Emojis in Search Results – A Trend or the Future?

Using emojis in Google and other search engines

No matter what you do or where you live, emojis have become a fact of life. These funny, simple, and sometimes strange symbols have altered the way we communicate and have opened a new world of possibilities for everyday technology, including search engines. 

Emojis were quickly adopted in the smartphone era because they help convey emotions and ideas without having to type out a full message. Our brains are much faster at deciphering symbols and images over text, so it’s actually easier for us to understand a smiley face than it is to understand the same symbol made with a colon or semicolon in front of a closing parenthesis :). This is the same reason gifs and memes have become so popular in texting and social media.  

Emojis also cross language barriers. Someone from rural Indiana might not be able to speak Czechoslovakian, but with emojis, basic ideas and emotions can be easily communicated and understood across cultural divides. Reasons like this, and more, have helped push emojis to the forefront of online communication, but what does that mean for search engines and the modern Internet?

The Rise of Emojis in Search Results

Emojis are described as a pictographic language, which is one of the oldest forms of written human communication. The symbols, runes, carvings, and hieroglyphics used by many early cultures are common examples of pictography. We may consider ourselves modern and civilized, but that doesn’t mean we’ve moved on from using simple symbols to convey ideas. Bathroom signs, warning labels, street signs, and more rely on pictograms to express basic messages. Emojis offer the same convenience but they impact far more than just texts with your friends. 

Basic emojis began appearing here and there in search results during the early 2010s, though most searchers didn’t notice. Gradually, major brands realized they could insert emojis into meta data and make their domain stand out in search results. This inevitably led to web managers outright abusing this new optimization angle and stuffing emojis into title tags, meta descriptions, and even page content. In early 2015, Google clamped down and emojis were almost completely stripped from search results. 

SERPs remained largely emoji-free until early 2017, when Google once again started allowing emojis to appear in search results. Things had changed – now, emojis would only be shown in search results when they’re deemed “relevant, useful, and fun.” This is Google’s usual vague answer to anything concerning search results, but it gives us an idea as to when, where, and why emojis might appear in results. 

Why are Emojis Even Showing Up in Search Results?

There’s a simple answer to that question: marketing. Advertisers know that emojis are key to connecting with younger Millennials and the new Generation Z, which is why they’re starting to pop up more and more in online ads and search results. Younger generations are much more internet savvy and likely to use emojis, but you have to strike a delicate balance to make sure your emojis actually show up. 

Emojis can also be overused. We’ve all seen social media posts from influencers, celebrities, and our little cousins featuring far too many emojis, hashtags, and links, rendering the content nearly unreadable. The same applies to search results. If a searcher sees a URL’s title tag and meta descriptions jammed full of emojis, they might see it as weird or trying too hard, which might lead them to pass by the result. Using emojis sparingly and in a natural way is the best approach.

Finally, emojis have become more extensive, detailed, and ethnically diverse to match user demand, which has led some companies to join the bandwagon and release their own branded line of emoji characters. Way back in 2014, Taco Bell went so far as to start a marketing campaign just to get a taco emoji, which received half a million retweets and 33,000 signatures in five days. They got their emoji and, to this day, you’ll still get Taco Bell at the top of the results when you search with a taco emoji. Go ahead, try it out. 

How Emojis Currently Work in Google Search Results

Today, Google’s RankBrain machine learning search algorithm displays emojis in results it deems relevant. If a searcher uses an emoji in their search query (which is becoming more common), they might end up with search results displaying matching or similar emojis. 

On top of this, RankBrain is smart enough to understand when emojis might be too spammy, possibly misleading, or just out of place. If it detects meta data emojis it feels fall into one of these three categories, then it simply won’t display them in the search results. 

It’s very easy to find emojis in search results – you just have to use them correctly. You can use the pizza emoji to find local pizza places, information on the pizza emoji, and a pile of YouTube videos focused on pizza, all with one symbol (note that the YouTube videos feature food emojis in the titles). You can even look at the Related Search suggestions to see that people are combining brand names with emojis, such as “Dominos” and “Hut”. 

It Gets Weirder: Emoji Domains

To make things even more complicated, you can now own and operate domains that only use emojis in the URL. Users can simply enter the domain’s related emojis (say, a heart and a puppy), and they’ll be taken to something that could be read as “ilovepuppies.com”. 

While emoji domains are a fun and new option, there’s one big drawback: URLs will only appear as ASCII text simply because browsers can’t display emojis in the URL bar. So, instead of seeing the heart and puppy emoji, you’re going to end up with xn--qei9148m.ws. 

While that URL is ugly and impractical, there’s a possibility that these new emoji domains will actually pan out and become a real trend. While I wouldn’t recommend sinking any marketing dollars into an emoji domain right away, it is something to keep in mind down the road.

If you want to see an emoji URL in action, you can check out the Warby Parker website.  They use the basic glasses emoji to create a single-emoji URL that looks nice and works well with the brand. This URL will display as xn--4p8h.ws as the site is accessed but will switch over to the “real” URL once loaded. 

The Future of Emojis in Search Results

I feel that there will be two potential outcomes regarding the use of emojis in search results:

  1. Major brands will double down on their past mistakes and start overusing emojis in meta data and site content, which will lead to Google stripping emojis from results. Then, history will repeat itself and emojis will slowly creep back into search results and the cycle will start over.
  2. Google will continue evolving how it handles emojis in search results and will allow them to remain for relevant searches. New guidelines might be created to outline how, when, and where emojis can be considered acceptable for search results. Google might also punish sites using an excessive number of emojis in meta data and page content, but that’s a complicated aspect.

There’s a distinct possibility that both of these options will happen: Google might remove or drastically reduce emojis in search, continue working on how, when, and where they want emojis to appear in results, and come back again in a year or two with yet another approach. Time will tell. 

Should You Use Emojis in Your Meta Data?

Using emojis in meta data can absolutely help increase your click-through rate for organic search results, and it’s even been shown to significantly impact interaction with PPC ads. However, I’m not going to recommend peppering every title tag and meta description across your domain with emojis right away. 

I’m a big fan of testing and evaluating changes to meta data, but whether or not you include emojis in your meta data is going to depend entirely upon your industry. If you’re selling makeup, clothing, or food, then it could make sense to test out the inclusion of a lipstick, dress, or pizza emoji in a few title tags and meta descriptions. On the other hand, let’s say you’re running a funeral home – you probably don’t want to make your title tags pop with a few coffin or tombstone emojis.

You can love them, hate them, or simply tolerate them, but emojis are here to stay. It is worthwhile for your team to consider how you might incorporate them in the execution of your metadata strategy.

If you’d like to learn more about the best ways to optimize your domain’s meta data, page content, and technical elements, then reach out to the web development and digital marketing teams here at CQL.