It all started around Valentine’s Day 2012. We noticed a few companies sending emails with a little heart in the subject line. Quite a neat way to get readers attention, we thought. A few months down the line and these special characters are everywhere. We decided to have a look to see if there was anything you needed to consider if you wanted to use these characters.

First of all there’s the fundamental question, do they work? Basically, yes. They didn’t used to and that’s why you didn’t see them that much. However pesky rendering and deliverability issues are a thing of the past. That said, you should always test and then test again. Some people have mentioned issues getting through corporate spam filters when using special characters, so be careful if you are sending B2B marketing emails.

Just because they work, should we use them?

Generally, results have been encouraging. Open rates have seen a spike when using special characters in the subject line. We think that this may be due to the novelty factor and is likely to drop off quite quickly. The novelty will soon wear off (if it hasn’t already) and any advantage will soon be lost. Worse still it may harm your open rate.

Beyond the novelty factor, I believe that special characters can continue to be useful, but need to be used strategically. Not simply plonked onto the beginning and end of every subject line.

I think the most successful use of special characters is either to replace words, the most obvious example is

I ❤ London 2012

Or to identify an important area of a subject line for example:

Thanks for signing up ★ Use code 00000 ★ to get your discount

So, don’t overuse special characters as the novelty will soon wear off and will not encourage better open rates at all. However in certain circumstances and with a bit of though they can be a useful tool to encourage your recipients to have a look inside.