Symbols in email subject lines – a good idea?


Most definitely, YES! Though it isn’t a very novel concept, but it continues to remain a very popular tactic for grabbing attention in clustered mail boxes. We all understand that more is communicated more quickly through a concentrated form of communication. Have you ever stopped to think about how symbols govern our lives? They sure are the most ancient form of visual communication. It’s magical how they continue to be such a vital part of our existence even today. Today, most of us are going to like at least one Facebook post, we may love (read: love) somebody’s foursquare check in, we’re going to @somebody (read: write to somebody) on Twitter, you might star (read: star-mark) an important mail

So, we can say that these symbols are encoded in our systems. They run through our lives.

Moreover, the social media platforms have transformed the way we communicate via email. We are using all kinds of emoticons to (a) express ourselves better (b) save time. Symbols very rapidly communicate meaning, and can also add some jazz to the otherwise monotonous text-dominant subject lines. They help communicate universal concepts with an added richness and ease. When used well, they can even create an emotion, represent a brand and attract attention. So using symbols in your subject lines can be a fantastic way to add a new dimension to your email messaging. It can go a long way in enriching user experience & improve receptiveness of email campaigns.

The advantage being?

Inbox is an exquisitely busy place and your subject line is the only guaranteed part of your email which is read. Making the subject line visually attractive will keep your subscribers glued to you or even rekindle the interest within subscribers who disengaged. Here’s a snapshot of how symbols can completely change the way users treat emails and these also happen to be some very popular subject lines:


Possibility and Compatibility:

As a matter of fact, there are about hundreds of thousands of possible Unicode characters that exist in computing and each one of those can well be employed as a symbol in a subject line. Over and above those thousands of possible combinations, each character may or may not exist in the font or encoding protocol used by different browsers and email clients. Let’s say, a heart may exist in the font and encoding pack used by Gmail browsed through Chrome, but there is a good chance it may not exist in the Blackberry font and encoding set. In addition, some symbols won’t render well on the small screen and will end up looking unrecognizable. The possibilities are endless; there are smiley faces, rain clouds, shamrocks, coffee mugs, musical notes, astrological symbols, the list goes on. It’s for you to test and carefully identify the symbols that work in the subject line.


As an email marketer, having your emails end up in the spam folder must be your wildest nightmare. This could be a delightful experiment to help your emails get noticed. In all the research done so far, not a single case has been registered where an email with symbols in the subject line has been spammed. However, it is a safe bet to run an A/B split test on this technique. Kick-start by emailing to a small test segment of your list. 50% of that test segment should receive the subject line with the symbol and the other half would receive the same subject line without the symbol (remember to keep all other variables: From id, creative, call-to-action, and offer the same for the most effective test). You can then compare the open/read/click rates. This will allow you to confirm if including a symbol in the subject line works for your company and subscribers. The winning subject line, with or without the symbol, should then be sent to the remainders in the list.

So go ahead, experiment it, but see to it that the symbols you use are relevant to your subject line. If you test using symbols in your subject lines and see great results at first that fade off, in all probability its novelty has worn off. There never has been a guaranteed formula for success, but this experiment certainly gives a reason to hope that it may have the potential to garner much more than just a higher open rate.

Sep, 04, 2012