☼ Using symbols in subject lines – do we ❤ or hate them?

You know what they say – that first impression is the most important one. And your subject line will be making that impression on your behalf.

The subject line is arguably one of the most important elements of your email campaign. It is often the difference between getting your email opened or not.

There are subject lines best practices that are usually followed, a few examples:

- Keep your subject line specific
- Keep it short and sweet, usually under 50 characters
- Use geographical information
- Avoid spammy words such as ‘free’ or ‘offer’.

But who says you have to follow best practices? Have you tried using symbols in your subject lines?

Symbols can divide marketing teams. Some people will love them and some people will hate them. No matter what your opinions on symbols are, the only to be sure of their effectiveness is to test them.

Here are a few things to consider when using symbols in subject lines:

Are symbols right for your business?

Symbols are niche and have the novelty factor that some people might not appreciate, including your customers. Think about the usual symbols that are already available in most systems, hearts, planes, flowers, stars, emoticons, numbers, and generic shapes. Others are available, but if they’re uncommon, they may not render correctly in all email clients – but more on that later.

If you are a florist, placing a flower in the subject line will make sense to your audience, and will match the content of the email. But don’t get swept away by the cuteness of the symbols. If you’re a law firm, hearts and stars are not suitable for either your audience, or the content.

Not all symbols render the same

This is one of the main reasons that marketers are afraid of using symbols. The possibility that your email content will not be displayed is a terrifying one, due to the potential damage it could cause to your brand. But you know what they say: life begins at the end of your comfort zone. And you never know, your email marketing could be taken to new levels through the use of symbols.

There are some considerations of course. Not all email clients will render symbols in the same way. I have tested one specific email that featured a symbol at the start of the subject line and it rendered correctly in Hotmail, Gmail, Outlook, Android Mail and Apple Mail. However, customers who are using older versions of these clients, or more obscure clients might not be so lucky.

Use symbols for a reason

Avoid using symbols just because your biggest competitor has. Make sure there is a specific reason to use them. Use symbols in three ways:

-   As a separator or as punctuation e.g. ‘Thanks for signing up! ☼ Here’s a free download’

-   To replace a word e.g. ‘Thanks for your purchase. You’re a ★’

-   As a decorative or design elements (within reason)


Here are a few examples of symbols being used well in subject lines, from across the web and my own inbox:

symbol sun

symbol music


symbol heart


symbol plane



Give symbols in subject lines a try. And remember, with all subjects lines, the only way to know the success rate is to test. Try 3 different subject lines.

If the system you’re using for email marketing is sophisticated enough, it will allow you to send 3 different subject lines to 10% of your list, and the most successful of the 3 will be sent to the entire list.

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