purpose if the end of your header gets cut-off. Done correctly, symbols could increase your open rates, but make sure you’re tracking these rates to ensure you’re getting the results you want.


Sarah Zibanejadrad
Inbound Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts

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2 Responses to "Using Symbols in Subject Lines"
  1. bryant says:

    Is there a blog post on to how to code in the symbols into the subject line. Example: Showing this is a code that works (xyz) and you need to do this for it to show up?

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