Email Preheaders - More Powerful Than You Think (Excellent Examples And Best Practices)

Categories: Email marketing
Updated: May 31, 2021


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Many email recipients open your emails based solely on what the subject lines say. On the other hand, 69% of customers mark an email as spam or not based only on the information they see without ever opening the email.

A subject line and the preheader are like Sherlock Holmes and John H.Watson – this inseparable duo combine together to form a crucial element for your email campaigns’ success. But since I already wrote an article on optimizing the subject line for maximum open rate, this time, let’s focus on the preheader.

Keep reading and learn about the super power of email preheader: what it is, what to write in this short text snippet, the perfect length, and some inspirational ideas. Let’s get started!

Table of contents:

What is an email preheader?

An email preheader is the short summary text that comes right after the subject line when a recipient views an email from their inbox. Mobile, desktop, and web email service providers show email preheaders to tip recipients off on what the email message contains before opening it. Here’s an example taken from my Gmail inbox:

an email preheader

Also known as a Johnson Box, this line of text is often taken from the first line of text found in your email campaign, but you can also create a custom email preheader which would be more relevant to the email content and elaborate on the subject line. The goal of the email preheader is to intrigue your recipients and makes them curious enough about what’s inside the email to hit open.

an email preheader

Email preheader appear in different ways on different email clients such as Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo. Alos, there are various mobile clients that have different ways of showing email previews. So keep that in mind when designing your email preheader.

How to add an email preheader?

How to add an email preheader?
How to add an email preheader?

You can add an email preheader to an email by creating it through your email marketing software or adding a hidden div code to your HTML file (manually). If you don’t add an email preheader text to your email campaign, email clients can pull in the text based on the first few words of your email’s content.

In the image above, you can see the email editor of our app - AVADA Email Marketing - which allows users to customize the email preheader text with personalization features like adding the customer’s name. This is a fantastic way to use preheader text and get more attention from recipients.

Inside the AVADA Marketing Automasion app, you will find that you can change the preheader text right next to the place to edit the subject line. We also let you choose if you want to use the email preheader or not. If not, the email clients will get into work to create an email preheader for your emails.

Sometimes, auto-generated email preheaders are good enough. But often, you should use your email preheader as a complement element to your subject line to build curiosity and earn more email opens from subscribers.

trouble email preheader

Otherwise, your auto-generated email preheader text can be confusing like the example above. “Having trouble viewing this email?” is the first text in the upperhead of an actual email, so it’s what the email clients pull into the preheader. A more descriptive and customized preheader can get the Poetry Foundation more open. The worst scenario is when the unsubscribe text is pulled in.

How to add an email preheader with code?

If you want to add an email preheader text using code, you’re essentially informing email service providers which text you want them to pull into the email preheader.

Email development has a lot of places to try with coding (a bit more advanced compared to everyday HTML and CSS), and coded preheaders are a part of that advanced part. Adding email preheaders with code is a little tricky, so you might prefer to avoid using it if your email marketing software lets you edit without coding.

If you want to add an email preheader with code, follow these steps:

  1. Add the preheader text as the first texts within your email’s body tag.

  2. Put the preheader text in a <div> style.

  3. Use the </div> style to conclude the preheader text and hide it from the actual email

div style email preheader

To email clients, after doing this, your email preheader text will appear as the first texts in the email. When a user opens your email, that preheader text will be hidden by the email clients (because of the hidden div style).

In other words, the email service providers will pull in the preheader text in the code, but recipients on your email list won’t actually see the preheader text in your email design (so it won’t take up valuable design real estate).

A major downsides to using the above preheader technique are:

You can easily forget to update the email preheader text and when you use templates, customizing the email preheader for each campaign can take a lot of work by inserting each email with a line of code.

So, to make your life easier with email marketing and email preheaders, use email marketing automation tools to edit your preheader text without having to insert code manually.

That is also the beauty of email preheaders - you can totally set and forget about them when setting up new email campaigns. You can take a simplistic approach and use the same preheaders for all email campaigns. But, of course, a bit of personalization and editing is much better for your email’s open rates.

How long should the email preheader be?

Your email preheaders should be between 45-130 characters long. With this range, you make sure that your preheader texts appear fully in both desktop and mobile versions of email service providers.

Because email preheader length can vary based on email clients, there isn’t a specific number for the ideal length of an email preheader. More or less of 100 characters is a perfectly reasonable range of characters to put in the email preheader text – just make sure that you include the most important points in the beginning of your email preheader.

Here are 3 things you should remember when deciding on the length of the email preheader text:

  • Mobile email clients often show less of the preheader text. So you should keep an email preheader for most mobiles between 30 and 55 characters long.

  • On many desktop clients, your email subject line’s length determines how your preview text can be displayed. So take some tests first.

