As one of my many duties here at TMG, I put together the Engage Newsletter that hits your inbox at the end of every month.
And if it doesn’t you should sign up. Okay, two second pitch is over.
About two months ago, I got some inspiration for an A/B email test from my boss…in an email. How appropriate, right?
I clicked the link that led me to an article on using symbols in subject lines. At first, I thought he was joking (mainly because his email only said “fun!” and if you knew my boss, he can be, well, sarcastic at times). Anyway, from my personal experience in seeing symbols in subject lines, they haven’t made me more inclined to open the email.
But I am just one person. So I went looking for some evidence to prove or disprove the effectiveness of symbols.
Experian saw that the 56% of brands they analyzed had a higher unique open rate when using symbols. They also said that using symbols could be a great way to switch up email messaging and/or keep subscriber interest or regain interest of the unengaged.
Unfortunately, other than this article, I didn’t find any other hard numbers on whether symbols work or not. So I decided to put the symbol theory to the test.
For the August 2012 Engage Newsletter, the A/B test consisted of two subject lines:
Express Yourself: 6 Ways to Get Creative with Facebook Cover Photos ♥
Express Yourself: 6 Ways to Get Creative with Facebook Cover Photos
I waited patiently to see which subject line won: symbol or no symbol. The results were clear, especially since MailChimp (the email campaign tool we use) has a sense of humor and told me Test B gave a nice try but was the loser.
With both emails having the same number of successful deliveries here were the results:
- The average times opened for Test A was 3.7 compared to 2.3 times for Test B
- The total times Test A was opened was 65% greater than Test B
- 19% more recipients opened Test A
But that’s just one test.
For the September Newsletter, I tried experimenting with a symbol and its placement. Instead of A/B testing, due to time constraints, I used a creative star symbol at the beginning of the subject line—mainly because the story title was long and I put the heart at the end of the subject line in the previous month.
So, September’s subject line read: “╰☆╮57 Things to Keep in Mind While Fueling the Creative Spirit.”
The results? Well our open rate was 10.3% higher than the media and publishing industry’s average and 5.2% higher than our list’s average.
Pretty cool, right? Now since the last wasn’t an A/B spilt we can’t be certain the symbol-free subject would have lost, but I think we can assume that would have been the case due to the higher open rate for the list overall.
Since this is an in-house product, I have more flexibility to try out new things with our subject line. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make symbols work for your client.
Here 5 tips to keep in mind when deciding to use symbols:
1. Choose a symbol that complements your message.
If you have a coffee shop and you’re sending out an email, it’d be cool to use a mini coffee cup icon. But if you’re a clothing store, a coffee cup will likely confuse your subscribers—short version: choose wisely.
2. Play around with the placement.
Just like the symbol choices vary for every company, the best place for the symbol may vary for every email. What I didn’t do for the first A/B test, but would recommend, is putting your symbol to the front of the copy. This will give your subscribers the chance to see the symbol, in case their viewing device shortens the subject line.
I did, however, do this for the September newsletter, which was appropriate since the subject was 59 characters long.
3. Send yourself a test email with the symbol to make sure it’s recognizable.
From personal experience, the symbols may not turn out to be as cute as you hoped. I once tried out a smiley face, but when I saw the test email in my inbox I couldn’t really make out if it was an oddly colored circle or a grimace face. Make sure to test your emails before sending out the newsletter. You don’t want to confuse (or frighten) your readers!
4. Don’t overuse symbols.
Yes, the symbols may increase your open rate, but they may lose their charm and subsequently their effectiveness over time. What can you do? Try a symbol every other month or on special occasions like holidays or even a special promotion your company is having. Keeping symbols fun and using them in moderation is key.
5. Test, test and test some more.
Experiment with new symbols and see if there’s one or two that your readers tend to favor. An interesting A/B test could be using the same subject line but a different symbol for each. Here’s a good place to start: fsymbols.com; you can see all the symbol options you have to play around with.
How do you feel about symbols in your subject line? Has your company found success with symbols?