Do Symbols in Subject Lines Boost Email Response Rates?

Hearts, stars, suns, and smiley faces. These are just a few of the symbols marketers are strategically inserting in subject lines to help their messages stand out in ever more crowded email inboxes. And thanks to these symbols, many organizations have reported dramatic increases in email open rates. Will this tactic work for your brand?

Just because a symbol in a subject line works for one brand, doesn’t mean it will motivate opens and clickthroughs with your target audience. An example of a symbol used in a subject line — “ HOT. TAILGATE. BOOTS.” — can be found in a recent FulcrumTech Get the Click review of a promotional email from Country Outfitter.

Although some people find a bright red heart in their inbox appealing and intriguing, others may think it looks “spammy.” Plus, not all symbols render the same in every email client or on every mobile device. On some Apple devices, for example, certain symbols will be converted to emoji icons, providing an upgraded user experience. On other mobile devices, however, some symbols display as empty rectangles or not at all.

Studies Show Symbols in Subject Lines Drive Higher Response Rates

Testing is the only way to see if your brand’s target audience will respond positively to symbols in subject lines. In a study conducted by Experian, 56% of the brands they tested experienced a higher unique open rate when using symbols in subject lines. For example, the most popular symbol — the black heart — resulted in an open-rate lift of 2.2%, while the black sun with rays increased open rates by 14.9%, and an umbrella produced a 50% lift.

A good example of an A/B split test using symbols in subject lines was run by Swiftpage, which sent half of their newsletter subscribers a subject line with symbols and the other half a subject line without symbols. Compared to the subject line without symbols, the symbol subject line had higher unique open (+3.29%), unique click (+6.28%), and click-through (+18.93%) rates.

Tips for Using Symbols in Subject Lines

So if you’re thinking about using symbols in subject lines, take advantage of these five tips:

How to Generate Unicode
Symbols in Subject Lines

There are hundreds of different symbols — derived from the international encoding standard Unicode — that can be used to add zing to your subject lines. Click here for a sampling of these symbols and their corresponding codes.

Inserting a symbol into a subject line is quite simple:

  1. Open an editor, such as Word.
  2. Press and hold the “Alt” key.
  3. Activate “Num Lock” on your computer.
  4. Type in the numeric code of the symbol where you want to add it to your subject line.
  5. Release the “Alt” key.

You can also copy and paste symbols into your subject lines from the following link:

  1. Use symbols in moderation so the novelty doesn’t wear off.
  2. Use the symbol within the first 20 characters to be sure recipients see it, whether they’re viewing on a mobile device or desktop.
  3. Always test your subject lines across various email clients and mobile devices to be sure the symbols are rendering well.
  4. Choose symbols that make sense and complement your brand message; Travelocity, for example, uses an airplane icon in their subject lines.
  5. Test and track email response rates, including open, click-through and conversion rates, to help ensure that using symbols is actually helping (not hurting) your email campaign results.

If you’re looking for innovative ways to boost your email performance, email us or give us a call at 215-489-9336. The email-marketing professionals at FulcrumTech have the expertise to optimize your email campaigns and consistently deliver the results you’re looking for.

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