Emojis, subject lines, and deliverability

Communication as a medium is constantly evolving, and it's important as a marketer or sender to properly convey your message to your target audience. Emojis, though rooted in mobile/social media communication, have quickly become a widely accepted method of conveying emotion, emphasizing important points, and shortening communication with images. The acceptance of these images allows senders to use them to convey our messages in new ways; hopefully in a way that will grab our readers' attention beyond normal text. With the recent implementation of adding emojis to subject lines in ActiveCampaign, we wanted to give you a bit of a primer on emoji.

Emoji performance in email campaigns

In 2017, Return Path did an extensive analysis into the use of emojis in subject lines. The analysis was conducted using A/B testing, and targeted promotional messages using emojis in the subject line that were relevant to holidays in the current month. The findings, while not stark, showed an increase in read rate and inbox placement, depending on the message. But in many cases, there was also a corresponding increase in the spam complaint rate.

Logically, these findings make sense. Subject lines are one of your strongest tools to catch a reader's attention and entice them to open your message. By adding in colorful pictures to this normally bland text line, you're pulling the reader's eyes to your message, for better or for worse. A message that would have normally been ignored in the past might be opened and read, but your recipient could be only enticed enough to realize that they no longer want to receive your emails (or may have forgotten why they signed up and send it to spam). Therefore, it's important to ensure clean lists and include a reminder about why your contacts are receiving your message when sending them emails; contacts who normally would have disengaged and been removed in your normal list cleaning could end up dinging your sending reputation with a spam complaint.

Additionally, while Return Path's and others' findings noted that different emojis can lead to higher inbox placement, few delivery professionals are entirely convinced that there is a correlation. As the context and timing of the messages in the research changed, so did the subject lines (Merry Christmas vs Happy Arbor Day). Having to change subject lines means that the data is not entirely consistent, and we are not convinced that adding a tree to your subject line will help your messages get inboxed at Yahoo if they wouldn't otherwise.

Using and testing emojis in your campaigns

The decision to use emojis comes down to your branding, your message, and your recipients. The primary uses of emojis in subject lines are:

1. Act as a substitute for a word or phrase

You can use emojis to add a little more 'text' to your subject or pre-header text without taking up valuable character space. However, we don't recommend substituting key phrases with emojis otherwise the subject line may not make sense to your contact.

2. Support your message with emotion

A tongue-in-cheek joke or an appeal to emotion can be supported by emojis to help clarify their meaning in the subject line.

3. Emphasize certain words in a subject line

A tiny airplane next to a flight promotions announcement can punctuate that particular word and bring it to the reader's attention.

So, lets talk about what emojis you could use, and when to use them.


It's important to make note of any branding issues that may pop up when using emojis. Using emojis in your brand tagline, or one that may clash with your logo, may confuse your recipients and cause engagement issues.


Emojis have a casual, non-professional feel to them. This can definitely work for more laid-back brands, but professions like lawyers and doctors may not be taken seriously if they subject their message with:

It's important to decide if emojis are correct for your brand integrity before using them.


This is where targeted segmentation can really help your sending. Using custom fields to track a contact's age or what product they're interested in may help determine if emojis are worth testing out in your subject line. A large list can easily be segmented and sent two different messages; by targeting and testing emoji use, you may see even better results. Remember, your communication must be clear to your recipient. If they don't understand what your message is, there is little chance of it sticking.

How to implement emojis into your email marketing

Not all email service providers or operating systems support emojis, so before you turn your subject line into a chain of images, you'll want to make sure that your recipients can view your emojis properly. We recommend testing your message with different email providers and operating systems. You'll also want to keep an eye on the most used email providers on your list to make sure most of your recipients will have emojis rendered properly before using them.

You can also use our split test campaigns to get a feel for how your recipients will respond to emojis. This will give you insight on whether emoji use works for your sends. And remember, the more you can segment and target, the better your campaigns will perform.

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