Handy "How Tos"

How to Use Emoji in Your Email Subject Lines

  Gregg Blanchard     March 27, 2024    

So you're working on a brilliant email campaigns, the template is ready, previews are rendering beautifully, the audience is perfectly targeted, links are tagged, but...man...that subject line...it just feels...off.

Your subject line is the first thing a recipient will see when they receive your email. So even though it's just a handful of words long, it's competing withing dozens of not hundreds of other campaigns for the attention of the person you send it to. Which makes that subject lines can be perhaps the most important bit of marketing copy you write for every campaign you send. In this battle for attention, you ask yourself;

"Maybe adding an emoji or two would help?"

Before we jump in, let's give this tactic a little bit of context to help you understand how often other marketers use emoji and which emoji they use.

How many email subject lines contain emoji?

For this analysis we're going to look at retail emails specifically with a couple side insights from other industries as well. If you'd like to better understand how your industry, peers, and competitors use emoji in their subject lines, SendView's Emoji Trends report can show you.

So let's start by talking about what percentage of retail emails show emoji in the subject line. To find our answer we looked at over 7,000 email campaigns sent by retail brands over the last 12 months. Of those campaigns, 40% (about 2,850 total) included at least one emoji in the subject line.

Which emoji are most commonly used in email subject lines?

Using that same data set, the top 25 most common emoji used in these retail brands' email subject lines were as follows with the number representing how many of those 2,850 emails contained that emoji.

  • 🚨 Rotating Light - 266
  • 🔥 Fire - 231
  • ✨ Sparkles - 223
  • ⚡ Zap - 118
  • ⚠️ Warning - 115
  • 💥 Boom - 98
  • ⏰ Alarm Clock - 88
  • 🚀 Rocket - 85
  • 💸 Money With Wings - 70
  • 🎁 Gift - 64
  • ⏳ Hourglass Flowing Sand - 61
  • ❤️ Heart - 57
  • 🎉 Tada - 54
  • 🌟 Star2 - 50
  • ☀️ Sunny - 49
  • 💙 Blue Heart - 47
  • ✈️ Airplane - 46
  • ⭐ Star - 45
  • 🤑 Money Mouth Face - 44
  • 🤩 Grinning Face With Star Eyes - 43
  • 💨 Dash - 40
  • 💖 Sparkling Heart - 40
  • 💰 Moneybag - 39
  • 📦 Package - 38
  • ‼️ Bangbang - 38

You may notice that the most frequently used emoji have something in common which we'll touch on in a second, but notice that the most commonly used emoji show up in about 10% of all subject lines that contain emoji. That's a pretty hefty number and suggests there are some patterns here.

Three Ways to Use Emoji in Your Subject Lines

Which brings us to the next part of this guide: how to use emoji in your email subject lines. We're analyzed a lot of email campaigns over the years and we've identified three primary ways emoji are typically used to compliment a subject line.

1) Emoji That Add Urgency

This is what we were referring to with those top few emoji. The majority of the 10 most commonly used emoji all have some way to tie back to urgency. Let's look at a few subject line examples to visualize what we mean by that. For example, these subject lines all use the "rotating light" emoji tied to sale that either won't be available for much longer.

  • 🚨 Flash sale alert 🚨
  • 75% Off All Sale FINAL HRS🚨
  • 🚨 Last Chance: Your 30% off ends tonight

And while the "rotating light" emoji is probably the most common one paired with this type of email, it's not the only one. For example, many of those others are paired with time-sensitive subject lines in very similar ways.

  • ⏰ Tick Tock: Save $1700 on Hugo Power Reclining Sofa!
  • Price Drop⚠️75% Off ALL Sale!
  • ⚡️SALE ALERT⚡️ Extra 20% OFF
  • Day 10 🔥 Save $1100 on Quincy Leather Reclining Sofa
  • SALE ALERT💥60-70% Off 1,000+ Styles!
  • 💸Ur 25$ OFF Code Expires In 3Hrs💸
  • Last Day⏳BOGO FREE Tops & Bottoms!

So the first way to use emoji in your subject line is to add a little bit of visual support to drive home that sense of urgency you're trying to get across.

