8 min.

From brand-new emojis to their actual effectiveness in the subject line and body of emails, up to some tips for optimizing their use in screen readers.

There must be a reason why we talk about emojis so much, and are so attentive to new ones: those smiley faces characterize our daily communication much more than we think, bringing them to an iconographic and symbolic level accompanying the text.

This attentiveness has led neuro-scientists to study the language of emojis and detect its ability to generate more empathy than simple written word. It’s clearly unthinkable to ignore the phenomenon in the marketing field – especially its impact on the email channel -, where communication must rely on all the tools capable of improving public engagement.

To stay updated on the world of emojis, we’ve collected the latest news on the topic, after which we examined their advantages and their actual effectiveness in emails, closing with some tips to optimize them for the increasing number of emails read by screen readers.

News from the world of emojis

The Unicode consortium has anticipated that 117 new emojis will arrive by 2020: in detail, there will be 62 new figures and 55 of their variants.

One of the top new emojis is the Made in Italy gesture of fingers pinched together, which nevertheless is accompanied by some interpretation problems: if in Italy and in most of the world it expresses the classic “What do you want?”, in other cultures it has a different meaning (it seems that in Middle Eastern countries it means “wait”).

The undertaking of researchers at the University of Macerata is also noteworthy, who created a special version of Leopardi’s poem L’Infinito. Translated into many languages, now Leopardi’s poem can also boast having an emoji translation. Rather unusual!

The advantages of emojis in email subject lines

Why are emojis so influential in email marketing too? Simply because they have some significant advantages. At the level of the subject line, inserting emojis allows you to:

  • Increase opening rates
    According to an Experian report, 56% of the brands that use emojis in the subject lines of their emails get higher unique opening rates.

4 ways to use emojis in subject lines

  • Save space
    Considering the ever-increasing number of emails opened on mobile devices, optimizing the length of the subject line is becoming a more and more decisive factor (the ideal length is between 30-40 characters). In this context, emojis let you condense the message, translating words and meanings into an icon.
  • Convey an emotion
    Connected to the previous point, emojis have the ability to convert meanings and messages into images, which is fundamental in a context of ultra-rapid use such as that of emails. Since establishing an emotional connection with your customers is crucial in marketing, emojis will increasingly be a key element of campaigns.
  • Highlight the email in inboxes
    Inboxes are increasingly crowded with messages, which means companies must continuously strive to make emails stand out in the eyes of the recipient. Take a look at the two examples below. Which of the two subject lines attracts the most attention?

Emojis in email bodies: the impact on performance

In addition to subject lines, emoji can also be used inside emails, in the body of the message. The use of emojis is less common here because it’s harder for companies to integrate stylized emoticons with more complex visual and graphic elements. Some do it very well, as the following email shows:

But what’s more interesting is understanding how emojis in the body of emails impact results. The findings of the MailUp Statistical Observatory come in handy, which measured the incidence of iconographic elements in recipients’ inboxes.

First of all, we discovered that emojis are used more than dynamic fields (5% versus 4%): a surprising figure, unthinkable until a few years ago, and one which testifies to the increasing trust companies place in iconographic elements, seen as an effective accompaniment to the textual elements.

The Observatory reveals that emails with emojis in the subject line record higher unique click rates (9.3%), testifying that companies using emojis have a greater ability to communicate effectively, playing on the relationship between graphic and textual creativity also within the email, to generate engagement and stimulate responsiveness.

The data on the distribution of emojis among the various audiences is interesting: B2B registers 7.6% reactivity (compared to 4% in subject lines without emojis). The same occurs in mixed and in B2C10% and 8.5% of CTOR, respectively.

Emojis are mainly used in DEM (8.6% of the total); their use in newsletter emails (3.9% of the total) and transactional emails (2.6% of the total) is lower. This distribution confirms the tendency of emojis to be associated with commercial communications.

