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You have probably sent and received hundreds of emoji’s in your lifetime through text messages, email and other IM services. They’ve become part of our everyday life since they were created in 1999 and help to express people’s emotions more accurately through digital messaging. Now, we have a huge variety of emoji’s from the simple smiley face all the way to eggplants and unicorns.

Now that emoji’s are ingrained into digital communication, can they really be used as a semantic element of an SEO strategy? Would they benefit your strategy?

Google’s hot and cold approach to emoji’s

Google has been reluctant in the past, going back and forth on whether to allow the use of emoji’s within organic search – they even disabled the feature back in 2015. In fact, they have only recently reintroduced the feature, adding it back into organic SERPs in May 2016.

As Google gives with one hand, it can sometimes take with the other. Although we are allowed to implement emoji’s by optimising rich snippets, title tags and meta descriptions, Google previously stated that they view emoji’s as an “invalid or unsupported language.”

You’d think then, that a penalty wouldn’t be far behind – right? Nope, you’re wrong. John Mueller publicly stated in a Google hangouts video that if Google views meta data or title tags to be over optimised, they will filter out emoji’s as best they can.

Local search listings

When searching through a range of different emoji’s, we discovered that in certain instances, Google needed slightly more context for the search query. Adding the phrase “near me”, resulted in local listings being returned:

burger emoji local listing

For other less specific emoji’s, i.e. if you are searching using the doughnut emoji, it doesn’t list specific eateries. Meaning, it would be more beneficial from a search standpoint to optimise rich snippets and meta data with keywords, related to that topic, rather than emoji’s. When searching with the doughnut emoji, the results display visual content, nutritional information and imagery before organic listings seen below:


doughnut nutrition screenshot

doughnut serp snapshot

The potential benefit

Emoji’s add a new visual element to SERPs, meaning they have the potential to boost your sites click-through rates with eye-catching imagery. There’s a great guide on how to optimise for emoji’s for anyone who is interested in experimenting with this feature. In recent years, click through rates have become ever more prevalent in Google’s ranking algorithms, to further understand user behaviour with the search engine.

 Is it worth including emoji’s in your strategy?

Is it worth including emoji’s in your SEO/PPC strategy? The main benefits would be to improve click-through rates. For me, I think that although you can optimise for emoji’s, at this current period of time, they’re just not as popular as traditional search methods. Also, search engines will naturally rank your domain highly when optimising for terms relevant to emoji’s. So, unless your brand has a strong tie to a certain emoji, it’s unlikely implementing them will have a big impact.

For now, the use of emoji’s are more of a decoration or embellishment than an optimisation tool for your site. However, I do think it’s something to be mindful of; emoji’s are going nowhere anytime soon. Given the fact emoji’s can be understood by anyone, regardless of language and have no relation to religion or cultural origin, and as millennial’s continue to communicate through emoji’s, the possibility of optimisation for emoji’s in the future seems very likely.