Use Animated Emoticons In Email Subject Lines To Boost Conversion

  • James Johnson
  • Updated on Jan 30, 2024
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Recently, Matt Started using animated emoticons in his email subject lines:


And, it turns out you guys just can’t get enough of them.

Not only are they much more effective…

But, Matt’s drowning in messages asking how you can use email icons for yourself.

So, by popular demand, here’s the ultimate guide to using emoticons in your emails…

What You Will Learn

This is by far the most comprehensive guide on emoticons for email.

You’re going to learn:

  • Why animated emoticons in email subject lines are a game changer
  • How they helped one site boost their open rates 20%
  • The stupidly easy guide to start using emoticons right now
  • A complete list of emoticons to use in your emails

Okay, let’s get stuck in…

Animated Emoticons For Email Subject Lines Are A Game Changer

Emoticons are powerful for a few reasons:

They’re processed by the brain 60,000x faster than words are. Meaning that readers can make a quicker, more informed decision on whether to read your email.

And research from Flinders University in Australia has shown that people respond to Emoticons in the same way they would with a human face. That means they’re more personal, and they create more emotion.

That applies to everything. Whether that’s a:

  • Simple smiley face 🙂
  • An arrow →
  • Or a love heart ❤

Still not sold? Let’s take a look at a real world example we can all understand:


In a study by, they found users who used emoticons for email messages had more sex than those who didn’t. In fact, the more emoticons they used, the more sex they had:

Source: Time Magazine
Source: Time Magazine

Which means when people can’t see your face – like when you send an email to your list – emoticons make you more:

  • Likeable
  • Charming
  • Interesting

Than when you send a standard text-only message. And, when people are more likely to invest time in people they like, this is a powerful weapon in your arsenal.

It’s Not Just The Picture, It’s The Platform

How people open their email is changing.

In 2014 alone, 65% of people used their mobile phone to access their emails.

And, as of this year, 80% of people are using their smartphone to search the internet.

That’s only 11% behind the conventional desktop/laptop platform:

Device popularity

Which means someone is probably looking at your blog post, landing page or niche site on their phone.

To give you a personal example of this, I opened the email Matt sent me to write this article on my phone. And, I researched every piece of content cited in this article for it there too.

Because, well…I forgot to bring my laptop charger to the coffee shop.

But what’s important here is this:

People are used to seeing emoticons on their phone.

Yet they still aren’t used to seeing them in their emails. Which means they’re comfortable for readers, but they’re still able to stand out!

Emoticons still have a powerful impact on a desktop level – as you’ll see next – but as more and more email users switch to mobile platform, it’s time to take advantage of that.

Whether that means using them in all your messages, or just a mobile-friendly segment of your list, is up to you. But we’ll cover testing a little later on.

Case Study: Emojis In Action

No, I’m not going to show you people using emoticons to have sex. Behave.

Instead I’m going to show you a site using emoticons to boost their email open rates. Which is the real reason you came to the page, right?

Earlier this year, Rene Kulka of, ran an experiment to see whether animated emoticons improved his open rates.

He chose a segment of his mailing list who were likely to open his emails on Gmail Desktop and added the emoticons to his subject lines.

And, as a control group, he ran the same experiment with a non-animated emoticon too.

After 70 hours he checked to see how the unique open rate had changed. Here are the results:

  • His unique open rate increased 20%
  • It got his best open rate of 2015
  • When directly linked with a blog post, it created more email responses and blog comments

Not bad for adding a moving emoticon, eh?

But What About Normal Emojis?

Although the guys over at MailChimp are sat on the fence about the use of Emojis. A common trend seems to be this:

Using a relevant emoticon in your subject line will always boost open rates.

In analysis by eConsultancy, they found that just adding a simple Unicode emoticon to the start of your email could improve open rates.

By using a friendly snowman to the start of an email subject, a lot of marketers could see up to 65.75% more opens than average:

emoticons for email subject lines performance
Source: eConsultancy

But the key here – for any marketing campaign using emoticons – is relevance.

That is, the emoticon you use must fit the subject line you’re writing.