This connection of emojis and DEM has a good response among recipients, since promotional emails with emoticons in the subject line record higher UORs (19%) than emails that don’t have them (17%).

An effective use of emojis also reflects greater, more widespread reactivity. In fact, we find that the benefits emojis bring are cross-cutting and concern all three types of emails: newsletter, DEM and transactional, where the click rate is higher in subject lines containing one or more figurative elements.

It is distinctly clear that emojis, for DEM, are an element that can add a better visual impact to the subject line, offering an effective graphic complement to the textual content, to the full benefit of both openings and clicks.

How to optimize emails with emojis for screen readers

In email marketing there are more and more discussions focusing on the issue of email accessibility.

What does that mean? Accessibility is the design of emails aimed at guaranteeing all recipients – including those with disabilities (blindness, for example) or those who use assistive technologies (such as screen readers) – full use of the message and all its contents.

Designers and marketers are becoming increasingly sensitive and aware of the theme, so much so that there are now real best practices on the subject (our post offers some of the necessary requisites for making email design accessible).

Combining the discussion of emojis with that of accessibility, it’s clear that certain points must be resolved, with the aim of having the emoticons inserted in emails make sense, even if read by screen readers. Because without an appropriate optimization, how will the phrase “We ❤️ email” be read by a screen reader? Like this: “We red heart email”. Not a great result.

So here are some precautionary steps you can take.

Emojis in the subject line

Subject lines add a further complication: the emojis in the subject line are read by screen readers exactly as they are. Here’s two examples:

Boost your career with new online courses 🚀 Claim your gift! 🎁

Screen readers will read the subject line as follows:

Boost your career with new online courses rocket Claim your gift! wrapped gift

Since it is not technically possible to exclude emojis from the reading by screen readers, you have to carefully evaluate which emoticon to insert, its position between the words and how the emoji will be read by the assistive tool. We suggest always consulting this Unicode guide, which collects all the verbal descriptions of all the available emojis.

Emojis in the email body

As for the email body, companies have more control over the reproduction of emojis via screen readers. In fact, they can use the HTML code to indicate an action, to direct the vocal reproduction of the emoji. Here’s an example:

We ❤️ email

As we have seen, without the appropriate modifications, the screen reader will read “We red heart email”. The emoji’s expressive potential thus becomes an interruption, an obstacle to understanding the text.

There are two possible optimizations here: 

1. Modify the emoji’s alt text
You can replace the description assigned by Unicode with one that best fits the meaning of the sentence. Here is the HTML code we can modify, changing the alternative text:

We <img src=”emoticon-heart.png” width=”22″ height=”22″ alt=”love” style=”display: inline; margin: 0; padding: 0; vertical-align: -5px;” border=”0″ /> email

The screen reader will read the following sentence, preserving its comprehensibility:

We graphic love email!

2. Hide the emoji
You can also modify the code as follows:

We <span aria-hidden=”true”>❤️</span> email.

As you may have guessed, this should be used with caution to avoid compromising the meaning of the text. Using the same example, hiding the emoji in “We ❤️ email” is not the best solution, since the recipient will be read a cut-off, meaningless sentence: “We email”.

We suggest only hiding emojis in circumstances where they have a purely decorative role, meaning that when they’re not read out, it has no effect on the general sense of the text.

For example, in “Thanks 👏 from all the staff! 👏 “, hiding it  in the HTML code will have no effect on the meaning. On the other hand, if the emojis aren’t optimized, the screen reader would read, “Thanks clapping hands from all the staff clapping hands”, not your best option.

In conclusion

If you were wondering whether or not emojis are an effective expressive element for your emails, the advice is to experiment with an A/B test, which lets you compare two different versions of the message (with or without emojis, in the subject line and body of the text) and find out which email gets the highest open and click rates.

You can learn more about the A/B test requesting a free trial of MailUp: you’ll have30 days to createtest, and send your emails.

Try MailUp'

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