Natalie Ustymenko

Head of Direct Marketing

Special characters in email Subject line: are they really needed?

Special Characters in the Email Subject Line: Do You Really Need Them?

Email subject is still among the most interesting email components to be studied and experienced. A multitude of tricks was applied to subjects just to motivate user to open email. Several years ago it was "trendy" to highlight some word by capital letters, add quotes etc. Someone is trying to find trigger words, another is making subjects as short as possible, and still others are adding various symbols to gain clients attention.

Adding special characters or smilies to subject line is not a new feature of email formatting. Nevertheless, colored characters are increasingly used to attract attention when mailbox is already overloaded.

In email design, an increasing popularity is recently gained by colored HTML characters in subject line, as they look attractive and bright... BUT only when displayed.

Testing email emoji symbols via different mailing clients

We have tested the same emails and colored characters via most popular mail clients and on different devices:

Testing email emoji symbols via different mailing clients

Very few things were found to be going wrong with mobile clients, but emoticons behavior on PC still remains unpredictable. Not all email clients are equally friendly to email symbol text in subject line, even to monochrome ♥ ● ★. Unlike Gmail (which displays colored characters only when message is open), doesn’t display these symbols at all. Yandex, and display any characters in monochrome mode; as for Outlook 2003, it replaces them with spaces. Mobile version of Gmail (as well as Outlook and iPhone) behave sporadically: popular icons (emoticons, hearts, suns) are somehow displayed, but there is an utter trouble with exclusive symbols.

How HTML characters are displayed by email clients

Sunduk store applied two little-known symbols in their subject line and Gmail in Google Chrome reacted them in his own manner:

Testing email emoji symbols via different mailing clients

Opening the inbox email we got to know what actually should be instead of ▯:

How HTML characters are displayed by email clients refuse any unfamiliar characters in mailing campaigns at all

How HTML characters are displayed by email clients

But just shyly ignore that there are some icons:

How HTML characters are displayed by email clients

The mission of emoticons is to gain the reader's attention... but instead of attractive icon he may see a white rectangle or some unreadable crochet-symbols. Do you really think that email design of this kind will motivate someone to open the message?

It’s a safe bet to assume that symbols are correctly displayed by iPhone:

Displayed by iPhone

But are you sure that many of your clients have iPhone? The problem is that Gmail App on Android (sometimes even if email is opened by email client) still displays the whole email symbols list as monochrome.

Gmail App on Android

In the sample above the traffic light symbol was not adjusted at all (the same trouble happened in Android mail) but everything is OK with the rest of special symbols, although they are not colored. The question arises: why risk with mailing if you can simply add a monochrome characters when compose emails - and they all will be displayed by all email clients?

But there are good news for Windows 10 users. All the characters that Windows can identify shall be colored :) Everywhere except of email clients that don’t display these symbols.

Gmail on Windows 10

Users of Ubuntu above Trusty Tahr 2015 can see email symbol text as monochrome in Gmail, Yandex and Rambler.


And only in symbols will be colored via Ubuntu. In older editions these characters are not supported, or displayed as monochrome in general inbox list and becoming colored only when message is open.

Symbols on

Summing up:

  1. Email formatting with special characters really increasing the open rate.

  2. It’s better to add some characters in the beginning of subject line.
    Символ в начале темы письма

  3. A symbol in the end of a long subject line will not significantly affect the result of subject test - email client may cut it.

  4. Do not overuse symbols. ❷ — this is the top.

  5. ✻ Try to highlight subject from both sides ✻

  6. Symbols, their positions and number: test and test again.

  7. Find symbols that characterize your brand or message. For example, ♬ for a music store or ☕ for cafe.

     Symbols in subject

  8. Don’t send emails with symbols each time - subscriber will just get used to, and stop to react.

  9. Symbols in the subject line are not adding spam points, so you can (and need) to use it sometimes.

  10. Use the colored symbols at your own risk :)

How to add special characters when compose emails?

If you still dare to add colored symbols, here's a little hint how to do it. In email, HTML is an usual panacea but HTML code can not be applied to subject. So, just copy the symbol itself and then paste it to subject line. ✂ ❤☁ ☺ ✏☑

  1. Guys from Pro-smm collected email symbols list with more than 300 items for social networks, and they are quite suitable for email subjects too. If you really want - just try and test:)
  2. Symbols from instatag website are correctly displayed on different devices. Even if some device is not yet upgraded to support email emoji symbols - a monochrome character in subject line will appear anyway.

Maybe all the mailing clients will correctly react to colored symbols soon, but we don't recommend to apply these email components to your subjects now. As for Viber mailings  special characters are displayed correctly and attract attention.

We will certainly follow the new trends and share them with you, so...

See you! ;)

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Natalie Ustymenko

Head of Direct Marketing

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