For example, here are some highly relevant subject lines:

  • ♥ Save 20% This Valentines Day
  • 🍕 2-for-1 on all Pizzas this Friday
  • 🎁 Thanks for subscribing! Here’s that free gift I mentioned…
  • ✈ Win a trip to Peru!
  • ⭐ Congratulations, you’re a winner…

And, here are some highly irrelevant subject lines:

  • ⚽ Save Money On Tennis Gear This Winter
  • 💊 50% Off All Guitar Lessons
  • 🐍 Why Eating Gluten Could Make Your Breath Smell…
  • 🎵 What It Means When Your Husband Cheats On You
  • 💄 Congratulations! You just won free access to my forum

See the difference?

There’s also an argument to be made for using multiple emoticons in your subject lines. Or, grouping them in creative ways, like in this image (click to enlarge):

animated emoticons in email
Source: MailChimp

But there isn’t enough conclusive data for me out there to tell you whether that is, or isn’t, a good strategy right now.

⚠ Warning: Do Your Research And Test Everything

You’re getting to the actionable bit, I promise. But there’s another subject I need to cover before I do.

That’s this:

Your mailing list is different to every other mailing list out there. Nobody reading (or writing) this article has the same mailing list as you. Which means there is no cookie cutter strategy to what emoticons do, and don’t, work.

Which means it’s worth your time to research some important factors on your mailing list:

  • Which email client do they use? (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo! etc.)
  • Do they open on desktop or mobile?
  • Do you have a segment that does both?

Because in certain inboxes emoticons will look different.

Gmail has a more colourful view:


While other inboxes have a much more monotone, but still effective, set of emoticons:


That could impact the emoticons you choose. Because, while one may look sleek in Yahoo email! It might look terrible in Outlook. Probably not, but it’s worth knowing.

There’s also the case for the mailing list service you use.

For example, MailChimp will let you use emoticons like you’d find on a smartphone. But as they show in this article (link) they may not show up in all inboxes just yet:

Source: MailChimp
Source: MailChimp

But when they do show up, they’re next level good:

email emoticons in subject line example
Source: MailChimp

Which means that you might have to use copy and paste emoticons, instead of the inbuilt ones.

There is also every chance that your audience could see them as spammy, clickbait, dirty tricks that they hate.

What I’m really saying here is that you need to test everything you do and see how the audience reacts.

Here are some test ideas that are worth starting with:

  • Which style of emoticon works best – cut and paste, or in-built?
  • Which type of subject line to they perform well with?
  • Which is more effective – one, two or three emoticons?
  • Does it improve open rates if you split your list into desktop and mobile segments, and send different Emojis?
  • Which single emoticon does your audience respond to most?

There are hundreds of other variations too. But the way you’re going to find them is by getting into the trenches, sending emails and running the tests.

In order to do that though, you need to know how to get emoticons into your subject line.

That brings me to the smoothest transition to the next section of a blog post, ever…

The Stupidly Easy Guide To Using Emojis In Your Subject Lines

Okay, I’ve bombarded you with theory so far.

But now it’s time to get to the super actionable stuff that you can use to create tasty, clickable, subject lines.

There are a few ways to do this, and I’ve listed the most effective ones here. And how to do them. Because I’m just a swell guy.

The Unicode Method ★

Unicode Emoticons are text based and are super easy to copy and paste. They’re basic, but they will show up in any and all inboxes.

Simple head to a Unicode page, like this one. Or Google search Unicode Emoticons and look at their dazzling display of them:

unicode emoticons

Then choose the one you like:

Select your emoticon

And copy and paste it in to your email subject line:

Paste into your email subject lines

The Animated Method

Not all inboxes support animated emoticons just yet. But as you saw in the case study before, they’re powerful for the segment that can see animated emoticons for gmail.

The simplest way to do this is to head to this blog post from Rene, who ran the case study, and look at his list of animated emoticons:

list of animated emoticons for email subject lines

Looking through them you can find some really funny animated emoticons that are guaranteed to grab peoples attention.

