Home Blog Do Special Characters Impact Search Results?

People use special characters in everyday conversations over text, messenger apps, and e-mail. These non-alphanumeric symbols, such as – % > ! * $, have many valid uses. But, over the years, there’s been much debate over whether they should be used in web content.

Sure, symbols and emojis can help draw the reader’s eye and add visual cues to your messages. But do they actually have an impact on your rankings in search?

It’s becoming increasingly more acceptable to use special characters over social media and throughout e-mail marketing campaigns for businesses. As a result, they are popping up everywhere; even in top brands’ marketing campaigns.

Companies are making use of them to emphasize a point or break up long paragraphs, for example. And yes, consumers are using them in the search field.

Still, there is much discussion over how to incorporate them into other online content, precisely what characters to use, and how it might impact how search engines like Google perceive that content.

Let’s take a closer look at how to use special characters in ways that ensure they reflect a query string real people are using and are most likely to appear in results.

What Are Special Characters in Online Content?

Simply put, special characters are anything in a sentence that is not a letter or number. There are some more common characters you use every day that you can find on your keyboard, such as the equal sign, exclamation point, and greater than sign.

While consumers and businesses alike widely use these types of special characters, overusing them in online content (“CLICK H*e*r*e >>>>>>>>”) can look off-putting and spammy.

Bu,t used creatively and with restraint, characters such as arrows can highlight important information; for example: >> 89 times.

The percent sign helps express a percentage but is also used by some to highlight information, %% like this %%. (The double percentage sign means modular division to programmers, so it’s essential to do your research on why specific characters are used and by whom.)

Emojis can add color and help you tell a story in an eye-catching way; for example, adding 🏅 or 🎄 or even 🤑  to your page title or meta description will help it stand out in search. Further, these are instantly recognizable for many people and help to convey what your page is about in a visual way.

Will Special Characters Hurt My Search Rankings?

Google has slowly warmed up to special characters over the years. But currently, Google only shows these characters in title tags and meta descriptions on search engine results pages (SERPs) if they are relevant to someone’s search query and help increase the value or understanding of your content or business.

Companies are becoming more accustomed to these characters and emojis are now used fairly commonly, as are monochrome special characters. In fact, emojis can actually increase the click-through rate when implemented correctly. As a result, consumers can even use emojis in their search query syntax.

And for a while, search result content utilizing special characters such as emojis would become more prominent on the SERPs.

However, a recent analysis by Sistrix suggests Google may already have grown tired of this trend.

Sistrix evaluated the titles and snippets of 3,365,835,367 search results and found that it’s getting more and more difficult to have content display in SERPs with special characters.

The Sistrix findings state, “The use of emojis and special characters is still a popular trick used to attract more attention. However, Google has recognized this trend and is showing less and less of these attention-grabbing and click-generating elements in search results.”

Among their findings:

  • It’s easier to get special characters and emojis to appear in the search snippet than in the title.
  • Google will allow special characters in both the title and snippet if they are different.
  • The most successful emoji (that appears the most often) in Google search results titles is 🥇.
  • The most successful special characters in Google search results titles are arrows >>.

It’s important to remember that Google might not show a portion of your content on the search results page or may hide the special characters in that content if they think the special characters might be too much. The guidelines for what Google would ultimately decide to keep are not thoroughly communicated publicly. So, for now, it’s important to pay attention to what other online content with special characters from your industry is excelling on SERPs.

It’s also important to understand how search operators (Boolean operators) work if you want to use these characters in your content. For example, the asterisk (*) acts as a wildcard character in Google Search and will match any word or phrase. And using x..x in your query tells Google that you are search term is for a range of numbers.

If you use accidentally use these Boolean operators in an effort to optimize your content, anyone who then uses those in a search will likely see the results of the operation Google believed they were asking it to do, instead. That won’t hurt your rankings but it won’t help you out any, either.

And finally, marketers must be aware that Google may rewrite page titles for search results and more often than not, doesn’t use the meta description provided by the site as the search snippet. Even if you optimize these fields with special characters or emojis, there’s no guarantee that is how they’ll appear in Google’s search results.

When & How to Use Special Characters in Content

One factor to consider before incorporating special characters is whether your industry commonly uses them yet and if so, how? If there are characters that will be instantly recognizable and are relevant to your audience, those could be a good choice.

It is also essential to consider whether these emojis and characters match your brand tone and voice. Each piece of online content as a whole must convey the message and story you want customers to take away from it. Take the time to think through how these characters work with your branding and test them out with a focus group before committing to including them on prominent pages of your website.

If special characters are completely new for your marketing strategy, you can incorporate them in social media content and e-mail before branching into site content, too.

Bath and Body Works, for example, use emojis in most of its social post captions.

You can perform an A/B test during an e-mail marketing campaign to gauge perfomance. Test group A could receive an e-mail with special characters, and test group B can receive the same e-mail without. Then you can see which performs better by comparing their open rate and click-through rate. It’s important that A/B tests have controls and a large enough sample size to make the findings significant. Zapier has a guide on e-mail A/B testing if you need some pointers.

Special Characters E-Mail Example

Consider, too, which characters will work with each specific kind of online content in your titles, meta descriptions, and on-page content such as blog posts and landing page copy.

If your target market ranges from adolescents to young adults, incorporating special characters could help engage them more as they are used to seeing and using them, specifically emojis, in their daily lives.

Top Takeaways

  • Make sure the characters you select enhance your brand voice and tone rather than detract from it.
  • Overuse can look spammy, so use them wisely and sparingly.
  • Review search engine guidelines to make sure you place the special characters where they are acceptable.
  • Research the most often used characters and emojis to incorporate in your content, especially for your titles and meta descriptions.
  • Optimization can take time, so focus on analytics to see what performs well to inform future strategies.
  • Monitor your local and organic listings to ensure you understand how Google is presenting your brand to searchers and remember that your choice of page title and meta description may not be what appears in search.

Launching your special character content strategy for multiple locations or need further direction? Rio SEO is here to support your business.