Symbols in Subject Lines: How to Get Your Email Noticed
One of the greatest priorities for marketers is to get your message seen. Often times that means pulling out all the stops to make sure you gain the attention of your subscribers. In sports, the best coaches find hidden talent to help propel their teams. In email marketing, that means finding underused tactics. One of these oft-hidden tactics is the use of symbols in subject lines. Symbols can be that rookie player that hits a homerun in his first at-bat. So let's check out its potential by reviewing some examples.
It should come as no surprise that I am increasingly being bombarded by clients asking questions around using them. Let’s discuss the use of symbols in your subject lines.
First, why would you ever use symbols? As savvy email marketers you all know that standing out from the inbox crowd is every email marketer’s goal. The use of symbols is one way this can be done; however, using symbols needs to be done in a responsible manner. I have included some considerations you need to make when deciding upon inserting symbols into your next email campaign.
Just like when choosing the right foosball partner, be sure to choose a symbol that supports your message.
It's no surprise that using a heart symbol around Valentine’s Day makes more sense than using a wheelchair symbol, right? Or that using a flower makes more sense for an online flower shop than a smiley face would. So make a list of characters that would fit not only your brand but also the occasion.
Like in corn hole, placement is key!
Jenga requires attention to detail. Do your symbols?
Using symbols with lots of detail can seem like a great idea but when viewed in a smaller size they can be hard to distinguish. This can result in your email subject line crashing to the ground like a Jenga tower tumbling over. For best results, stick with something noticeable and with a basic level of detail.
Call the bullpen - email clients & phones:
Many email clients, such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo support Unicode symbols. However, not all clients and phones are made the same. Just like email clients, your emails will look differently on different phones. You can see the examples provided below.
The iPhone supported all three symbols. I don’t want to point fingers; however, neither the Android nor the BlackBerry rendered the finger point. Does your audience use mostly BlackBerrys? If so the grayed out square you see in the example above will often be what is substituted. Be sure to test your subject lines in a variety of web-based and mobile clients!
Decide when you are going to use symbols in your email subject lines. Using symbols in every message can lose its desired effectiveness. Much like email fatigue, you don’t want your subscribers to become accustomed to seeing symbols in every single message. They will begin to look right past them. Refer back to your list of special occasions when the use of symbols would provide the most benefit. These could include trying to boost sales in a historically slower month, stand out in the inbox during peak holiday seasons or simply to push a really important message to your subscribers.
Symbols = Spam, right?
Not necessarily. There is no stead-fast evidence that using symbols in the subject line increases the likelihood of sending a message to the spam folder. In fact, of all the messages I have received with symbols in them, none went to my spam folder. I have yet to hear of any significant issues with regard to using symbols and messages ending up in spam. This brings me to my next point!
Practice? Are you talking about practice?
If you are going to begin using symbols in your subject lines I strongly encourage you to use split testing. You can easily split test your campaigns within Bronto. Make sure you analyze your open rates, click rates and delivery rates to better determine whether symbols improve or impair your message metrics. If you are finding your open rate or delivery rate dramatically decrease stop using the symbols until you can determine the actual cause of the decrease.
Let’s recap what we learned today:
- Choose a symbol that supports your message
- Front-end your symbols in the subject line to ensure they will be seen
- Avoid using a detailed symbol like ☣- this may not be readable in the subject line
- Not all phones and email clients are created equal - be sure to test how symbols look on different phones and clients
- Don’t overuse symbols – they will likely lose their effectiveness over time
- Symbols don’t mean your message will wind up marked as spam
- Test, test and test
You can find a list of Unicode symbols on Wikipedia.
Now that you have the playbook, go ahead and get in the game and start making your messages stand out from the inbox crowd.
Have you used symbols in your subject lines? How have they worked? I’d ♥ to hear your thoughts!
Marketing Strategist at Bronto
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About the Author
Greg Zakowicz is a marketing strategist at Bronto Software where he works with retail and commerce clients offering strategic advice and tactics for driving revenue. With over ten years of experience managing marketing programs, Greg brings a wealth of experience in email and online marketing for e-commerce. As a results-driven marketer, Greg is especially attune to metrics-based analysis which he uses to help improve the marketing programs and performance for his clients.