Now, this isn’t like this Unicode method. Don’t copy and paste the icon. Instead, copy and paste the little square above it:

Choose, copy & paste

It’ll show up as that square in the subject line, like this:

Email subject line example

But as soon as you send it, it’s magically transformed into a moving emoticon:

email emoticons

The MailChimp Method

MailChimp is the only email-marketing client that boasts it’s own set of emoticons right now.

But I’m sure with the recent surge in popularity – and success – others wont be far behind. (Note: I’ll update this post as soon as any others do. And, if I’m wrong, please let me know in the comments).

So if you’re lucky enough to be on MailChimp, here’s how to do it…

Create a new campaign:

New MailChimp Campaign

Select Regular Campaign:

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 14.40.02

Then choose from the list of emoticons on offer, under the little smiley face tab:

Choose your emoticons

The (Slightly) More Beautiful Method

There’s one final resource that I love:

Using Twitter Emojis in your subject lines.

Simply head to this link right here, which will bring up this huge display of Emoji’s:

Twitter emoticons index

Now, you don’t copy and paste these in the same way as the others. Instead you need to click on the icon you like, which will bring up this command box:

Select your emoticon from Twitter

Copy and paste that in to your email subject line. And, you’re ready to go…

Paste it into your email

Wrapping It All Up…

Okay, this was a long post about animated emoticons. But everything in it was on a need to know basis.

Let’s recap the key points, shall we?

  • Emoticons Are Emotions: People respond to emotions like it’s a human face. No matter what style of emoticon it is. So, use them to create emotions in people and get a reaction.
  • Prepare For Mobile: More and more people are opening emails on their phone each day. Use them to create comfortable, but stand out, subject lines.
  • Any Emoji Is A Good Emoji: As long as it’s relevant to the subject, and your audience don’t find them spammy, adding an emoticon is going to give you a boost in open rates.
  • Test Everything: These are still uncharted territory for a lot of marketers. So do you research and get to know your list. You could be surprised what you find.
  • They’re Only A Copy And Paste Away: You can cut and paste all of your emoticons to save time, and without having to know any coding at all. You can even add them to your blog posts and Twitter, if you’re feeling adventurous.


So, all that’s left to ask now is – how are you going to start using animated emoticons in your email subject lines?

Let me know in the comments…

What Are Your Thoughts?

51 Responses

  1. Interesting article. Animated emoticons work great in services and goods promotion, but in B2B sector it’s not the best solution. I think it all depends on the target audience and people’s different preferences. Conception of using emoticons should be tested on customers. In fact this is a great idea to make your email marketing strategy more unique.

  2. Whilst I can understand using symbols and emoji’s maybe a good shorthand method when space is limited eg: reading via a phone; not everyone is amused by the symbols. Subjects do not need to be a complete sentence using in excess of 30 letters. Emoji’s are irritating and tell you a lot about the sender and it is never positive; always sales cold callers, spam etc. There is a folder for these emails called Junk.So if you use them, be selective and prudent because generally they give the wrong impression.

  3. Hey Matthew,I love the emoticons you send in your newsletters.I already knew about the Unicode method and the MailChimp emoticons, but I didn’t know how you added the animated emoticons.Now I know your secret =DI am really excited. Will implement soon =DThanks,Mohit Gangrade


  5. This is so neat. I just did a series of tests for compatibility. 1. Tested personal email to Outlook – they appeared2. Tested Outlook to Gmail – they appeared3. Sent test email to father (on outlook from outlook) – they appeared4. Sent test email to co-worker (on outlook from outlook) – they DID NOT appear, he only saw squares. 5. Sent test email to yahoo (from outlook) – they worked6. Sent test email from yahoo to Gmail – did not work until you clicked on the email. 7. Sent test email from Yahoo to Outlook – did not work all I saw was squares..All of these were using the Twitter Emoijis that you listed. It’s interesting though I’m curious to see what happens if it is sent out but a client’s outlook isn’t up to date (which I think is the cause of the Co-Worker not seeing the images) and if they unsubscribe or delete the email..? Any experience with this? Thanks,Megan