2) Emoji That Draw Attention

This really is the classic idea behind emoji, right? Instead of black text, recipients are seeing a splash of color. But while that is the premise of emoji use in general, there are specific ways these visuals are placed in and around words that try to optimize their ability to get eye balls to not just look, but look at specific parts of the subject line. For example, a few common examples of this are the double emoji around the whole subject line.

  • ⚡ Flash Sale ⚡
  • ❗Final Reminder: Extra 20% Off Everything – Winter Sale Ends Tonight❗
  • ❤️ Welcome to The Love Shop ❤️
  • 🤑$5 | $7 | $9 | $12 BLOWOUT SALE🤑

And the double emoji around specific words you want to draw extra attention to.

  • Made some ✨ NEW ✨ savings yet? This sale ends TONIGHT!
  • Winter Blowout💥50-60% OFF💥
  • ⚡Flash Sale⚡10% OFF Mattress Protectors
  • Last Day For👉FREE CLOTHES👈

Or putting multiple emoji one after the other in your subject line for extra emphasis.

  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Stix reviews
  • 🥳 🎉 2024 Kickoff: Your Exclusive Savings Inside!
  • Baby, it's COLD outside! 🥶❄️
  • Chrome makeup for under $12 💜 💙 💚

Heck, you could even combine both of those ideas together and put repeating multiples on either side.

  • 🔥⏳ Less than 24 hours before the sale (and the year) ends ⏳🔥

In other words, emoji and meant to draw attention and you can either stop with one emoji or take that as far as you dare.

3) Emoji that Illustrate the Message

The second way we see emoji being used is to add a little visual that illustrates the key message in your subject line in the same way you might choose a hero or product image that compliments the headline at the top of your email template. The perfect example of this is holidays. All of these subject lines below are related to holidays and use an emoji to illustrate that.

  • ☘Our St. Patrick's Day Sale is Now Live!
  • Hop Over to EightVape for a SITEWIDE Easter Sale!🐇🥚
  • Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas 🎄
  • 🎇 Celebrate Freedom with 20% Off this Fourth of July
  • Happy Thanksgiving 🍗 🍷! Thank you for being a VIP customer!
  • 🎉🇺🇸 Happy Presidents Day! Final Hours for Free Shipping!

But it's not just holidays. Emoji can add a visual illustration to emoji about sales, weather, the type of products you're selling, and more.

  • NEW RELEASE: Xbox Ethereal Energy Controllers 🎮
  • Sun-Kissed Swim☀️
  • 👕 Achieve effortless style with spring essentials!
  • LAST CHANCE: 10% off Travel Must-Haves! 🌏✈️
  • 🎉 Celebrate Spring: $20-$25 Deals + Extra 30% Off Clearance!

Pretty simple, right? If you have a message about X, find an emoji that represents X.

4) Emoji That Replace Words in Your Subject Line

This is similar to the last one, but the idea is that instead of putting both the word and the complimentary emoji in your email subject line to illustrate the word, you only put the emoji. And not just that, you put the emoji where the word would have been. A simple example is using number emoji, but the most common are variations of the heart emoji in place of the word love.

  • Day 8️⃣ Save $180 on the Bari dining table!
  • We 💜 chrome
  • Fall in ❤️ with these face must-haves
  • Pink glitter = 💖

That said, this usage seems to be falling out of favor. When we looked at emoji use a couple years ago we saw quite a few examples of this. This year, they seem to be much more rare and for good reason. While emoji can be used in place of words, the context of a subject line is something people are used to reading in words not converting from emoji to words.

Email Subject Line Emoji Are Here to Stay

It really wasn't that many years ago that emoji in subject lines were a very rare, sort of "edgy" idea. Today, that couldn't be further from the truth. Every type of brand from banks and online retail to government and doctors offices use emoji to add urgency, draw more attention, illustrate their message, or replace words.

These are a few ways brands often use emoji in their subject line, but not all the ways. Take these subject lines as inspiration, sprinkle in a little creativity, and maybe you'll be celebrating 🎉 a big win in your next campaign.

The only way to find out is to try, test, and learn.

And if you'd like to better understand emoji use by your competitors and peers, you should give SendView a try. It can show you which emoji they use, which is most common, and how many of their campaigns contain these clever little characters we've all come to know and love.