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Using Icons in Email Subject Lines

Make an impact using unicode characters for icon rendering in your email subject lines!

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Have you noticed email newsletters have been arriving to your inbox with icons in the subject line? Of course you have! These icons attracted your attention to the email simply because a quirky graphic was used in the subject line and we want to talk about the appropriateness of them for your business, where to find icons to insert into email subject lines and the icon limitations.

Are Icons Appropriate for Your Business?

B2C clients probably won’t mind an icon showing up in their email communications, and in fact, embrace the concept. For example, this year we saw a few snowmen delivered to our inbox, from TeamBuy the company that delivers exclusive deals to your email inbox based on your nearest city.

Icon in TeamBuy Subject Line Email

Snowman TeamBuy Icon in Subject Line


We’ve also been seeing them pop-up in email communications from various clothing retailers, which is probably OK too. Why? Why not?! They draw attention to your subject line in the rows of new emails, tempting the inbox owner to click and read. So why not capture the subscribers attention with a heart, star, sun or pencil – as long as it fits the context of the email. Although, it might be a good idea to limit the number of icons used, so don’t go overboard hoping more is better with a string of email icons surrounding the subject line. You probably want to keep the email professional, and not spammy looking.

Roots Snowflake Icon in Subject Line - Holiday Season Email

Snowflake Icon in Subject Line from Roots in Holiday Season Email


WagJag - Sun burst Icon in email blast

Sun burst Icon in Email Blast from WagJag


A B2B client might be a bit hard to convince to use icons or symbolic meanings into their email blasts subject lines. Probably because they’re holding down corporate rules and regulations with strict branding guidelines.

Where To Find Icons for Your Email

Well that’s easy! A character map is a compilation of symbols or special characters accessible to you on your PC or Mac and how you’ll find icons to use. We’ve even Googled it for you – simply click the link for character map resources. And here’s some instructions on how to access a character map on your Mac from Wiki How, How to Make Symbols on a Mac.

A character map will lead you to make an icon decision based on fonts installed on your machine. It’s a bit hard for us to describe exactly how the rendering will turn out, because it depends on fonts installed and the operating system you’re using. Just keep in mind that the icons will render differently depending on the email client the eblast was viewed in. So be sure to test in the big and popular email clients such as Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook Express, iPhone Mail and Blackberry mail software. You might also want to confirm with your email reports to tell you which email clients your subscribers are reading your emails with.

Don’t Be Afraid of Email Subject Line Limitations

We know what you’re thinking… how do I know how to really use an icon in my email subject line? What are the limitations and how can I expect those icons will be received?

Don’t fret. We have your back and have detailed three different ways special characters can be used:

  • To separate a thought, statement or sentence.
  • In replacement of a word, such as “love” or “pencil” for a back-to-school offer.
  • As a decorative element at the beginning (or end) of the email subject line.

The safest way to approach using icons in email subject lines is to introduce them, test, then test some more. It’s probably also safest to start using an icon as a decorative element at the beginning (or end) of the email subject line, then introduce word replacement with icons and sentence separations later on in your email campaigns.

What are your thoughts on icons or symbols in email subject lines? Tell us about emails you’ve received with icons in the subject line and how they were used. Leave a comment below!

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