    1. Hey Megan,You will also find that where the Twitter ones didn’t work in your test, the animated ones will (In Thunderbird anyway) – there doesn’t seem to be any kind of solid consistency and where it doesnt work and the little square appears, I don’t really worry about it

  6. Thank you for the priceless insight into the world of emoticons and the guide to using them. I have one more assumption concerning the reason why people pay more attention to emails with animated icons rather than usual emails. I suppose that all grownups are children after all. We all like things that resemble us toys, symbols of careless childhood. Moreover, we are all tired of stale emails and this is the thing that lets emoticons stand out and be catchy. Your article encouraged me to use more emoticons even in my personal emails!

  7. I have always used a method of finding the icon I want to use, creating a base64 encoded version of it, and then including the base64 encoded version of the icon in my subject line (along with escape characters that tell the email client when to drop into and out of encoding). This also works for foreign language characters as well – Chinese, Cyrillic, etc.It’s definitely more work than just copying / pasting the character though.Have email clients (including desktop Outlook, webmail, etc.) progressed to the point where encoding the icons is unnecessary? I am under the assumption that this method allows the icons to be viewed in a wider variety of emails than just cutting / pasting, but don’t have a great way to test this hypothesis except by proxy (open rates etc.)Do you think it’s worth the extra trouble?

    1. Clients like Outlook and Thunderbird won’t display them but only you can decide if its worth going to that extra effort as the vast majority are using webmail clients/phone apps.

  8. Hi Matt, just found your blog couple days ago when i’m looking for about long tail pro. since that i can stop to read your articles and i think this is brilliant idea to put some emoticon on email subject.this morning when i check my email i was curious about your email subject and i was thinking how you can put emoticon on your email subject, and now i found the answer. i just send email to my subscriber with emoticon in subject and can’t wait to see how much increase of open rate.Thank you and can’t wait to see more useful tips.

  9. Matt this is a really helpful post. I never realized how engaging emoticons can really be get more readers of content. thanks for taking the time to write this.

  10. Hi Matt,You are a genius. Well done stuff. I follow your blog closely. Cant want to see more useful tips.Btw Matt, I dont know if this is the right place to ask this but in your years of experience online and offline. What does it take to be a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert?

  11. Pretty interesting post Matt. Email open rates is one of the biggest challenges for most marketers. And using emoticons seems like a definitely worth-trying idea. By the way, have you also tried using emoticons in outreach emails or just in promotional emails? If yes, how did they perform? Just curious..

  12. Will try this out right now 🙂 I use emojis a lot anyway so why not use it for my subscribers!Thanks,Esteban

  13. I noticed people doing this sort of thing in Craigslist ad titles a while ago. Makes sense to incorporate it into emails too without getting too spammy. I love emojis on text and have started including them in some emails too.

  14. Yep It works, It made me open your email out of the 100s of mails in the long unread list, I would have opened it anyway but it saved a few days to the process, so i would say that emoticons can change the priority of the unread list and really bump up the open rate.if everyone would use emoticons it’s gonna stop working as many other things.Thanks for the helpful info.

  15. Well I’ve got to agree, cheery emoticons are a lot nicer in my inbox than the SHOUTY subject lines some IMs use!Bring on the emoticon party!

  16. Hi Matthew, Thanks for the nice & high quality post. I enjoy reading of your post :)Is all of these emoticons can only apply for gmail recipients? how about yahoo mail or hotmail? can the readers in yahoo or hotmail read these emoticons?

  17. Just kidding Matt. Curious if you were using a pseudo name on this post or if there is a new writer for your blog named James Johnson. Didn’t know if this was a ranking signal to Google or something to have different authors for posts.

  18. hi Matthew, it’s great to improve open rate. and it’s really a catchy with some great headlines. let me check in my other emails.. thanks for this awesome tips.

  19. At first i thought they were were those tricky and spammy emails filling my inbox with no good reason, but when i checked the headline keenly i decide to click and i was shocked to see it was Matt.Matt that was a good twist lets see if other top bloggers can use it. Thanks James for writing this guide.

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