  • If your email preheader text is too short, email clients may pull in text from the beginning of your email

Even if you can’t follow all the rules above, it is a good idea to write your email preheader a bit long (with all the important points at the beginning) so that you won’t accidentally display any line of text from the rest of the content of your email campaign.

10 Best practices on writing powerful email preheaders (with examples)

You can add an email preheader to your campaigns, but what should you put in it?

A fantastic email preheader can work like a second email subject line – as an opportunity for you to grab the recipient’s attention and convince more of them to open your emails.

The success of your email preheaders depends on many factors, including both effective and ineffective patterns. In this section, let’s look at the best practices on writing powerful email preheaders for the best results.

1. Don’t repeat the text in the subject line

Email preheader is the second chance to convince the email recipient to open email from your company. So don’t waste the email preheader by repeating the same things from the subject line or even skipping writing the preheader text when building your campaign.

Try to think thoroughly about what kind of email preheaders can make a difference between an email getting opened and an archived one.

2. Make the preheader an incentive teaser

Make the preheader an incentive teaser

If you use an email preheader, you can also be more original with the subject lines. For example, you can try using a very brief subject line and follow with the preheader that reveals a bit about the offer.

3. Add a call to action

Sometimes, all you have to do is ask the recipients to do what you want them to do. Just like your email needs to have a call to action, your email preheader having a call to action can get more people to open.

A call to action inside an email preheader follows all the same rules you would apply for a normal call to action:

  • Make it sound easy for the subscribers to take action.

  • Promise a relevant benefit.

  • Keep the text short.

And, when all other calls to action attempts fail, just simply ask the recipients to open your emails.

4. Quickly summarize the email content

In the email preheader, you can also list the on-sale products or newly arrived ones. Many eCommerce companies include brand names of those products that are on sale, or listing the relevant items to a specific holiday.

Examples (the texts in front is the subject line)

  • Run and be healthy: The latest running shoes from Nike

  • Flash sale!: Party clothes, shoes, accessories on sale for New Year’s Eve

5. Use FOMO

Fear of missing out is just as powerful as people found out about it before. So use it to your advantage in the email preheader and encourage people to take action.

For example: Your email preheader can look like “Limited editions have just arrived, available in only 48 hours”. This way, your email preheaders would let subscribers know that they only have limited time before a good deal runs out.

6. Elaborate on what the subject line says

Go “all in” with the subject line and the email preheader is how you get more opens, so I highly recommend doing that. You can reveal all the best parts of your email campaigns in these two sections and still don’t harm the email experience. The worst part is when you don’t show all and your emails are stuck being unseen and unopened.

Some examples for the email preheader to elaborate the subject lines are:

  • Hot deals under $20: In addition, get free shipping for orders over 50$

  • Rent a bike in NY: Only for $5/day, full gears equipped

7. Try emojis sometimes

Try emojis for email preheaders

If emojis fit the communication style of your brand, you should use them in the subject lines and the email preheaders. These colorful emojis can help your company emails stand out, earn more attention, and convey more opens, etc. You shouldn’t underestimate this macro-tool called emojis.

The picture above shows some examples of emojis being used in email preheaders and headlines. They really grab your attention, huh, imagine how they can work to increase your emails’ open rate?

8. Personalize the message

Personalize the message

Some brands immediately see a Personalization can Increase the Impact of Email Marketing Campaign when they start using personalization. You can personalize the email preheaders by calling out the recipients’ names or insert messages that are relevant to them, such as previous purchases, subscription statuses, etc.

However, sometimes it can seem awkward for customers to receive a bulk email with their names in it. So the difference between these two opposite reactions is hard to define but you can definitely try personalization in one of your A/B email tests.

9. Try A/B testing the email preheaders

A/B testing the email preheaders is never a bad idea. The practice helps you know the audience better and figure out how to make the most of the email preheaders. You can A/B test the subject line and email preheader to see if:

  • Emojis work or not.

  • What kind of discounts can get more email opens.

  • Whether your audience is into personalization, exclusive stuff, or massive sales, etc.

10. Be brief

This practice should have been higher, but anyway, when it comes to email preheaders, you don’t need to break out a thesaurus to sound good. What you need is actually to become short, sweet, and straight to the point.

Email recipients only give you a few seconds of their attention, so you better make sure you are grabbing their attention immediately. A good example for brief email preheader and subject line is like this:

Don’t hesitate: Get free shipping on new Summer items ⏰: The offer ends at midnight.


Who would imagine a short text snippet like an email preheader can be so influential to your email’s open rate?

The power of email marketing lies in the fact that consumers have it in day-to-day communication. For your emails to stand out in the potential customers and subscribers’ inboxes, you must optimize the email preheaders with all the best practices mentioned in this article. Then, your email campaigns will be well on the way to success.

Need help with email marketing? Try our app AVADA Marketing Automation, it is free to start using!

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