Trending: Emoji usage in email subject lines increased by more than 40% YOY

Emojis still gain popularity among email marketers. In November, nearly every 10th subject line in my email inbox – that’s 9.72% out of 8,804 newsletters – used unicode symbols to draw attention. Previous year’s figure was only 6.92%. All the signs are that the trend will continue in 2017…

Emojis and other symbols in subject lines everywhere you look:

The proportion of subject lines, which come with emojis, has been rising steadily since 2012. There’s no end in sight, as the dotted line plus its prediction interval indicates:

The hundred most popular symbols during the last years were the following ones:

🎁 🎉 😍 🔥 🎄 🎅 🎃 🍕 🐼 👶 🍂 📣 🌴 💪 🍴 🚨 💕 😎 🙌 🍁 👍 👻 🌟 👀 👙 🌞 🏈 🍀 👗 👖 🐰 👟 😊 👉 💡 🎆 💰 💚 💥 🌷 🍝 🌸 🍰 🏆 💄 💋 💙 😄 💖 💝 📷 🏃 📚 😉 🍓 📦 🚗 👠 😱 👌 💌 🍷 📱 🌼 🍦  🍲 🎈 💃 💐

There are seasonal differences in symbol usage. For example, the popularity of hearts varies between Valentine’s Day, Christmas Eve and Halloween. This is the top 10 thirty days before the respective holiday:

Valentine’s Day:  😍 💕 🎉

Christmas: 🎁 🎄 🎅

Halloween: 🎃 👻 🍁 🍂

And then there are also fat block symbols with lots of ink, and other gimmicks like upside-down texts and one-line ASCII art:

Here are some to try out for yourself:

  • “█▬█ █ ▀█▀chhikers guide…“
  • “══█ price”
  • “Progress: ████░░ 70%”
  • ▃ ▅ ▆ Must-haves ▆ ▅ ▃
  • “Declining sǝɔıɹd“

Do emojis work in terms of higher open rates?

Well, it depends.

On the one hand, ink-heavy or colourful accentuations promise more attention. Especially in the crowded and classically black and white inbox. On the other hand, however, it is doubtful whether unicode symbols alone can guarantee a lasting positive impact on response rates. If the sender is unknown or disreputable due to bad experiences in the past, or if the subject line and pre-header do not indicate any personal relevance, then no emoji will probably help you out with your email program.

This is also supported by data. On the occasion of the last Berlin Email Summit I examined the effect of typical subject line elements. These included capitalization, percentage and total discounts, different personalizations and also emojis. Here’s an excerpt from the slides:

My analysis showed that the most frequently used symbols, such as stars and hearts, tend to be found in subject lines with below-average open rates. Conversely, less frequently used symbols are more likely to be found in subject lines with above-average performance.

I can’t say though if there is a causal relationship. But I doubt it.

Emojis “only” won in 44.9% of all subject line split tests. That means if a test scenario had different subject line variants, at least one of which contained an emoji, this variant did not even win in half of the cases. Which is quite contrary to for example personalization tests, which won in 70.6% of cases. It can therefore be assumed that personalizations are much more likely to affect the success of subject lines than emojis.

It is also worth mentioning that the performance of different stylistic elements may not necessarily be generalized. For example, there were some significant differences by industry.

So in the end, there’s probably only the classic recommendation: to test it – maybe like I did with Gmail’s animated Goomojis? Try it out – in 2018. 🙂

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