Symbols in subject lines, AKA the resurrection of Wingdings
Tracy Beach Nov 13 2014
I’ve worked at Portent for 14 years now and this is my first blog post. You might ask yourself, “why now?” “Why does he start with this subject?” The answer is that nothing in the past 14-plus years has been more exciting, more inspiring, and maybe even more important than the recent technological advancements that have allowed us to bring back the Wingdings.
I guess they’ve been rebranded a bit as Emoji’s, but in our hearts and minds we will all know they’re really just Wingdings, Wingdings 2 and Wingdings 3. And now they’re showing up in my inbox with increasing volume every day. Great Zeus has smiled upon us.
Using symbols or emoji characters in subject lines
Recent advancements in technology have allowed us to land on a comet put symbols in our subject lines with ease. This can be important, because the symbols definitely make your subject lines stand out in a cluttered inbox. Many unnamed big brands are testing these symbols in their subject lines as we head into the holiday season where email will play a vital role in generating a few billion dollars in revenue over the next two months.
This is what they look like:
And it makes sense because they do stand out. But how far can they go? And will they impact sales?
An emojional test
We tested these symbols over a month and a half in a variety of different subject lines and offers. We also polled a few companies that we noticed were also testing symbols in their subject lines.
292,914 emails were sent and we split test 50/50 so 146,457 received a subject line with a symbol and 146,457 without. The symbol we used was the mighty ▶ arrow.
|Avg open rate||9.0%||8.7%|
|Total times opened||6.3%||5.99%|
|Avg total clicks||13.2%||12.7%|
Note: We attempted a star ★ one time during this test with a disastrous response and can safely say that people do not like nor appreciate ★ stars in their inbox.
What we learned from our tests
The open rate differences are not as significant as I thought which saddens me deeply, but the symbols do help.
- Every email with a ▶ symbol had a better open rate than the emails without.
- Symbol laden emails did not always generate a better clickthrough rate, however that is likely to be offer specific.
- The very first subject line with a symbol we sent produced the best response rate over all other emails per client, at a 2% average increase in open rate. After that, the response rates degraded to 1% and sub-1%.
- A one-time special offer email with emojis had a 3% better open and clickthrough rate than one without.
- On average, symbols generated a half % better re-open rate.
- People reallllllly don’t like ★.
We’ve also heard from a few of our friends. One company mentioned that they had seen the characters “be a pretty effective inbox differentiator” for their business. They are also lovers of the Wingdings.
So is it helpful to your email marketing? Yes. Is it statistically significant? No. But that may be our tests, our lists, and the businesses that the test subjects are in. The fact that each symbol test won is inspiring. It may not break the bank for everyone, but a strong list might respond differently than a poorly cultivated one. And companies with massive lists would jump at even a .5% increase in opens. And I think there is a lot more you can do beyond the mighty ▶ too.
Suggested best practices
In our tests, we’ve seen several different uses of symbols and emojis with various success rates. We’ve found that:
- ▶ Best placement for the symbol is as the first character of the subject line.
- Putting the symbol after the subject line appears to go unnoticed.
- ✻ Bracketing subject lines with symbols has been said to increase clickthrough. ✻
- ❶ ❷ ❸ ❹ ❺ ❻ ❼ ❽ ❾ ❿ Don’t overdo it. This has a shelf life before it reaches new heights of annoyance. I’d suggest saving the symbols for emails that deserve attention versus boring old news releases and run of the mill offers.
- Test! Always test. Try testing different placements of characters. Try different symbols. Try with extra special offers.
- If possible, use symbols that reflect your brand or message. Travel gets a plane ✈ or a holiday shopping email gets a gifty icon that works in most browsers, but not here.
- ★ Never use stars. Never.
The future of subject lines
I for one am insanely excited about the potential impact that this resurgence in Wingdings might produce. Now that we have an actual use for Wingdings, what else could be coming our way? I personally am going to lobby hard for:
- More ASCI art in subject lines. __̴ı̴̴̡̡̡ ̡͌l̡̡̡ ̡͌l̡*̡̡ ̴̡ı̴̴̡ ̡̡͡|̲̲̲͡͡͡ ̲▫̲͡ ̲̲̲͡͡π̲̲͡͡ ̲̲͡▫̲̲͡͡ ̲|̡̡̡ ̡ ̴̡ı̴̡̡ ̡͌l̡̡̡̡.___ < What is that?
- More Qbert stand up arcade games. I finally feel that I have the dexterity to master the ordinal joystick.
Only time will tell how long this will last. I do however, believe that Wingdings are eternal and will someday become a much larger player in the digital space. I can’t wait to see them break into Adwords ads.
If you happen to test and want to share your thoughts, drop me a line in the comments. Also, here’s a nice list of safe symbols in case you’re looking.
Special thanks to Jarrod Medrano who quickly installed my A/B tests and to Kris Holmes and Charles Bigelow for creating the infamous Wingdings fonts.
Tracy joined Portent in 2000 and has succeeded in multiple positions over his many years, including creating and defining the Account Strategist role, so important to the company's growth and success. He has played an integral part in helping Portent evolve from a four-employee agency into a leading internet marketing firm.Tracy is proud of Portent’s people, its growth and is excited for its bright future. Read More