Symbols in email marketing subject lines

Over the past year there has been a dramatic increase in the use of symbols in subject lines on email marketing campaigns. The trend is showing no sign of going away, so we thought we would do a little research into whether you should think about adding symbols to your subject lines.

How to use symbols in Email Campaigns
Unlike most content you add to your email campaigns, the text used in a subject line is not transformed into HTML code. Instead what you need to do is copy and paste symbols into your subject line text from a website which lists Unicode symbols.

The potential benefits of using symbols
There has been a lot of research recently suggesting that the use of symbols can dramatically increase the open rates you receive on your email campaigns, including:

“56% of brands analyzed had a higher unique open rate when using symbols.” 

Experian Research
“Our research shows open rate increases of 10-15% as a result of adding symbols to subject lines” 

Litmus Research
This research indicates that symbols really can grab the attention of your contacts and improve your open rates. 

The potential pitfalls of using symbols
It is extremely important before using symbols on your campaigns to be aware that they may not be visible to all of your contacts. Depending on what email client your contacts are using will decide if your symbols will be visible.

Although latest research suggests that in most modern and up to date email clients, symbols should appear. More dated software such as Outlook 2003 will not render symbols.

Things to consider when adding symbols

Carefully choose your symbols – Make sure your symbol is relevant to your message. Common uses are travel companies using a ‘Sun’ symbol, or ‘Heart’ symbol being used around Valentines Day

Send test emails – Before sending out your campaigns with symbols in the subject line be sure to send out some test emails to ensure they both work and look good. It would be advisable to send a test email to a range of email clients (Outlook, Hotmail, Gmail, etc).

Don’t overuse symbols – They may be successful in increasing your open rate, however if you overuse symbols, their effectiveness over time is likely to decrease.

Split Test – Wherever possible its best to split your contact data and test some with symbols in the subject line and some without. This is the only real way of establishing how affective symbols are to your contacts.

Our conclusion

I don’t believe adding symbols to a subject line suits every business. I wouldn’t expect to see an Accountant or a Lawyer adding symbols to their communications.

There is also a slight concern on how they are viewed on different email clients, which is worth considering before adding them to your campaigns.

However the research is positive and the amount of large brands using symbols would suggest it really could work when used within the right communication.

If you are interested in using symbols in your email communications I would suggest starting slowly, and testing its success. If you do experiment with symbols we would love to hear how you get on.